PG: Chelsea Gray/Jasmine Thomas
SG: Alex Bentley/Kelly Faris/Inga Orekhova
SF: Alyssa Thomas/Shekinna Stricklen
PF: Camille Little/Kayla Pedersen/(Chiney Ogwumike)
C: Kelsey Bone/Elizabeth Williams
Significant additions: Little, Stricklen, Gray, J.Thomas, Williams.
Significant losses: Chiney Ogwumike, Katie Douglas, Allison Hightower, Kelsey Griffin, Renee Montgomery.
Ugh. That’s a lot of turnover, and a lot of losses, for a team that was pretty terrible already for the majority of last season. Chiney Ogwumike, last season’s Rookie of the Year and the leading sign of hope for this franchise, hurt her knee overseas and required microfracture surgery in January. They have some hope that she’ll play this season, but they absolutely should not rush her back. Veteran wing Katie Douglas decided that her back just wasn’t ready to stand up to another WNBA season, and called it quits on a successful career. Allison Hightower, who’s been blighted by injuries for a few years now, will miss the entire season due to knee surgery, while backup post Kelsey Griffin was released after a hip injury that also required surgery. The Sun have added a few pieces via trades and the draft, but Anne Donovan has shown few signs in recent years of being able to coax her teams into becoming more than the sum of their parts. If she fails in that endeavour again, this team is destined for their third trip to the lottery in her three years in Connecticut.
There are still some pieces on this team that could make them interesting and dangerous on any given night. There’s a youthful perimeter, where they’ll be hoping that Alyssa Thomas will make a leap after an inconsistent rookie season. She’s clearly got skills, with unusual size and strength for a perimeter player who can handle the ball, but her lack of a jump shot was a big issue in her first season. Hopefully she’s been working on that. Scoring guard Alex Bentley won’t have to play as much at the point this year, with mediocre-but-reliable Jasmine Thomas picked up in a trade, and Chelsea Gray making her debut after missing the 2014 season due to injury. They also have Shekinna Stricklen, acquired in a trade with Seattle, to offer some size and shooting from the perimeter. None of them are stars – although the Sun hope that Alyssa Thomas and Gray might approach that status some day – but there’s some talent there. It’s just a case of how much they can produce on a nightly basis, and whether Donovan can find the right mesh between them.
Inside, they’ll obviously miss Ogwumike, but at least Camille Little has been added to help fill the hole. Acquired in the same trade that brought in Stricklen, Little’s a solid and reliable post who can defend multiple positions and do lots of dirty work in the paint. With Ogwumike and Griffin out, they’ll need her to do plenty. At center, Kelsey Bone has shown flashes of potential in her first two WNBA seasons, and she has the size and mobility to be a very useful WNBA post. She misses too many easy looks inside, and can pick up some dumb fouls, but there’s talent there. The Sun also added to their interior options by taking Duke’s Elizabeth Williams with the fourth pick in the draft, so at least there’s a hint of depth behind Little and Bone.
Maybe it’s a little unfair to Donovan, but this feels like a roster that her predecessor in Connecticut, Mike Thibault, might be able to build a decent team from. They have a collection of parts without any stars, and with Little as the only real element of veteran leadership. But under Donovan the Sun have been a mess, with a virtual mutiny in her first season, then something of a rebuilding effort in the second amongst a lot of poor performances and losses. She keeps saying that she likes her roster, and that’s understandable. There are a lot of players here to like. The problem is that in virtually every case you’d like them as your fourth, fifth or sixth-best player. Not at the top of your roster. The East is its usual unpredictable morass heading into the season, so if this group could quickly become a cohesive whole and play consistent and solid team defense, they’d win a bunch of games and at least fight for .500. But based on what we’ve seen in recent years and with the players they’ve lost, heading back to the lottery seems significantly more likely. Of course, with UConn’s Breanna Stewart the prize in 2016, maybe the Sun hierarchy won’t see that as too horrible of a prospect.