2016 WNBA Team Previews: Connecticut Sun

 

PG: Jasmine Thomas/Rachel Banham

SG: Alex Bentley

SF: Alyssa Thomas/Shekinna Stricklen

PF: Chiney Ogwumike/Camille Little/Morgan Tuck

C: Kelsey Bone/Jonquel Jones/Aneika Henry-Morello

Plus one of the Jamie Weisner, Kelly Faris and Jennifer O’Neill guard trio that are still hanging around in camp.


Significant additions
: The return of Ogwumike from microfracture knee surgery, assuming she’s actually healthy; yet more promising kids in top-six picks Banham, Tuck and Jones; and a new head coach in Curt Miller, replacing the somnolent and unsuccessful Anne Donovan.

Significant losses: They gave up on Chelsea Gray and Elizabeth Williams after only one season, trading them for draft picks. But that’s about it.


Overview

After a great start to last season, the wheels fell off for Connecticut and they regressed back to the messy team we’d been watching ever since the franchise dumped Mike Thibault and handed the reins over to Donovan. But there was positive growth. In the absence of Ogwumike, Kelsey Bone had room to flourish as the main low-post threat, while Alex Bentley had another strong year as the primary scorer on the perimeter. Now with Ogwumike back and yet more young talent piled on what they already had, there are reasons for legitimate optimism around this franchise for the first time in years.

Ogwumike was a star in the making before her knee injury, and if she’s back at anything like 100% she’ll be a big piece of the puzzle for the Sun in the paint. It’s worrying that she hasn’t appeared at all in the preseason, even if the Sun claim they’re just being careful, so it’s a case of waiting to see what she can do. There should be less of a load for her to carry than in her rookie year in 2014, with Bone a distinctly improved player, veteran options like Little and Henry-Morello, and fresh youngsters Tuck and Jones. This could be a deep, powerful rotation inside, health permitting.

The perimeter is a little more open to question. Bentley’s a pure scorer, but also somewhat hit-or-miss. Jasmine Thomas remains a fairly ordinary, albeit reasonably solid, option at the point. Banham was exciting in college, and has all kinds of range on her shot, but no one’s quite sure how she’ll adapt to the pros – especially defensively. And on the wing, Thomas and Stricklen have looked like an excellent WNBA player in previous seasons – if you could just somehow fuse them into one human. Thomas can’t shoot and Stricklen can’t do anything much else, which can be a bit of a problem.


Best Case Scenario

If everything goes right for this team, they’re scary. And they’d be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Miller sounds like a much more lively individual than Donovan, and the team could feed off that, running and firing at will. If Ogwumike’s approaching 100% and meshes well with the new-and-improved Bone, if Banham’s ready for prime-time and translates her scoring and creativity to the pros, if the kids all contribute without being too confused on the defensive end – this team will at the very least be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.


Worst Case Scenario

There could still be growing pains for this franchise to suffer through. When you trade away young players for even younger ones, you’re taking a risk that the new additions are significantly better, and the restarted learning curve doesn’t set you back too far. There’s also the question of whether their star player is actually healthy. On the other hand, if all their posts are available, Miller could find it difficult to juggle the minutes for all of them, potentially leaving players unhappy or making it difficult for the kids to develop without playing time. We also don’t know yet if Bone can remain as effective when Ogwumike’s inside with her. It wasn’t a great fit in 2014, and Bone only broke out when Chiney was in street clothes last year.


Summary

I’m excited to see this team play, and their fans should be as well. It might take a little while for the pieces to come together, but there’s a fresh energy around this franchise that feels like a distinctly positive way to be coming into the season.

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