The Connecticut Sun's 2018 Season

A recap of the Connecticut Sun's 2018 season and where they may go from here.

Disclaimer: I'm not a GM or head coach, nor do I play either on TV; opinions are solely my own. Don't @ me.

The Connecticut Sun ended the 2018 season with a 21-13 record and earned a single-bye in the playoffs with the #4 seed, only to get bounced in the second round (again) by the Phoenix Mercury (again). What happened this season and what needs to happen going forward? Let’s discuss.

Sun Health Matters

As we saw during Alyssa Thomas’ 10-game absence with a shoulder injury and Chiney Ogwumike’s occasional misses toward the end of the season with a sore knee, good health is imperative in any scenario involving the Sun’s championship aspirations. Connecticut went through a 2-8 losing skid while Thomas was on the bench and got back on track once she returned (MVP, anyone?). Short of wrapping players in bubble wrap, there isn’t much that anyone can do to keep everyone healthy, assuming that the players are doing their parts off the court to stay in the best shape possible (which, from all accounts, they have).

Get Your Mind Right

As we saw in the last two minutes of the second round playoff game against Phoenix, Connecticut let the Mercury’s run get inside their heads -- specifically, the play of Diana Taurasi. The Sun had led for most of the game and had a narrow 1-point lead with 48 seconds left in the 3rd quarter but allowed a bucket by Brittney Griner to give Phoenix a 1-point lead heading into the 4th quarter.  An impressive four-point play by Courtney Williams at the 4:19 mark of the 4th quarter gave the Sun an 81-80 lead, followed by another bucket to give the Sun a 3-point cushion. Then a bucket by DeWanna Bonner in the last two minutes of the game opened the floodgates and Phoenix went on a run to win the game, 96-86.

This win was widely attributed to Phoenix’s extensive playoff experience and resulting mental toughness. The Sun was playing great basketball up until the last two minutes of the game, then they just collectively gave up the (mental) ghost; they made defensive lapses that you can’t make against any team, let alone a battle-tested team like the Mercury. Since it’s not the Sun’s level of talent that is in question, head coach and general manager Curt Miller may want to consider adding one or two more veteran players with more extensive playoff experience before next season. That may be what can finally get the Sun over the (mental) hump and make a deeper postseason run.

Double Trouble

One of the major issues in this year’s playoff game against Phoenix was double-teaming Griner in an effort to hamper her effectiveness in the paint. Unfortunately, doing so left Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner open to drill three-point shots. What’s a team to do? This is a primary weapon employed by the Mercury, as they expect the double-teams on Griner and spread the floor accordingly; with so many shooting weapons, it can seem like playing Whack-A-Mole.

Even if Connecticut doesn’t meet up with Phoenix in next year’s playoffs, they need to work more on perimeter defense, since three-point shooting is becoming all the rage in the league and is the last resort for teams that are weaker on defense (it’s harder to guard someone who can shoot from beyond the arc). And if they do happen to dance with the Mercury for the third time in the postseason, the Sun has to figure out how to effectively cut off the multiple heads of the Phoenix hydra in Taurasi, Griner, and Bonner -- especially since defensive ace Sancho Lyttle will likely return to the lineup next season.

Watch The Company You Tweet (or Post, or Record)

In the second half of the 2018 second-round playoff game against the Mercury, “Aggie Taurasi” (as color commentator Rebecca Lobo called her; “aggie” is short for “aggressive”) showed up and willed her team to a 96-86 win over. Post-game comments by Taurasi (in typical Taurasi fashion) alluded to a social media post by a Sun player, which social media detectives deduced to be one by Courtney Williams while ESPN decided that the Sun’s Jasmine Thomas was the offender.

 

Gooo timeee!! Playoffs babyyyyy ??????

A post shared by Courtney Williams (@courtneywilliams10) on

Regardless of the reason, Connecticut seemed to have somehow “poked the bear” and Taurasi went off to help propel Phoenix to another win. While players shouldn’t tailor their social media to avoid hurting the feelings of an opponent (in a friendly, sportsmanship way), they should be mindful of who and when they are playing and post accordingly -- especially when certain players have a well-deserved reputation for deriving motivation from the smallest things.

The Future’s So Bright

Connecticut has a good core of players who enjoy playing together and keep getting better every year (hi, Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas!). The midseason addition of Layshia Clarendon gave a positive veteran and scoring presence. There isn’t much that needs to be done on a macro level; some minor tweaks, though, are in order.

Two in-house tweaks that Miller should consider are 1) running more plays through Courtney Williams and 2) getting Shekinna Stricklen more touches. Williams has proven that she can break open a game when the offense runs through her, and good things happen when Stricklen gets the ball more often. If the point runs through Williams and Stricklen moves to an increased scoring role (she has the range), then J. Thomas could focus more on defense; this could prove confusing to opposing teams as they would scout the opposite.  As the league turns more and more to positionless basketball, the flexibility of such moves could prove beneficial when dealing with shape-shifting teams such as the Mercury.

Connecticut is *this* close to making a legitimate run for a championship but as long as Taurasi suits up for the purple and orange, all roads to a ring seem to go through Phoenix. If the Sun can solve this problem, they'll be hoisting the trophy soon enough.

Thanks for stopping by this season. #GetSun 

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