Connecticut Sun: 2006 Preview
No WNBA team has performed more consistently over the last three seasons than the Connecticut Sun, one of only two teams in the league to win a playoff series three years running (with the Monarchs).
Last year, the Sun went 26-8, posting the best record by any team since the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks. In the playoffs, they swept past Detroit and Indiana to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions and return to the WNBA Finals. Sacramento upended the Sun, 3-1, in the WNBA Finals, marking the third straight year the Sun has lost to the league eventual league champion.
Instead of two straight championships and a chance to be the next Houston Comets, they now have two straight Finals losses and hope to avoid becoming the next Buffalo Bills.
While so many franchises in sport constantly tinker with their roster or shuffle the deck entirely in hopes of finding a magic combination, the Sun have been impeccably stable, which should aide them in their continued quest for the WNBA's elusive championship trophy.
All 10 veterans on the Sun's training camp roster were with the team a year ago. The only notable absence from last year's squad is super sub Brooke Wyckoff, last seen drilling a game-tying three to force overtime in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. An expansion draft casualty, Wyckoff undoubtedly would have remained had she not been selected by the Sky.
Replacing Wyckoff is probably coach Mike Thibault's biggest long-term concern. Fortunately, he has some experience on his bench, having groomed 6-0 Le'Coe Willingham and 6-2 Laura Summerton with bit roles last season. Neither, though, has been a consistent contributor.
In the short-term, Connecticut's bigger concern is the health of point guard Lindsay Whalen. Still rehabilitating from surgery that followed an ankle injury she suffered in the WNBA Finals, Whalen missed all three preseason games, and is questionable for the season opener.
When healthy, Whalen is arguably the league's best point guard, a 46 percent shooter who scored 12.1 points per game a year ago while distributing 5.1 assists (3rd in WNBA). Without her, they averaged 28.7 turnovers per game in the preseason.
If Whalen can't go, or is hindered by the injury, the most important position on the floor will be in the hands of inexperienced players. Holdovers Jen Derevjanik and Jamie Carey have both seen plenty of preseason action, as has Australian rookie Erin Phillips, the team's second-round pick in 2005. Combined, they've hit only 9 of 29 field goals (1 of 10 treys) and have more turnovers than assists. Sun trainer Jen Brodeur might get a few votes for team MVP if she can get Whalen on the floor at 100 percent by opening day.
Starting forwards Taj McWilliams-Franklin (13.9 ppg last year) and Nykesha Sales (15.6) begin their eighth season together, and can probably anticipate one another's moves better than Fischer and Kasparov. Guard Katie Douglas (11.0), in her sixth season with the club, starts at shooting guard.
At the pivot, 7-2 shotblocker Margo Dydek starts; Asjha Jones plays almost identical minutes in a reserve role. Combined, they averaged 16.4 points, 10 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.5 blocks a game, and are largely responsible for opponents shooting only 39.8 percent against the Sun last year.
This team excels on offense (scored 72.8 ppg; 2nd in WNBA) and defense (allowed 66.0 ppg; 3rd in WNBA) and led the league a year ago in shooting (45.2 percent) and assists (16.9 apg). They return all five starters and a coach who has compiled a 62-40 mark and finished second in Coach of the Year balloting for two straight years.
Their bench is young, so this isn't a team that can afford a significant injury, but if they're healthy at playoff time, there's no reason to believe they won't continue their streak of playoff successes and possibly take aim at the one series they haven't won.