Midseason Checkup: Connecticut Sun

A synopsis of the Connecticut Sun's status at the midpoint of the 2018 WNBA season.

Here we are, just over halfway through the 2018 WNBA season and less than a month away from the 2018 All-Star game in Minneapolis, MN. The Connecticut Sun started the season undefeated and recently lost their last two games. They currently sit at 10-9. But what does this actually mean? Let’s discuss.

The Struggle is Real

The Connecticut Sun started the regular season undefeated, then lost only one game, then it went downhill from there. Guard Alyssa Thomas has been out for the past six games due to a shoulder injury and while the team struggled without her, they managed to pick up a win here and there. But then starting guard Courtney Williams was out for the last two games due to “personal” reasons.

Williams’ absence didn't necessarily cause alarm; players are people too, and they have off-court issues that need to be dealt with as well. Then a rumor surfaced over the weekend that Williams’ personal-based absence was actually due to an altercation with teammate Alexandria "Alex" Bentley (you know...the person who lost her starting spot to Williams last season). There was, of course, no comment from the Sun, Williams, or Bentley. Then this happened on the morning of July 9:

Well...that escalated quickly.

In the grand scheme of things, Williams is more important to Connecticut than Bentley, though Bentley’s bench play has been especially helpful since A. Thomas has been out. The way the WNBA playoff fight is set up, though, the Sun need all the help they can get. A business decision had to be made and Williams’ skill set was deemed to be more viable to help take the Sun to the Promised Land of a WNBA championship.

(to read about the trade from the Atlanta Dream’s perspective, click here.)

Clarendon is going to have an immediate impact because that’s how she rolls. The savvy All-Star veteran’s minutes have been drastically reduced since Angel McCoughtry returned to the Dream this season after sitting out last season to rest, and we know she can start if needed (Clarendon was a starter last season) -- and if Williams continues to be away from the team. Clarendon can shoot, she can read the floor, she’s a leader, and she doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. She’ll fit in fine with the blue-collar approach that has propelled the Sun to last year’s playoffs and hopefully, she’ll help staunch the bleeding and keep Connecticut from sliding under .500 and potentially missing the playoffs.

I’m excited. You should be too.

Baby, I’m a Star

When one thinks of the Connecticut Sun, one automatically thinks of franchise player Chiney Ogwumike, who the Sun drafted number one overall in the 2014 WNBA draft. Then one may think of Jasmine Thomas, her high-scoring starting partner. Eventually one will get around to Shekinna Stricklen and Jonquel Jones, but they should be two of the first people one thinks of when thinking of this franchise.

Stricklen is one of the most underrated players on the Sun’s roster. When she scores less than 8 points per game, Connecticut loses. She has proven herself to be a clutch player and is one of the three-point-shooting bigs that are all the rage in professional basketball these days. So is her teammate Jonquel Jones. Jones started emerging last season as a bonafide star with her defense (including WNBA records of 403 rebounds, 11.9 rebounds per game, and 280 defensive rebounds in one season), and that helped propel the Sun into the playoffs.

This season, Jones is upping her game around the rim and raining a whole lot of threes to boot. She is also facilitating more assists and just becoming a better all-around player, which will ensure that she has a job in this or any other professional basketball league. Both Stricklen and Jones deserve a nod for the 2018 WNBA All-Star team (Jones was named an All-Star last year but as a replacement for an injured player); oh well...there’s always next year.

The Sun Collective

Whether it’s due to the absence of A. Thomas (and Williams) or just general doldrums over their current situation, Connecticut needs to activate the team mind meld that was so central to their dominant run at the beginning of the season. Ogwumike provides leadership, but that leadership has not translated lately into a cohesive playing unit -- especially in the face of adversity. One can point to the gritty, hot-wing-and-a-prayer win over the Los Angeles Sparks last week (and the second time the Sun have beaten the Sparks this season) as proof that this team can rise up and overcome obstacles, but that is a small sample size.

Connecticut lost to the Washington Mystics (twice) once Elena Delle Donne returned from injury (the Sun beat the Delle Donne-less Mystics early in the season); they’ve since lost to the Seattle Storm (twice) and the Phoenix Mercury (twice). They’ve even lost to the Atlanta Dream (twice) and the upstart Las Vegas Aces. It’s concerning that other teams seem to be getting stronger as the Sun is fading (ha; see what I did there?), and that the Sun has not been able to beat three of the top teams in the league when they, the opponents, are healthy (Phoenix lost a major defense tool when Sancho Lyttle went out for the season with a torn ACL, so there’s an opportunity there for Connecticut). Clarendon’s arrival should bolster Connecticut on offense but it will be up to Ogwumike to bring the team together as a high-functioning unit: one that will withstand a playoff run in an increasingly competitive league.

Moving Forward

It’s not too late for the Connecticut Sun to get right or get left, but that window is closing quickly. The Williams/Bentley situation has been addressed, they got an excellent mid-season addition in Clarendon, and A. Thomas will hopefully return soon. Plus, the Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx are showing chinks in their respective armors; blood is in the water and Connecticut needs to get into Great White Shark mode. Now it’s up to Ogwumike as the leader of this team and the face of the franchise to get her team to make hay while the Sun shines.

Thanks for stopping by. #GetSun

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