The Connecticut Sun concluded yet another successful regular season with a record of 27-13. The team, locked in as the third seed, is in the postseason for the seventh consecutive year and are facing the Minnesota Lynx in an opening round battle. The Sun began their opening round on Sept. 13 with a 90-60 victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena. However, the Lynx staved off elimination on Sunday with an 82-75 win in Uncasville. With the series tied at one apiece, the two teams will head to the Target Center in Minneapolis for Game Three on Wednesday, with an opportunity to advance to the semifinals on the line.
Connecticut has been led primarily by Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, the two Sun players who were elected as All-Stars this season. While Thomas provides the magnetic triple-double prowess and Bonner brings electric shotmaking and energy on the court, the Sun will need additional contributions outside of their two best players to make a postseason run.
Look no further than Natisha Hiedeman. She is poised to be a key player during this postseason journey. She is accustomed to performing on the biggest stage in the WNBA, but this postseason will put her in a different position than she has been in previously.
Hiedeman began to consistently play significant playoff minutes starting in 2021. In four games that postseason, she averaged 9.0 points per game (PPG) in 18.0 minutes per game (MPG). And she scored 16 points on five-of-seven shooting from the field (five-of-six from three-point range) in a Game Four loss at the hands of the Chicago Sky that eliminated the Sun.
Last postseason, during the Sun’s run to the Finals, Hiedeman averaged 8.2 PPG and 26.2 MPG in 12 games played. Game Three of the 2022 Finals (the Sun’s sole victory in the series) proved to be one of the best playoff games of Hiedeman’s career. In the matchup, she tallied 14 points on five-of-seven shooting from the field (a perfect three-of-three from three-point range), nine assists, and three rebounds.
Last season turned out to be one of transition for Hiedeman; she moved into the starting lineup following Jasmine Thomas’ season-ending ACL injury after only five regular season games. In 36 games played during the regular season, Hiedeman averaged 9.1 PPG and 3.3 assists per game (APG) in 25.0 MPG. This regular season, Hiedeman averaged 8.5 PPG and 2.7 APG.
Hiedeman’s emergence as a Sun starter is similar to that of her teammate Brionna Jones. Both players started out their Sun stints as promising reserves that flourished when given the opportunity to contribute as members of the starting lineup. While Jones has received more recognition for her play in the form of league awards, Hiedeman’s growth as a perimeter shooting threat has also been meaningful as she has taken more bites at the apple with the increased playing load. Neither player has looked back since becoming a starter, and these two have been important pieces for the Sun in extending their championship window.
Speaking of Hiedeman’s shooting, it was not as sharp this season as it was last year. During the 2022 regular season, Hiedeman shot 41.1 percent from three-point range (40.9 percent as a starter) and 43.1 percent from the field. This season, her percentages slid down to 36.6 from three-point range and 39.2 from the field.
In addition, she only had one game of at least 20 points this season, which came in a win over the Atlanta Dream on July 20. However, during this game, she notched a career-high 24 points on eight-of-11 shooting from the field and six-of-seven shooting from beyond the arc.
In the Game One blowout against the Lynx, all Sun starters (Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, Tiffany Hayes, and Rebecca Allen) except for Hiedeman scored in double figures. The Sun also received valuable performances from the bench: Tyasha Harris scored 12 points, and DiJonai Carrington scored nine points. Hiedeman had six points on two-of-five shooting from the field and two-of-four shooting from three-point range in under 17 minutes of action. In the Game Two loss, Hiedeman only took two shot attempts and was held scoreless in 13 minutes and 20 seconds of playing time.
Hiedeman needs to continue to find ways to alleviate the heavy workload that is on the shoulders of Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, especially in the scoring department. The majority of Hiedeman’s shot attempts have been from three-point range. It would be useful for her to work to move away from the perimeter more often to score inside, utilizing her three-point shooting capability to her advantage against defenders to find her spots in the midrange. The Sun starting backcourt needs to make an impact, and Hiedeman can play a big role in filling that need.
Outside of Alyssa Thomas and Bonner, the only active Sun player currently on the roster who averaged double-digit points in the regular season is Hayes (12.1 PPG). The Sun backcourt has a pair of scoring threats that should not be overlooked or forgotten about in the midst of the basketball brilliance displayed by the team’s 2023 All-Stars.
Additionally, the Sun as a team should not be forgotten about when it comes to 2023 title contention. A lot of the talk this season has been about the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty and the hype surrounding a potential Finals matchup between the two teams that had historic seasons. What may get lost in the noise is that the Sun had a great regular season themselves. They garnered nearly 30 wins, and their success was due to more than just the contributions of Alyssa Thomas and Bonner. Hiedeman was a factor in keeping the wheels moving for a team that did not falter after significant personnel changes last offseason. This is a Connecticut Sun team that handed the Aces their first loss of the season. And this is a Sun team that has challenged the Liberty in a few meetings and perhaps should have won one meeting if not for a costly turnover that turned a win in regulation into an overtime loss.
These playoffs present an opportunity for Hiedeman to leave her mark and have her game speak even louder than before, particularly after a dip in her shooting percentages this season. This is the first postseason in which her role in the starting lineup is hers alone—not a temporary filler position but a permanent one. She can help set a positive tone for the Sun as they navigate through the playoffs.
This week, the attention is now fixated on the eight remaining teams. In the popular OutKast song “ATLiens,” André 3000 says, “The world’s a stage and everybody gots to play their part.” The postseason is THE stage in the WNBA world. The bigger the stage, the brighter the lights, and the more grand the opportunity is; this is what Hiedeman and the Sun face moving forward. Hiedeman’s success is vital for the Sun in reaching their ultimate goal: winning the first championship in franchise history.
Stats as of Sept. 18. Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of WNBA.com.