WNBA

New-Look Sun Still Project to Compete

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It’s a new day for the Connecticut Sun.

Gone are their former Most Valuable Player, on-court captain, coaching staff and general manager. New GM Darius Taylor said the team isn’t going through a rebuild. He, along with the rest of the organization, still expects to compete. In a league that will be top-heavy this season — with the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty leading the way — the Sun could be the best of the rest.

Let’s take a look at what the team’s new head coach Stephanie White will roll out.

Projected Starters

PG: Natisha Hiedeman

This won’t be Hiedeman’s first relevant role. Following Jasmine Thomas’ season-ending ACL injury early last season, the Sun thrust Hiedeman into the starting lineup. With Thomas’ offseason trade to Los Angeles, Hiedeman returns to the same starting spot. The 26-year-old performed well in that role, averaging 9.1 points and 3.3 assists per game.

Hiedeman was also the team’s best long-range shooter last season at 41.1% from distance. Connecticut desperately needs her downtown scoring considering their lack of frontcourt spacing. She’s a better off-ball guard because of her spot-up capabilities, but if Hiedeman can provide some dribble penetration this season, she could improve on what was a solid first year as the lead guard.

SG: Tiffany Hayes

Hayes was the Sun’s prized acquisition this offseason. She brings a level of shot creation and rim-reaching that this team has desperately needed for quite some time. Hayes and Hiedeman will be a backcourt duo that opponents will need to defend on the perimeter.

Hayes shot 42.9% from three on 3.5 attempts last season, while scoring 14.8 points per game. She also is one of the best perimeter players in the league when it comes to getting to the free-throw line.

Considering how much pressure she puts on the rim, her charity-stripe success isn’t at all surprising. One concern to monitor is if Hayes can remain healthy. She struggled with injuries last season. Between her health setbacks and international commitments, Hayes played just 12 games in 2022.

SF: DeWanna Bonner

The long-time veteran Bonner is in the final year of her contract with the Sun. She’s making the most money on the team at $234,350, which is just a few hundred dollars below the supermax. Bonner’s length can make for a tough matchup for opposing small forwards, as that lengthy frame gives her the edge over many players at that position.

She will use that length to reach a spot and rise for a shot. Bonner has a habit of sometimes seeking out contact, however, which throws her off balance and ultimately makes for a worse shot attempt. Bonner isn’t quick enough at this point in her career to stay with explosive wings driving to the hoop. Thankfully, her length makes her disruptive against smaller opponents.

PF: Alyssa Thomas

Year in and year out, Thomas is the “do everything” player for the Sun. She scores, rebounds, distributes and plays defense. She’s limited scoring from anywhere outside the paint, due to her two torn shoulder labrums. Unfortunately, those injuries make it impossible for her to shoot the ball from any real distance.

But Thomas adapted her game to where that deficiency doesn’t matter.

She’s extremely effective in transition, largely due to her playmaking ability. Even as a “big,” she ranked fifth last season in assists per game at 6.1 and is arguably the most versatile defender in the league. She can defend competently in the paint and chase down smaller players on the perimeter.

Her lack of floor spacing has hurt the Sun in the past, but with some key offseason acquisitions, that shortcoming may be less of a problem this season.

C: Brionna Jones

Welcome back, Sixth Player of the Year! Jones was one of the biggest free-agency question marks of the offseason. Thankfully for Connecticut, she’s back in Uncasville. At 6’ 3″, Jones is a touch smaller than some of the league’s best centers. But her strength and nose for the ball on the offensive glass make her a formidable opponent for anyone. She’s an incredibly efficient scorer, but that’s because most of her shots are coming from right around the rim.

Jones isn’t a floor spacer or shot blocker, as she doesn’t jump very high despite having a long wingspan. How will the rest of the team adjust in the starting frontcourt since Thomas and Jones share spacing and shooting weaknesses?

Projected Rotation

PG: Tyasha Harris

Harris will likely back up Hiedeman at point guard. Last season, it was a carousel of backup point guards following Jasmine Thomas’ injury. There were even some points where Alyssa Thomas played the point. Harris probably won’t contribute much scoring, but she’s a solid playmaker who takes care of the ball. There also won’t be much of a defensive dropoff with Hiedeman on the bench, as Harris can more than hold her own on that end.

SG/SF: DiJonai Carrington and Rebecca Allen

Carrington is coming off a solid season with the Sun, where she was a consistent and steady role player. Her role? Energy off the bench and flying around everywhere in transition. If you look at the stat sheet, you might not be all that impressed. But Carrington can contribute defensively. She also has a beautiful shot profile. You won’t see her settling for long-range two-point shots. Instead, she’s going to get to the bucket or take a step back to attempt a three.

Along with Harris, Allen came to the Sun in the Jonquel Jones trade from the Liberty. This has the chance to be a sneaky good acquisition. The 30-year-old is coming off a poor shooting year, but she was above 38% from three during the previous two seasons. Again, the players surrounding Thomas and Jones will have to be able to knock down a three, or it may be a long season.

Allen is also a good defender, in large part due to her length and wingspan. All signs point to Allen being ready to roll, following a relatively serious injury suffered during the World Cup last year.

C: Olivia Nelson-Ododa

Nelson-Ododa shocked some people during her rookie season. With her slight frame, she was the furthest thing from a guaranteed WNBA talent on draft night. She’s still not at that point, but she’s on her way there. Acquired in the trade that sent Jasmine Thomas to the Sparks, Nelson-Ododa has the perfect opportunity to showcase what she can do in a backup role, spelling Jones.

One area that she can help with is rim protection, where the Sun will need assistance with Jones on the court. She also showed promise with some nifty post-up moves and soft finishes.

Back-End Rotation

PG/SG: Nia Clouden

Entering her sophomore season, there’s a lot of room for growth from Clouden. Last year’s coach, Curt Miller, used his bench sparingly, so Clouden didn’t see much time on the court. She averaged 8.9 minutes per game, mostly at the end of blowouts. Clouden has a pure stroke that can make her a legitimate WNBA shooter.

But right now, it’s tough to see her getting a ton of playing time.

PF/C: Lauren Cox

A former lottery pick, Cox was a member of two teams in her first two seasons. She could stick in Connecticut. WNBA teams typically carry more post players than they need, and she looks like the best option after Nelson-Ododa.

Fighting For a Spot

Keep in mind, Connecticut will most likely only be able to carry 11 players on the roster — as opposed to the typical 12 — due to salary-cap restrictions. Whoever the lucky 11 are, they’ll have to shine immediately in a surely competitive 2023.

Connecticut fans have an irrevocable reason to smile, however: the Sun always appears in the east first.

All stats courtesy of Her Hoops Stats

About Kayla Dos Santos

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