This year’s WNBA free agency got off to a wild start. But perhaps the biggest shock came when former Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner was dealt to the Connecticut Sun in a sign-and-trade deal. This move has major implications for the battle to win a WNBA title this season. Let’s head to the video room to talk about what Bonner’s going to bring to her new team.
The Sun Were Already Good
Actually, let’s start by not talking about Bonner. But instead, we have to discuss what this Sun squad did last year, which involved things like “making the WNBA Finals” and “proving that they weren’t just a bunch of role players.”
Led by Jonquel Jones blossoming into one of the league’s best players and Alyssa Thomas playing through a torn shoulder labrum (a fact that I will never stop referencing!), the Sun exceeded expectations and finished with the league’s second-best record.
Last season, Connecticut finished fourth in the WNBA in points per game and seventh in field goal percentage. Synergy has them seventh in the WNBA in offensive points per possession. They only scored in the top half of the league on two play types: spot up and transition. Defensively, the team ranked ninth in points per possession in the regular season.
So, the numbers for Connecticut don’t really suggest they should have been as good as they were last year. But the cohesiveness of the team and the way they cranked things up in the postseason pushed them to a higher level. They finished the playoffs in the middle of the playoff teams in both offensive and defensive points per possession.
There are still a few things that are up in the air with Connecticut in terms of their own free agents. Courtney Williams and Rachel Banham are still restricted free agents. So, we don’t know exactly what the Sun will look and exactly how the offense will work. But we do know a good bit of what to expect, and we also know plenty about how much DeWanna Bonner brings to the table.
What Bonner Brings To Connecticut
DeWanna Bonner spent her entire career with Phoenix. Over the past few years, she really blossomed into a star and made All-Star appearances in three of the last four seasons that she played. (Bonner missed 2017 while pregnant.)
Just from a counting stats perspective, a few things Bonner brings to Connecticut are:
- two consecutive seasons finishing in the top 10 in field goals made
- a league-leading 226 defensive rebounds in 2019
- four seasons finishing in the top 10 in steals
- six seasons finishing in the top 10 in three-point attempts
The raw numbers suggest that Bonner is a good scorer who isn’t afraid to fire away from deep. Defensively, those numbers show that she’s active and does a good job crashing the glass.
Per Synergy, Bonner scored 0.933 points per possession last season and ranked in the 73rd percentile. Only two Sun players scored more points per possession: Jonquel Jones and Shekinna Stricklen, who now plays for the Atlanta Dream.
Pick and roll maestro
Bonner’s best play type in terms of efficiency happened to be her most used play type as she scored in the 79th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler. The only Sun player to rate better than that was Layshia Clarendon, who played just nine games and is now with the New York Liberty. Bonner’s numbers were close to what Courtney Williams did. But as a whole, Connecticut struggled on these kind of plays despite employing them more often than any other play types. Connecticut ranked eighth in the WNBA in points per possession on pick-and-roll plays where the ball handler finishes the play.
So, right there, we see a way Bonner helps out in Connecticut. She gives them another ball-handler who can excel in pick-and-rolls:
Bonner’s length and dribbling ability will bring an entirely new dimension to the Sun that they lacked from the three position. On the play above, Bonner has the ball at the top of the key. The Mercury set the pick for her, which leads to Bonner getting the switch she wants and driving towards the paint. Bonner’s ability to cover so much ground on her strides coupled with her dribbling skills make her such a tough matchup. She’s able to penetrate deep into the paint and get her shot.
We can see another example of this in Bonner’s game against Washington:
First, it’s important that Bonner gives Connecticut another option for bringing the ball up the floor. She can help push the tempo in transition.
While working on this piece, I’ve also got the XFL on in the background, and it’s got me thinking about a theory. Players like DeWanna Bonner who play the three but can also occupy other roles usually reserved for point guards are like rushing quarterbacks in football. Players who serve multiple roles at once force the defense to make huge shifts in how they approach them. In turn, they allows other players on the floor to focus on serving their particular role in whatever play is happening. Connecticut’s offense is about to open up in ways that it didn’t quite do last year.
To that point, Bonner’s ability to pass out of the pick-and-roll is another thing I’m excited to see in Connecticut. Imagine this play here, but with Jonquel Jones in the Brittney Griner role:
That shouldn’t be too hard to imagine, since Griner and Jones finished fairly close to each other in terms of pick-and-roll efficiency. Having Bonner should help Jones become even more efficient, because defenses have to account for another threat on the floor. I love watching Shekinna Stricklen play. But 59.6% of her possessions last year were either spot up or transition possessions. Subbing Bonner into the small forward role adds a ton of versatility and forces the defense to account for an entirely new factor. Her presence should help open up passing lanes and make plays like the one above into an important part of Curt Miller’s arsenal.
Adjustments still needed
Now, Bonner’s value isn’t just in pick-and-rolls, and there are actually some issues with how Bonner might fit in Connecticut. Let’s address that second one.
With Stricklen gone, the starting unit is likely Bonner, Jones, Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, and a point guard — either a re-signed Courtney Williams or someone else.
Connecticut was the best spot up team in the WNBA last year, scoring a league-high 1.071 points per possession on spot ups. Stricklen was among the best players in the league in spot up efficiency, ranking in the 89th percentile in PPP on spot ups.
Bonner is going to require an adjustment. She was in the 57th percentile on spot ups, which is a pretty big drop from Stricklen. Bonner’s never really been a great three-point shooter despite her high volume of threes. She shot just 27.2% last year on 5.6 attempts per game, so something will have to give.
One of two things needs to happen. Bonner must improve her shooting and be a more efficient off-ball threat. Failing that, the Sun need to make sure she’s got three shooters around her at all times. This would allow Connecticut to have shooters for Bonner to pass to without relying on her inconsistent shooting.
Taking fewer threes is probably the key for Bonner. But it’s going to be tough to try to figure out what that will look like, especially as she’s increased her number of three-point attempts over the past few years.
Overall, though, Bonner’s upside is bigger than her downside, and Connecticut just became a more intriguing and complex offensive team.
Defensively, there’s not too much to say. Bonner’s an above-average defender who can guard multiple positions. She’ll help Connecticut, though with Jones and Thomas around, Bonner will probably spend more time guarding out on the perimeter than in the paint this year. She can do that, but it will take Bonner out of position in terms of rebounding, which could keep her from being able to turn around and initiate the fast break. Overall, though, Bonner’s athleticism will be a plus on the defensive end of the floor.
Connecticut is a good team. DeWanna Bonner makes them a better team. While free agency isn’t over yet and other changes could impact what the Sun want to do, having a three who can guard bigs and initiate the offense is a huge, huge addition to any team, especially one that was so close to winning a title last season.