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2019 Season Preview: Connecticut Sun

The 2019 WNBA season tips off on May 24. will be previewing every team in the league. See below for a breakdown of the Connecticut Sun. (Click here to see other team previews.)

2018 Recap

Record: 21-13; 4th in league standings; Lost to Phoenix in Second Round (96-86) for second straight season

Leaders: Points: Chiney Ogwumike (14.4), Rebounds: Alyssa Thomas (8.1), Assists: Jasmine Thomas (4.8), Steals: Alyssa Thomas (1.2), Blocks: Jonquel Jones (1.2), 3-Point Pct: Jones (46.7%)

Team Stats: Offensive Rating: 108.2 (1st), Defensive Rating: 101.0 (8th), Net Rating: 7.2 (2nd), Rebound Percentage: 53.6 (1st), True Shooting Percentage: 55.0 (4th), Pace: 80.9 (5th)

Offseason Moves

Free Agency: Re-signed Jasmine Thomas

Draft: Selected Kristine Anigwe (No. 9), Bridget Carleton (No. 21) and Regan Magarity (No. 33, waived during training camp); Acquired rights to Natisha Hiedeman (No. 18) from Minnesota in exchange for Lexie Brown

Trades: Acquired a 2020 first round draft pick from Los Angeles in exchange for Chiney Ogwumike

Players To Watch

Jonquel Jones

Most Improved in 2017, Sixth Woman in 2018, what does Jonquel Jones have in store for 2019? With Chiney Ogwumike now in Los Angeles, Jones should see increased minutes and opportunities on the court, similar to her role in 2017 when Ogwumike missed the season due to injury and Jones took the league by storm. In addition to being a dominant rebounder and rim protector, the 6-foot-6 center can also score both inside and outside; she finished second in 3-point percentage last season with a career-best 46.7%.

Jasmine Thomas

The Sun re-signed Jasmine Thomas to a multi-year contract in February to keep their floor general in Connecticut for the foreseeable future. When it comes to the top two-way players in the league, Thomas has to be in the conversation. Not only does she lead Connecticut’s top-ranked offense (108.2 offensive rating in 2018), she has also been named to the All-Defensive First Team in each of the past two seasons.

“We are excited about re-signing Jas to a multi-year contract,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “She is a true professional and has been a leader for our young team on and off the court. She creates the pace we desire to play with at the offensive end while spearheading our defensive pressure. Jas has been a cornerstone of the team since my arrival and has played a big part in the resurgence of the Sun franchise.”

Alyssa Thomas

Last season, Alyssa Thomas averaged 10.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. While her rebounds per game ranked fifth in the entire WNBA, none of her other numbers jump out at you individually. But the combination of those numbers is what makes her unique. Last season, only two players averaged at least 10 points, four rebounds and four assists per game – Alyssa Thomas and Candace Parker.

But the stat that really stands out for Thomas is how effective the Sun are when she is on the court compared to when she sits. Last season, Connecticut was 13.9 points per 100 possessions better with Thomas on the court (14.0 net rating in 734 minutes) compared to when she was off the court (0.1 net rating in 626 minutes) – the top differential of any Sun player that logged at least 500 minutes last season.

Courtney Williams

Courtney Williams may wear the No. 10, but the number three was a key to her 2018 season as she finished third on the Sun in scoring (12.6 points per game), rebounding (5.9) and assists (3.0) – setting career highs in all three categories. The 5-8 guard has great speed and quickness that help her on both sides of the ball. She is a pesky defender, and excels in transition. With her rebounding prowess, she can collect a defensive board and go coast-to-coast to look for her own shot or set up teammates while the defense tries to recover.

Kristine Anigwe

The Sun added Anigwe with the ninth pick in this year’s draft to provide added depth to the post rotation. While the Sun did not need help on the boards – they led the league in rebound percentage last season – they drafted the top rebounder in Division I this season (16.2 rebounds per game – 2.7 more than Teaira McCowan in second place). Anigwe collected more rebounds than any player (man or woman) in any division (I, II or III) this season and had eight games with at least 20 rebounds and a remarkable 30-30 game.

Three Questions

Can the Sun find playoff success to match their regular season success?

In 2017, the Sun surprised the WNBA with a 21-13 record (going 20-8 after a sluggish 1-5 start to the season) and a No. 4 seed in the WNBA playoffs, which earned them a first round bye. However, even with home-court advantage in the single-elimination second round game, they were knocked out by Phoenix.

In 2018, the Sun were expected to take the next step, but ended up having a repeat of 2017 – a 21-13 record, a No. 4 seed in the playoffs, and a second round elimination at home to the Phoenix Mercury. That’s 42 regular seasons wins over the past two seasons, but zero playoff wins. Is 2019 the year that Connecticut can translate their regular season success into the postseason?

Can Jonquel Jones repeat her 2017 campaign with Ogwumike traded to L.A.?

Jonquel Jones may be the biggest beneficiary of Chiney Ogwumike’s departure for Los Angeles. Jones thrived during the 2017 season – averaging career highs with 15.4 points, a then league record 11.9 rebounds and 28.5 minutes per game. Last season, her minutes dipped to 20.5 per game as she assumed a bench role; her 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 50 3-pointers on 46.7% shooting from beyond the arc helped her win Sixth Woman of the Year honors.

If her performance in the 2019 preseason is any indication of what is to come this season, the Sun will be in great shape. In three preseason games, Jones averaged 16.7 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 50 percent (9-18) from beyond the arc.

Which Sun player is the top candidate to be the go-to player in clutch situations?

The Sun were the top scoring team in the league last season (87.6 points per game) and used a balanced offense to score those points. Chiney Ogwumike was their leading scorer at 14.4 points per game, the second-lowest average of any team leader behind Indiana’s Candice Dupree.

The Sun thrive when generating points off turnovers and fast breaks, but when the pace slows down – like it often does later in the season – the team needs a reliable threat to score in half-court sets, ideally a player that can create their own shot.

Jasmine Thomas led the Sun in usage rate last season at 22.8%, which ranked 20th among players that played at least 10 games. By comparison, the five leaders – Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi – ranged from 28.7% to 27.6% usage.

Jasmine Thomas also led the Sun in field goal attempts in clutch situations – score within five points in the final five minutes – with 23 attempts (making seven), followed by Courtney Williams (5-16 FG) and Alyssa Thomas (2-10 FG).