Home Sports This Could Finally Be The Year For The Connecticut Sun

This Could Finally Be The Year For The Connecticut Sun

44
0

Few franchises in all of pro sports have been as consistently good as the Connecticut Sun without ever actually winning a league championship.

Over 24 seasons in the WNBA,1 Connecticut’s 55.7 winning percentage ranks second among active teams (third if we include now-defunct franchises). No other active team with a better than .500 record has won fewer than three championships — and yet, the Sun are still waiting on title No. 1.

The Sun win too much to be ringless

Best all-time winning percentage among active WNBA franchises, 1997-2022

Franchise Years Wins Losses Win% Playoffs Championships
Los Angeles Sparks 26 505 346 .593 20 🏆🏆🏆
Connecticut Sun 24 441 352 .557 15
Minnesota Lynx 24 432 361 .545 13 🏆🏆🏆🏆
Seattle Storm 23 406 355 .534 18 🏆🏆🏆🏆
Phoenix Mercury 26 439 412 .516 16 🏆🏆🏆
New York Liberty 26 415 435 .488 16
Chicago Sky 17 265 298 .470 8 🏆
Las Vegas Aces 26 391 460 .460 13
Indiana Fever 23 346 416 .454 13 🏆
Atlanta Dream 15 220 275 .444 8
Washington Mystics 25 362 462 .439 14 🏆
Dallas Wings 25 359 463 .437 12 🏆🏆🏆

Through games of Aug. 9, 2022. Includes seasons spent by each franchise in different cities and/or under different names.

Source: basketball-reference.com

It wasn’t the right time in 2019, when the Sun went to the WNBA Finals only to fall against the Washington Mystics in five games, nor was it destined at the end of the team’s other two Finals runs, back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2005. But 2022 really could be the year for Connecticut, at long last, thanks to a lineup as balanced and deep as any it’s had.

The Sun’s beating heart remains Jonquel Jones, the league’s reigning MVP. She is on pace to lead Connecticut in scoring for the third time in four seasons — though an improved supporting cast has allowed the team to ask less of its biggest star than usual. (Her scoring average is down from 19.4 a year ago to 14.6 in 2022.)

In fact, Jones isn’t even leading the team in shot attempts per game this season, tied for third on the Sun behind Courtney Williams (11.6) and DeWanna Bonner (10.9). Such a distribution mirrors what Connecticut did en route to its 2019 Finals appearance, when Williams led the team in shot attempts in both the regular season and playoffs.

After that 2019 performance, Williams spent two seasons away from the Sun, earning her first career All-Star selection in her second year with the Atlanta Dream last season. But the veteran shooting guard came back to Connecticut last offseason as an unrestricted free agent, and her return injected the team’s backcourt with a scoring pedigree that is anything but shy. Williams led the league last season in midrange shots made (128) and attempted (333), per WNBA Advanced Stats, giving the Connecticut offense another scoring dimension. 

Brionna Jones’s strides in recent seasons have also helped take some scoring pressure off of Jonquel Jones. Like Williams, Brionna Jones earned her first All-Star nod in 2021, and she notched another selection this season while maintaining her presence as one of the league’s best interior scorers. 

Though Jones’s minutes have decreased from last season, she has scored the fifth-most points from the paint (314) so far this season. Moreover, she leads the team with 130 fourth-quarter points on 55.4 percent shooting, giving defenses another threat to focus on near the rim in crunch time.

Meanwhile, the team has embraced playmaking duties collectively in the absence of starting point guard Jasmine Thomas, who appeared in five games before suffering a season-ending torn ACL. Connecticut adjusted in the face of that adversity, having averaged a franchise-record 20.9 assists per game, good for a third-place tie with the Minnesota Lynx entering Wednesday night.

The Sun’s pass-happy strategy also has it in position to lead the league in shots attempted from the restricted area for the second time in three years, despite missing the franchise’s leader in career assists (995). And the team is poised to finish with a top-three offense for the second straight year after ranking 10th in 2020, when Jonquel Jones sat out the shortened season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Surrounding Jones with other scoring and passing threats is one ideal way to maximize her versatile skill set. Since being drafted by Connecticut in 2016, she is one of five players to record at least 2,500 points and 1,500 rebounds. The other four players? Fellow MVPs Breanna Stewart, Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker and Tina Charles. 

Jones’s lofty company illustrates her ability to carry the load for a championship contender, whether it’s finishing possessions from nearly any spot on the court or creating extra opportunities with her ability to crash the boards.

When Jones isn’t tending to those matters on offense, she also consistently ranks within the top 10 among shot-blockers each year. Jones’s two-way prowess is one reason Connecticut will make its sixth consecutive playoff appearance, tying the franchise record streak set between 2003 and 2008. The team sports a winning percentage of 65.3 in Jones’s 150 regular-season appearances as a starter.

But statistics alone don’t capture Jones’s impact — just ask a fellow MVP.

“She deserves way more attention than she’s gotten as an MVP,” Stewart recently said. “She’s a three-level scorer and makes an impact on the defensive end. It’s tough to match up [with] her because [of] her size first, and then the skill she has.”

Though Jones’s scoring remains as consistent as ever, her value on defense balances Connecticut’s overall performance. She and teammate Alyssa Thomas are among six players to record at least 6.0 defensive win shares this season, one reason why the Sun are on pace to finish with a top-four defense for the fourth time in seven years under head coach Curt Miller.

The Sun are also currently on pace to be only the second WNBA team since 2000 to lead the league in points per game off of turnovers, second-chance points and fast-break points (joining the 2015 Atlanta Dream). They also lead the league in rebound percentage for the second straight year and haven’t ranked outside the top four since before Jones’s rookie season. 

Another key to winning at the margins has been the play of Alyssa Thomas, who earned her third career All-Star selection this season. 

The 30-year old forward has bounced back in a big way after playing in a career-low three games in 2021 while recovering from an Achilles injury. Thomas recently achieved another milestone for her impressive career: winning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for the first time in May, and then again in July. She earned the latter nod after a July in which Connecticut notched a 7-3 regular season record, and Thomas led the Sun with 14.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.4 steals per game. 

Thomas further grew her legend among Sun fans in a victory over the Minnesota Lynx on July 22, when she recorded the first triple-double in franchise history. Without Jonquel Jones in the lineup, Thomas played nearly the entire game — she sat on the bench for only 2:06 of game time — and put on a nearly flawless performance.

For Thomas, who rode out some of the franchise’s relatively rare losing stretches, it would be gratifying to be part of the first Sun championship squad.

“She experienced some down times,” Miller said about Thomas, whom he’s coached since 2016. “Before we got here, they hadn’t gone to the playoffs three straight years [2013 to 2015]. Our first year when I got there [2016] was the rebuilding year, so she had to fight through some of those years before we turned the corner.”

“Now since 2017, we’ve won the most regular-season games in the league. She’s a big part of that and has been a staple in our franchise and has been a face of our franchise. Obviously we refer to her as our engine. It’s fitting through all the perseverance that she’s the one to record the first triple-double.”

With so many important contributors up and down the roster, the excitement around Connecticut’s title chances is justifiable. The team currently has the best chance to win the WNBA title (29 percent entering Wednesday night), per FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model. And if they do pull it off, capturing that elusive trophy would be a long time coming for Jones, Thomas and the rest of the Sun.

Check out our latest WNBA predictions.