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2020 WNBA Team Preview: Connecticut Sun

The 2020 WNBA season is set to be the most unique in the league’s 24-year history. Teams have arrived at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL to begin training camp for a 22-game season with all games played at a single site without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bubble is set and the season is set to tip off on July 25. In the lead up to the season, will break down each team in the league, continuing with the Connecticut Sun.

2019 Season Recap

  • 23-11, 2nd in East, 2nd in League
  • Lost in WNBA Finals to Washington (3-2)

Off-Season Moves

  • Draft: No. 23 Kaila Charles; No. 35 Juicy Landrum; Landrum has been waived
  • Trades: Acquired DeWanna Bonner from Phoenix in a sign-and-trade deal for three first round draft picks (2 in 2020, 2021); Acquired Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from Seattle in exchange for a second round draft pick (2021); Acquired Briann January and a second round draft pick (2021) from Phoenix as part of a three-team trade where Connecticut sent Courtney Williams to Atlanta; Acquired the No. 7 pick in the 2020 draft from Seattle in exchange for Morgan Tuck and the No. 11 pick in the 2020 draft; Acquired a second round pick (2021) in a sign-and-trade deal with Minnesota for Rachel Banham
  • Players Added: Signed free agents Natisha Hiedeman, Beatrice Mompremier and Jacki Gemelos
  • Players Lost: Courtney Williams traded to Atlanta, Morgan Tuck traded to Seattle; Rachel Banham traded to Minnesota; Shekinna Stricklen to Atlanta as a free agent; Layshia Clarendon to New York as a free agent, Jonquel Jones will not play in 2020
  • Returning Players: Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, Bria Holmes, Theresa Plaisance remain under contract; Bria Holmes and Jonquel Jones re-signed with the Sun

Who’s at IMG Academy

Between free agency, trades, the draft and players choosing not to participate in the season due to health concerns, the teams that take the court in 2020 may look a lot different than they did in 2019. Here’s a look at some of the key players that will represent the Sun in 2020.

Alyssa Thomas

  • 2019 Stats: 34 GP, 30.2 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 50.5 FG%, 49.6 FT%
  • Last season, the player nicknamed “The Engine” earned her second All-Star nod and was named Second Team All-Defense for the second time, despite playing through torn labrums in both shoulders. She embodies a toughness that few can match and has a versatility to her game that allows her to impact the game at every level: scoring, playmaking and defending. Thomas averaged 16 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists in last year’s playoffs. Throughout WNBA history, only three other players have averaged at least 15-7-5 while playing at least three playoff games – Sheryl Swoopes (2002), Tamika Catchings (2008, 2009) and Candace Parker (2017) – putting Thomas in outstanding company.

Jasmine Thomas

  • 2019 Stats: 34 GP, 29.7 MPG, 11.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, 39.2 FG%, 36.6 3P%
  • Thomas excels on both ends of the court. She ranked sixth in the WNBA in assists in 2019, while also contributing 11 points of her own each night. On defense, she ranked eighth in steals and is one of the top on-ball defenders in the league. She was named to the All-Defensive First Team for the third consecutive year.

DeWanna Bonner

  • 2019 Stats (Phoenix): 34 GP, 32.9 MPG, 17.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 37.7 FG%, 27.2 3P%
  • Bonner spent the first decade of her career in Phoenix, where she helped the Mercury win championships both as a sixth woman (2009) and as a starter (2014). She is a three-time Sixth Woman of the Year and three-time All-Star who brings a load of versatility and championship experience to the Sun.

Briann January

  • 2019 Stats (Phoenix): 32 GP, 26.6 MPG, 6.5 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 39.0 FG%, 37.8 3P%
  • January is another veteran with championship experience that the Sun acquired in the offseason. The combo guard brings additional playmaking and 3-point shooting to the Sun. January led the WNBA in 3-point percentage in both 2015 and 2018 and finished 15th last season. January has yet to join the Sun in Florida as she is still in COVID-19 protocols after testing positive for the virus.

Brionna Jones

  • 2019 Stats: 27 GP, 8.4 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 46.7 FG%
  • Since the Sun selected Jones with the eighth pick in the 2017 draft, the 6-3 forward has shown flashes of her potential but will be asked to play a much larger role in her fourth season as the Sun frontline is thin due to the absence of Jonquel Jones. Veteran Theresa Plaisance (6-5) and rookie Beatrice Mompremier (6-4) will also be called upon to provide depth on the frontline.

Bria Holmes

  • 2019 Stats: 34 GP, 15.6 MPG, 6.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.5 SPG, 39.9 FG%, 31.7 3P%
  • The Sun acquired Holmes in 2018 knowing that she would miss the entire season due to pregnancy. She proved to be worth the wait as a solid contributor off the bench last season during the Sun’s run to the Finals. The Connecticut native re-signed with the Sun in the offseason and is on track to play a larger role in 2020.

Three Questions

1. How will the Sun fill the void left by Jonquel Jones?

There simply is no way for any single player to replace what Jonquel Jones brings to the Sun. In 2019, she led the Sun and ranked 12th in the WNBA in scoring, led the league in rebounding, and tied for the league lead in blocked shots. The 6-6 center not only is the anchor to the Sun defense, but she is a true stretch five as she is a 38.5% career 3-point shooter.

It will likely be center by committee for the Sun to start the season as head coach Curt Miller looks for a standout that he can rely upon. He has veteran Theresa Plaisance, young forward Brionna Jones and rookie Beatrice Mompremier, who the Sun signed after she was waived by the Sparks, to evaluate and see who fits best alongside the Sun’s big three of DeWanna Bonner and the Thomases.

Jones isn’t the only player the Sun will miss as two of Connecticut’s top two 3-point shooters from 2019 – Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen – will suit up for the Dream this season. Williams ranked second on the Sun in scoring during the regular season and shared the team lead with Jones in the postseason. Stricklen ranked third in the league in 3-pointers made (76) and 12th in accuracy.

2. How quickly can the new big three of Bonner and the Thomases gel?

While many teams that make Game 5 of the Finals and come up just short of the title would simply look to run it back with the same squad, the Sun made some big changes to their roster during the offseason. The key addition was DeWanna Bonner – a two-time champion and three-time All-Star during her career in Phoenix – who offers a combination of versatility and athleticism that should make her a great fit alongside Alyssa and Jasmine Thomas.

Bonner is one of four players – along with Elena Delle Donne, Arike Ogunbowale and Kia Nurse – to rank in the top 15 in both free throws made and 3-pointers made. Bonner led the WNBA in free throws made (153) and ranked sixth in accuracy (91.75), while also tied with Delle Donne for 11th in 3-pointers made (52), with 26 of those coming from beyond 25 feet from the basket.

Bonner has the speed to run with the Sun (they ranked fourth the league in pace in 2019) and as the ability to stretch the floor and create scoring opportunities in the half court. She is also an excellent rebounder, who finished ninth the league in 2019, just behind Alyssa Thomas. All of those skills should mesh well with the Sun and help fill the void left by Jones, Williams and Stricklen.

3. Are the Sun Still in Search of RespeCT?

A driving force behind Connecticut’s run to the WNBA Finals in 2019 was the idea that they were being disrespected by WNBA analysts and pundits. The idea of “nobody believes in us” fueled the Sun to prove the haters wrong, to show that they had stars on their team, and they were worthy of being champions in this league.

After going the distance with the Mystics in the Finals, the Sun had earned plenty of respect, but will the doubters re-emerge with Jones not playing in 2020 and players like Williams and Stricklen gone from last year’s squad? People should choose to doubt the Sun at their own risk; if last year proved anything it’s that this team loves to play with a chip on its shoulder.