It looks like another year where we’re going to discount the Connecticut Sun and they’re going to prove us wrong.
This year we will discount them partly because of what they have lost (Jonquel Jones and Curt Miller), which is why we have discounted them in the past (2020 without J. Jones, 2021 without Alyssa Thomas and 2022 without Jasmine Thomas). But the main reason we will discount them this time is because the Las Vegas Aces (with A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Candace Parker and Jackie Young) and the New York Liberty (with Breanna Stewart, J. Jones, Courtney Vandersloot, Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney) are just too good.
When I say they will prove us wrong, I don’t necessarily think they are going to beat the Aces and/or Liberty en route to a championship, but they might. If they don’t, I think they are going to give one or both of those teams a battle.
I think Phoenix and Washington will be dangerous, but I think the Sun may have the third-best team in the league. Only four teams had more than two players make Swish Appeal’s Top 30 player list. Vegas and New York both had five, Connecticut had four and Phoenix had three.
The four players that made it for the Sun are A. Thomas, Brionna Jones, Tiffany Hayes and DeWanna Bonner. That’s a pretty dangerous big four.
A. Thomas will be the unquestioned leader of the team with J. Jones now in New York. J. Jones appeared at No. 5 on our list; Thomas appeared at No. 13. J. Jones won the league MVP award in 2021 and is generally considered a bigger superstar than A. Thomas. But A. Thomas was the Sun’s best player last year, finishing fourth in MVP voting while J. Jones finished seventh.
A. Thomas does things that defy expectations. Her defying expectations is a microcosm of the Sun defying expectations. She has torn labra in her shoulders and is completely devoid of a jump shot because of that. Yet she puts points on the board at a good rate (13.4 per game last year). She scores in transition and off back-to-the-basket play in the post, even though she is undersized for a post player at 6-foot-2. The transition aspect of her game has always been a strength; she is one of the best in the game at it. And now she gets by with those two scoring avenues and without the sweet mid-range game she had at Maryland.
A. Thomas should be just as feared as any of the other great playoff performers in the league because she has a history of putting her team on her back in the postseason. She came back shortly after a dislocated shoulder to lead the underdog Sun to a semifinal win over the Aces in 2020 and also had phenomenal Finals in 2019 and 2022. If the pressure to be dominant gets to be too much for Vegas and/or NY, look for A. Thomas to take full advantage and rip their hearts out with an upset.
B. Jones is a great second-best player. She has the offensive talent to average far more points than she does; she could really be a dominant inside scorer if she got unquestioned-No.-1-scoring-option touches. Hayes is not to be overlooked as the team’s third-best player; perhaps she is being overlooked and there’s not enough hype surrounding her entering the season. She brings dynamic athleticism and will be a problem as another scoring weapon. Bonner is also being overlooked, coming in at No. 30 on our Top 30 list when she was No. 19 just two years ago. She has set a high standard if we’re concerned that she only averaged 13.5 points per game last year.
The thing about the Sun is they also have depth. The next four players on their roster are Natisha Hiedeman, Rebecca Allen, Tyasha Harris and DiJonai Carrington. Hiedeman we know is dangerous, especially with her 41.1 percent 3-point shooting from last year. I would say she has star potential. Allen is also a solid WNBA player; she averaged 9.2 points per game in 2021. Harris has the potential to be a solid point guard in the league and Carrington is on the rise after being a draft steal in 2021.
While the Sun have seen Miller depart for Los Angeles after leading them to four semis and two Finals in the past four years, they are getting a head coach in Stephanie White who has also been to the Finals. She led the Fever there in 2015 before a 17-17 record and first-round exit in 2016. With Hayes replacing J. Jones as the fourth star and with White replacing Miller, the Sun really aren’t much worse off than they were when they went to the Finals last year.