Sun Seeking Their 2022 Identity


The Connecticut Sun’s biggest asset during the 2021 season was their dominant defense. Ranking as the best defense in the league, night in and night out they stifled their opponents’ offense. They gave up only 69.9 points per game, which ranked as number one in the league.

In the semi-finals, that phenomenal regular season defense didn’t showcase itself the same way it had all season long. Even if the Sun might take a small step back defensively in 2022, they added pieces that should make them a better offensive team.

Those pieces are going to allow the Sun do something they weren’t able to do last year: play with pace and get out in transition. But the Sun aren’t trying to completely re-invent themselves. There’s no need to do that when the reigning MVP, Jonquel Jones, is still on the roster. Instead, they’ll be searching for a balance between playing up-tempo, and pounding the ball into the paint, while still defending at a high level.

Thomas/January Defensive Super-Duo Is No More

While the Sun are returning much of the same team for 2022, they will need to compensate for losing one of the best defenders from that 2021 team, Briann January. January consistently shut down opposing teams’ best guards, with the help of backcourt mate, Jasmine Thomas. Head Coach, Curt Miller, knows how significant her departure is for the team. “It’s a big loss. We went into every game last year knowing that January would keep the off guard below her scoring average, or at least make her higher volume than what she would typically be.”

But January wasn’t alone out there. Thomas also has a reputation of being an exceptional defender at the guard position. That’s what made games against the Sun a nightmare for opposing guards. In 2021, she ranked 15th in the league with 1.3 steals per game, and was just an overall pest guarding the opposing point guard.

This season, there will be more defensive responsibility on the shoulders of Thomas. Now is her time to shine as a lock down perimeter defender.

Still A Force On Defense

Here’s a short clip of Courtney Williams discussing Thomas’ defensive performance against Chelsea Gray in the 2019 WNBA semi-finals:

Miller also expects Courtney Williams to be impactful defensively, particularly when it comes to rebounding. Miller has spoken about how Williams, even though she is a different type of defender than January, can be disruptive on the defensive end. He also knows she will help the Sun “complete defensive possessions” by grabbing defensive boards. “We may lose some physicality at the point of attack, but we gain an additional defensive rebounder rebounder to complete plays.”

As far as the bigs are concerned, the Sun still like their odds defensively with two time All-Defensive First Team selection, Jonquel Jones. A full season of another former All-Defensive First Team selection, Alyssa Thomas, who was sidelined for most of last season with an Achilles injury, will be a nice boost on the defensive end. Consider also that Brionna Jones, last year’s Most Improved Player, was selected to the All-Defensive Second Team last season. The Sun have an embarrassment of riches defensively in the front court.

What Was Missing?

All season long in 2021, the Sun hung their hat on playing with a dominant defense, and a relatively average offense. It worked flawlessly for much of the season. But in the semi-finals against the eventual champion, Chicago Sky, their offense wasn’t dynamic enough to overcome the slight lapses on the defensive end. The Sun were missing that mix of defense and tempo, which led to the half court offense being a bit of a slog at times. It was clear they didn’t have an offensive minded guard, like Williams, who could get a bucket when they needed it.

While Alyssa Thomas was active for the semi-final series, the Sun had barely any practice time with her in the lineup. It was clear that the 2021 version of the Sun hadn’t really gelled with Thomas on the court. Still, her presence was felt. Especially in game 2, the lone Sun victory in the series. In 24 minutes, she scored 15 points with 11 rebounds and six assists.

Considering all the aspects of Thomas’ game, she’s always been a large part of the Sun’s game plan. Thomas missed the majority of the 2021 season. That’s largely the reason why the Sun had to play the way they did. Now that she’s fully healthy, Miller expects her to once again be the “engine” that helps make this team go. She will play a hefty role in the Sun finding their identity this season.

There was a play during the Sun’s preseason game against the Atlanta Dream that provided a glimpse of what the combination of Williams and Thomas can bring. About three minutes into the game, Williams intercepted a pass on defense, took a few dribbles, and fired a great pass to a streaking Thomas. In typical AT fashion, she got the bucket and was fouled. They’re both very dynamic and energetic players, with very different skillsets, which is going to help this team on both ends.

Picking Up the Pace

In a press conference following the acquisition of Williams, Miller spoke about the Sun’s intent to pick up the pace of play this season. “Last year, without Alyssa Thomas, we believed what put us in a position to be the most successful was to slow the pace down and to really rely on being a defensive oriented, great rebounding team.”

In 2021, Miller’s squad ranked last in the league in pace of play, which was by design. The head coach then discussed how having Thomas and Williams on the court allows the Sun to increase the pace of play. Thomas through her ability to facilitate, and Williams through her ability to rebound. Miller was very deliberate when speaking about the idea of playing at a faster pace. “Trying to turn back up the pace will be a point of emphasis.”

With that being said, Miller acknowledged that the Sun still need to utilize their dominant front court. When asked about the pace of play throughout the first few days of training camp, Miller discussed searching for a balance between getting out in transition and playing through the post. “We have gotta play through the post. We have All-Star post players everywhere. Day one in camp we started trying to create pace and the tempo we want to play at. But it doesn’t take away from our intent to play through the paint.”

Finding A Balance

Unfortunately, the last time the Sun had all their weapons at their disposal was in 2019. Due to injury or the pandemic, they were missing key pieces of their rotation in 2020 and 2021. This led to the team needing to adapt to different situations and play different styles of basketball than they might have liked.

With everyone healthy and ready to roll, Miller wants the Sun to be able to find the right balance of getting out in transition, and utilizing their overpowering front court, while still being a top tier defensive team. Easier said than done, right? If every team was able to identify that as their game plan, there would likely be twelve contenders. But not every team has the weapons needed to do so, like the Sun. The pieces of the puzzle are there. How they’ll come together over the course of the season remains to be seen.

All stats courtesy of Her Hoops Stats.

About Kayla Dos Santos

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