The second half of the WNBA season is underway, and the Connecticut Sun remain among the best teams in the league.
Connecticut had a strong start to the season with a 9-3 record, in the midst of competing for a top-three seed in the postseason. Even though the franchise went through significant changes to the roster and coaching staff following last year’s Finals loss, the sun beamed on Uncasville’s team.
That bright season outlook turned cloudy on June 20 in Climate Pledge Arena. With under 70 seconds remaining of an 85-79 victory over the Seattle Storm, Brionna Jones fell down on court, suffering a season-ending right Achilles rupture. Though the Sun left Seattle with a 10-3 record, they carried the inevitable reality that the services of one of their best players would no longer be available in 2023.
It is certainly a blow for the Sun to lose their reigning Sixth Player of the Year, who this season was averaging a career high in points (15.9 PPG), rebounds (8.2 RPG) and assists (2.4 APG) per game. Jones, who was in the team’s starting lineup in 2020 and 2021, found herself back in the lineup this season before her own injury.
Losing a starter for the season is nothing new for Connecticut. Jones’ Achilles injury is microcosmic of the bug that has plagued the Sun over the last few seasons. The Sun were one win away from a championship in 2019 and have continued to knock on the door of title success each year since. However, every time, they were confronted with the absence of a key player.
In 2020, the Sun went to the Wubble without their All-Star Jonquel Jones and finished with a lackluster 10-12 regular season record. Despite that, the team found postseason success again and reached the semifinals, losing to the Las Vegas Aces in five games.
Before the 2021 season, Alyssa Thomas tore her Achilles while playing overseas. She made a remarkable recovery that allowed her to play the final two regular season games and into the postseason, but she was not as consistently effective as she was before, due to rust and her limited minutes off the bench. That year, the Sun had the best record in the league (26-6), and a returning Jonquel Jones won the MVP award. Unfortunately, the Sun lost again in the semifinals to the Chicago Sky, the eventual champions.
Over these two seasons, Brionna Jones showed her growth as a WNBA player and put her improved game on display for the league to see. After never playing more than 9.0 minutes per game (MPG), and scoring under 4.0 PPG in each of her first three seasons in the WNBA, she averaged 13.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 steals per game (SPG), and just under 29.0 MPG between 2020 and 2021, according to Across the Timeline. While Jonquel was the MVP in 2021, Brionna was the Most Improved Player that same season.
Last season, Jasmine Thomas only played five games before suffering a torn right ACL that kept her out for the remainder of 2022. Despite her absence, the Sun finished the regular season with a 25-11 record and ultimately reached the Finals, eliminating the Sky and avenging the 2021 semifinal loss in the process. Yet, in a Finals series between perhaps the two teams most desperate to win a title, the Sun lost to the Aces, falling short in the championship round for the second time in four seasons.
After a 2022 season when Brionna Jones averaged 13.8 PPG and 5.1 RPG as a primary bench player, it’s now her who falls to injury.
Her injury followed an offseason of transition and reshaping within the franchise. Just weeks after last year’s Finals, head coach Curt Miller left the team for the same position with the Los Angeles Sparks. The Sun later named Stephanie White as the new head coach. The Sun then traded both Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas to the New York Liberty and Sparks, respectively.
Even though the Aces and Liberty have been considered the two best teams this season, the Sun had the second-best record in the league (behind the Aces) at the time of Brionna Jones’ injury. Without one of their best players going forward, they now have to be wary of falling out of top-four seeding for the postseason, with teams like the Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream lurking. As of now, the Sun hold the third-best record in the WNBA and have done a great job avoiding a fall in the standings, evident by their current 18-7 record.
The Sun have stayed afloat, due to valuable performances from DeWanna Bonner, Tiffany Hayes, Natisha Hiedeman, Rebecca Allen, and DiJonai Carrington. The performance of one Sun player that stands out the most is Alyssa Thomas, who has four triple-doubles this season and now owns the record for most regular-season triple-doubles with six (and most all-time with eight—two in the postseason), per Across the Timeline.
Brionna Jones’ injury not only shines a light on past misfortunes and missed opportunities for the Sun, but it is also an injury that may loom larger. What does the future hold for the Sun? Brionna Jones, Bonner, Hayes, and Allen are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after this season. Alyssa Thomas and Hiedeman are slated to be unrestricted free agents after 2024. Who will stay on board after the season? Does the front office elect to inject more youth into the roster to build the future around, given how a number of key players on the team are in their thirties and looking to compete for a championship? What impact would falling short of a championship in yet another injury-riddled season have this time around?
In each of the last few seasons, Connecticut has been dealt a bad hand with injury misfortune. The team has also watched others hoist the championship trophy; despite the regular season and postseason successes, they continue to finish the season empty-handed. The Sun are in familiar territory with missing a key contributor, but they are also familiar with fighting their hearts out to overcome adversities.
Brionna Jones’ injury may have hampered their season, but like other injuries and absences over the last few seasons, it did not end their season. The championship fate of the Connecticut Sun will be decided later this summer.
Stats as of 7/31. Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of WNBA.com.