To win in this league, you need to be good offensively, defensively, and keep momentum through four quarters. In 2019, the Connecticut Sun could do this with ease. A year later, the team is struggling to find its identity in the bubble.
In a shortened, 22-game season, every match-up counts. Standing at 0-4 should be worrisome to Head Coach Curt Miller and his Sun squad.
Offseason acquisition DeWanna Bonner has been a shining light in a dark tunnel for the Sun this season. In four games, the 32-year-old has tallied 110 points (19, 29, 34, 28). As of July 31st, DB led the league in points per game (27.5), total points, and ranked second in three-pointers made (11).
Alyssa Thomas has been a consistent contributor to the Sun as well. Through three games, she ranked top-five in the league in rebounds per game (11), steals per game (2.5), fast-break points per game (3.7), and points in the paint per game (12).
DB and AT also rank first and second, respectively, in fantasy points per game (48.6 & 39.6).
All four of Connecticut’s losses were by single-digits. The Sun have been able to stay competitive in games and against good teams, too. The first four match-ups included three 2019 playoff teams: the Minnesota Lynx (twice), the Los Angeles Sparks, and the defending champion Washington Mystics.
Without a doubt, Bonner is one of the best players in the W. But her numbers this season are partially due to the lack of production from her teammates.
DB is responsible for almost 70 percent of the Sun’s scoring. Bonner and AT are averaging 37 minutes per game.
Connecticut’s bench has produced an average of 12 points in four games. In Saturday’s loss to the Lynx, the bench scored just seven points. Besides DB and AT, no player on the Sun is averaging more than eight points per game.
With where the team is currently, Miller can’t take DB and AT out if he wants to stay in games. However, overworking their stars could hurt the Sun in the long run. The Sun’s depth is starting to affect their offense and starters, as the starting five needs to carry almost all of the load.
After starting the season shooting 56.7 percent from the field, AT has started to slow down. In the match-up versus the Sparks, AT shot just 2-12. And on Sunday, the six-year vet went 0-5 from the field.
After the LA game, Thomas stated she started to feel aches in her legs. AT showed obvious fatigue and frustration against Minnesota.
“Right now, we’re playing a lot of iso ball,” Thomas said Thursday. “DB has been carrying us each game. We’ve got to figure out a way to have people do the little things; just have flow.”
The Sun need to close down the stretch. Period. Connecticut led at halftime in three of their four losses. In the first 20 minutes of games, the team doesn’t settle for shots; the Sun penetrate the ball and make plays happen. They are able to set the tone of the game.
Once they come out of the locker room at half, the Sun find themselves all of a sudden playing catch-up.
On Saturday, Connecticut was able to dictate the pace and force turnovers early. They had a comfortable, 42-35, lead at halftime. In the next ten minutes, the Lynx would make a comeback and gain a one-point lead, 61-60, after three quarters. The Sun played hard but just didn’t have enough steam for the full 40.
“We played hard again. We’re tired, we’re just defeated a little bit mentally,” Miller said. “We’ve had leads in three [games]out of four at halftime. So we know we’re close. We’ve just got to string together two halves.”
It’s Not Ugly, Yet
In Sunday’s game, Brionna Jones showed improvement by posting 15 points and seven rebounds. At the half, Jones was +12 with eight points and three rebounds.
“She is very capable. She has played against very good post players in the first four games,” Miller said on Jones. “She had good moments tonight. We need a consistent offensive performance from her to augment DB and AT.”
“I feel good,” Jones said. “The fourth game in, I feel more like myself.”
Bria Holmes also showed more aggression on Sunday, tallying seven points for the Sun.
“She played hard in the first half,” Miller said. “Bria got off to a better start today. When she does that, her defensive intensity is good.”
Rounding out the starters is Jasmine Thomas, who had a solid performance against the Lynx with nine points, five rebounds, and four assists. She is still looking for her footing this season, shooting just 24.4 percent on the season. But clearly has the potential to hold a larger role with the Sun this year.
From his bench, Curt Miller sees potential in both Natisha Hiedeman and Theresa Plaisance.
Hiedeman, who had a delayed start to the season due to a positive COVID test, has yet to contribute meaningful minutes to the Sun. However, her coach believes Hiedeman’s time is coming.
“Natisha is still trying to get her legs underneath her,” Miller said. “I’m a huge fan and I think she has a really bright future.”
Plaisance took the court for the first time on Saturday in almost a year. Miller looks to slowly increase her minutes as her recovery from a back injury progresses.
“It was good to get TP some minutes,” Miller said. “Good to get her up and down a little bit. Obviously, she is far from 100%, but it’s good to have TP back.”
After four games in seven days, the Sun will get some much-needed rest. Connecticut doesn’t play until late Tuesday night versus Storm at 9 ET. The Sun will go on to play 10 games in 19 days. Their season isn’t over, but if they want to earn a playoff spot, they need to figure it out quickly.
“There’s no one magic button that we can push,” Miller said. “It’s a continuity issue. I’ve talked until I’m blue in the face with all you guys that there’s going to be speed bumps and a learning curve and a work in progress with this team early in the year.”
After four games in seven days, the Sun will get some much-needed rest. Connecticut doesn’t play until late Tuesday night versus Storm at 9 ET. However, Tuesday’s match-up will mark the first of 10 games in 19 days.
The clock is ticking on the Sun figuring out their identity in the bubble. Their season isn’t over. But if Connecticut wants to earn a playoff spot, they need to assign new roles to take the load off DB.