PG: Renee Montgomery/Kara Lawson
SG: Kalana Greene/Tan White/Allison Hightower
SF: Danielle McCray
PF: Asjha Jones/Kelsey Griffin
C: Tina Charles/Mistie Mims/Chay Shegog
Significant additions: Nobody. Oh alright, Mims (free agency after being out of the league), Shegog (college draft)
Significant losses: Also nobody, unless you count Jessica Moore (currently out of the league)
Should I just refer you to everything I wrote about them last year? Head coach Mike Thibault apparently spent the offseason sitting on his couch knocking back a few cold ones, because as far as he’s concerned, this team is already good enough. In fairness, they are one of the younger teams in the league, and they did finish last season tied for top spot in the Eastern Conference. But it’s always risky to stick with the status quo and expect improvement from within when everyone around you is at least trying to bring in new pieces and improve. Especially when you were swept out of the first round of the playoffs with your best player being essentially shut down.
The key pieces will once again be the starting frontcourt of Tina Charles and Asjha Jones. Charles continues to be one of the top two centers in the world, rivalled only by Sylvia Fowles, and her scoring and rebounding are both central to the Sun’s success. She can finish inside, has solid range on her jumper out to at least 15 feet, a great knack for snagging boards, and while her defense isn’t the equal of Fowles’s she can still do a job in the paint. The problem that sometimes arises is when she falls in love with that jump shot to too great an extent, whether it’s falling or not. That killed Connecticut in the first round of the playoffs last year, when Erika de Souza pushed Charles off the block and she settled for firing away from range. When she plays to her strengths, she’s one of the best post players in the league. Jones had a nice bounce-back season in 2011, looking healthier than she had in a while, and after a very impressive season with Rivas in Spain will be looking to build on that again. As with Charles, she can score in multiple ways and not too many teams have enough mobile post defenders to deal with the pair of them at the same time.
The point guard duties in Connecticut will once again fall to Renee Montgomery, with Kara Lawson as her able deputy and sometime partner in the backcourt. Early on last season, it looked like Montgomery might be taking ‘the leap’ from decent young player to a legitimate force, but it seemed to tail off as the year wore on. She’s quick and dynamic, more than willing to take big shots and pile in points from outside, but sometimes you wonder about her ability to run a team efficiently while picking and choosing her own moments. Lawson’s the older, more stable veteran, although there’s the heart of a gunner constantly beating inside her and begging to be let out. Another dependable ballhandler, the ability to play her with Montgomery gives Thibault extra options in the backcourt when he wants multiple players out there who can initiate the offense.
Elsewhere on the perimeter, for the umpteenth year in a row, Connecticut have an array of wings who all do similar things and play to similar levels. Tan White, Kalana Greene, Danielle McCray and Allison Hightower will fill their roles, play some defense, knock down occasional shots, and unless you pay close attention you’ll probably barely notice which of them are on the floor at any given time. White dropped off nastily last season after impressing in her first couple of years with the Sun, so they’ll be hoping that was an off-year rather than the downward slope of her career beginning and hitting her hard. Greene’s become a solid role player on the wing, and that can be useful, but that’s probably all she’ll ever be. McCray is where the improvement is most likely to come from, if any is to be found among this group. Her first year in the WNBA after returning from serious injury, she showed some skills as a rookie, but they were too infrequent and inconsistent. She could start taking minutes away from the others if her performances hold at a higher level this year. Hightower is likely to sit on the end of the bench for much of the year barring injuries to others, but can fill in occasionally when necessary.
The posts behind Jones and Charles don’t inspire a great deal of confidence, and you wonder if Thibault could’ve spent more time trying to improve the situation in the offseason. They decided on Mistie Mims (formerly Mistie Bass) early on as their 4/5 reserve, and she certainly could prove a solid backup. In limited minutes during years in Houston and Chicago she’s been decent, using her big frame to grab boards and score at a strong percentage when the opportunity arises. Kelsey Griffin returns as, presumably, Jones’s backup, considering Griffin seemed far more comfortable last year as an undersized power forward rather than trying to survive on the wing. She’s a hard worker who’ll do all the little things you want from role players, but she hasn’t quite panned out as being worth the #3 overall pick they took her with in 2010. Unless she can markedly improve that 35% career shooting average she never will, either. The 11th member of the roster is rookie Chay Shegog, taken by the Sun in the second round this year. Thibault claimed there was no one available at #9 when he picked in the first round that could improve his team (choosing to select a Malian we may never see in the WNBA with that pick), which tells you what he thought of Shegog coming in. She may well have made the roster solely because Charles has been carrying an injury for the last couple of weeks, so they needed an emergency post backup just in case. Should someone become available who Thibault thinks can help, Shegog is the likely cut.
Summary and Outlook
This team won 21 games last year. I have to keep reminding myself of that, because I look at the squad and find myself oddly unconvinced. If either Charles or Jones gets hurt for any length of time, their chances of surviving and winning games looks slim, whereas many teams in this league could at least work around losing a key player and stay afloat for a while. Then where other teams may have a star or two on the perimeter and then questionable backups, this squad just seems to have an endless array of players who fall somewhere between those two groups. Maybe Charles can take another step into the absolute elite; maybe Montgomery can make that leap she threatened to take last year; maybe McCray’s going to move beyond that morass of other wing players on the roster; and maybe enough other Eastern Conference teams have gone backwards to help them out. But I can’t quite see it. Barring injuries they’re clearly a likely playoff team, but can you really see this squad winning a championship?