Why the Connecticut Sun shouldn’t be slept on as WNBA title contenders

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner celebrates after scoring on a fast break give-and-go exchange with Jasmine Thomas against the Chicago Sky during a WNBA basketball game. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day via AP)

If there was ever a team flying under the radar in WNBA title contention, it’s the Connecticut Sun. They have their work cut out for them having to face potentially Las Vegas and Seattle to get there, but counting them out wouldn’t be wise.

Last year, the Sun went from starting the season 0-5 to making the playoffs and taking Las Vegas to Game 5 where they only lost by three points. Currently, the Sun have clinched a playoff spot and are the best team in the league with a 21-6 record.

Yet, the Sun are still behind Las Vegas and Seattle as title favourites. Shaky losses to Seattle, Chicago and even Indiana have hit the team hard – but they have all the pieces necessary to repeat a title run like they did in 2019 and bring it home this time around.

Despite falling to Seattle in the Commissioner’s Cup, which did not count towards the season record, Cincinnati hasn’t lost a game since returning from the Olympic break, including a 14-point win over the Aces as well as wins over Minnesota and Washington. The Sun have even faced the Aces three times this season and won all three contests.

“The players have stayed locked in one at a time, the disappointment of the Commissioner’s Cup allowed us to get back into the film room and really concentrate game by game, scheme by scheme and really stay in the moment,” said head coach Curt Miller.

Curt Miller received coach of the month honours for August, Brionna Jones was not only given Eastern Conference player of the week two weeks in a row but is also in contention for the Most Improved Player award, and MVP honours are Jonquel Jones’ to lose after she won August Player of the Month honours.

Jonquel Jones also leads the league in double-doubles with 14, and is averaging 20.3 points and 11 rebounds per game – accomplishing these feats while missing five games for international duties with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“It’s not very often that someone can go away for about a month and come back and put up those same numbers… actually, she didn’t even play last year and then coming back and just playing like that is amazing,” said Sun forward DeWanna Bonner.

As for Brionna Jones, who stepped into a bigger role for the Sun in Jonquel Jones’ absence during the wubble season, she’s now producing in the absence of Alyssa Thomas. Brionna Jones has been one of their keys to success as she improves her game. Averaging 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and the Sun have found success moving the ball through the 6-foot-3 center.

Usually playing a high-tempo, fast game, the Sun have been able to slow down and play through Brionna Jones in the paint more often. Also a defensive rebounder by nature with her physical presence and boxing out skills readily available, the Sun secure six per cent more rebounds off the defensive glass with her on the floor.

For Jonquel Jones, whose style of play is similar to Kevin Durant (which may be why he is such a fan of hers), the difference she brings to the Sun’s game is undeniable. She’s able to get gritty in the paint on both offence and defence, shoot the three-ball, make an impact as a rim protector and allow fewer points in the paint while she’s on the floor.

Bonner is another crucial member of the Sun, and her impact on the team is so prevalent many would never know that 2020 was only her first year suiting up for the Sun after spending a decade in Phoenix. Another big, physical presence on the Sun, Bonner is another who can do it all.

“Championships are hard, we just have to focus in and buy-in at this point in the season, I think if we clean up our turnovers… at this point in the season all wheels have to be turning and we all have to be on the same page,” said Bonner.

Scoring less than 10 points only four times this season, Bonner is averaging 15.8 points per game as well as grabbing an average of 6.9 rebounds, mostly all defensively. The biggest impact Bonner brings to the Sun is her leadership and championship experience that backs up her ability with the basketball.

Outside of Connecticut’s big three, Briann January has been another star for Connecticut, not only with her ferocious defence that has helped the Sun win and average almost eight points over their opponent per game.

While Jasmine Thomas rounds out the starters who have been nothing short of phenomenal this season, Kaila Charles and Natisha Hiedeman have been two key players off the bench and are crucial contributions for Connecticut.

Beating their opponent in almost every category statistically, the Sun also carry a team-first championship mentality that not only allows each individual to shine, but carries over into the way they highlight each other when succeeding.

“We hold each other accountable especially defensively, we just wanna be better, we wanna win, we’ve got this hunger about us right now and we’re rolling, but we just hang our heads on defence and rebounding,” said Bonner.

“If we can keep it up defensively, get a little bit better and clean a couple of things up we can make a run at it hopefully.”

The Sun not only have some of the best players in the league, and doing all of this without star Alyssa Thomas, but they’re also trending upwards with every game they play. With only five games left in the regular season, the Sun will be perfecting their craft to finish out the year strong and shock the league come playoffs.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.