Through the first third of the WNBA season, the Connecticut Sun have been as hot as anyone. They’ve won nine of their first 12 games, picking up that third loss against the Dallas Wings because of a crazy last-second banked-in-3-pointer by Wings’ rookie Arike Ogunbowale. Even with that loss, the Sun have the best record in the league, and offensive and defensive efficiencies that both rank in the top three.
The Sun have gotten off to this incredible start despite having traded two-time All-Star and last season’s leading scorer, Chiney Ogwumike, to the Sparks in the offseason. Connecticut has adapted to that loss, thanks to the continued emergence of versatile big Jonquel Jones and the steady play of a deep and talented supporting cast.
Jones broke out in 2017, when Ogwumike was forced to miss the entire season recovering from an Achilles injury. However, with Ogwumike healthy last season, Jones’ numbers regressed as she saw fewer minutes and had to adjust to sharing opportunities and responsibilities with Ogwumike, who played a similar role, when they were on the floor together.
Last season, Jones played about 40 percent of her minutes next to Ogwumike. When they were on the floor together, Jones averaged 14.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per 36 minutes with a strong 55 true shooting percentage. When she was on the floor by herself, those averages jumped to 25.5 points and 10.0 rebounds with a ridiculous 71 true shooting percentage — numbers that line up well with the 19.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per 36 she’s averaging this season, on a 59.1 true shooting percentage.
Jones was ready to be featured as a hyper-efficient, high-volume lead scorer and clearing the frontcourt has allowed her to fully embrace that role. While she’s been powering the Sun’s offense, Jones is also getting support from the rest of the roster, particularly Shekinna Stricklen — a 3-point shooting specialist who is off to a historic start.
Stricklen had hit at least 40 percent of her 3-pointers in each of the last two seasons but so far in 2019, she’s significantly increased her attempts without any real drop off in accuracy. After last night’s loss to the Wings, Stricklen’s attempts dropped under 10.0 3-point attempts per 36 minutes (to 9.7) but she’s still hitting 41.6 percent. If she can get her attempts per 36 back into double-digits, she would become just the third player in WNBA history to shoot at that volume in at least 500 minutes — Diana Taurasi and Shanna Zolman are the only two other players to do it. Her 3-point percentage is currently much higher than Zolman’s or Taurasi’s in the seasons they accomplished it.
The Sun offense has also worked so well because they move the ball and attack in early offense. Four players on the roster are averaging at least two assists per game, three of which rank in the top-20 in the league. Connecticut is also leading the league in fast break points per game, holding opponents to the second-lowest average of fast break points. The result is a margin of +5.8 fast break points per game, by far the biggest differential in the league. That transition attack is powered by their suffocating defense but also a willingness to run off of opponents made shots.
Connecticut is not the only team off to an incredible start — the Mystics are just behind them in the standings with an astronomically high point differential. The Sun, however, have already taken two games from the Washington Mystics, by a combined 23 points. That feat is even more impressive when you consider that those represent two of Washington’s three losses on the season and that the Mystics have outscored opponents by an average of 16 points per game in their other nine games.
There is still plenty of basketball left to be played but the Sun have figured out an identity, a system and a structure after losing arguably their best player of the summer. So far, it’s all working.