In the first WNBA Shootaround, a look at Jonquel Jones and everything else powering the Connecticut Sun, the ramifications of a rash of injuries, and more.
Just as nobody predicted after two weeks of WNBA play, the Connecticut Sun hold the No. 1 spot in the league along with the New York Liberty. Both teams are 5-1 and rolling while powerhouses stumble out of the gates.
I’ve detailed what’s making the Liberty so excellent earlier this week. Now let’s dig into the Sun.
How are the Connecticut Sun winning so many games?
Jonquel Jones looks like the best player in the league.
There are multiple players stepping up for Connecticut this season, but Jones, who opted out of last season’s bubble, is playing like an MVP. The 6-foot-6 center is off to a tremendous start on both ends of the court, averaging 20.0 points per game on 54.8 percent shooting including 13-of-29 makes from 3-point range with 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 blocks.
Jones is showing improved ball-handling skills, impressive defensive awareness, and a desire to take more 3-point looks (her 4.8 attempts per game are a career-high). She’s a damn problem on both ends of the court, and a 28-point, 13-rebound masterpiece in a three-point overtime loss to Breanna Stewart and the reigning champion Seattle Storm showed she can lead Connecticut against the WNBA’s elite.
Maybe the biggest help to Jones’s game is her teammate, Brionna Jones, who is continuing on from a breakout year in the bubble. The 6-foot-3 low-post presence may be shorter than Jonquel, but is doing the tough work around the basket including pulling down 3.2 offensive boards per game, and taking nearly 83 percent of her looks from within 10 feet of the rim. She’s averaging 13.2 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting with 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists. The Jones tandem is a huge reason why Connecticut leads the league in offensive rebounding percentage (39.7 percent). They’re tough as hell to stop.
DeWanna Bonner has looked excellent too, benefitting from the defensive attention the Jones’s draw. She’s scoring 18.7 points on 43.6 percent shooting including 15-of-28 on 3-pointers with 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.0 blocks.
The Sun performing this well is wild
If you’re new here, the fact that Connecticut’s leading the league in defensive rating by allowing just 93.1 points per 100 possessions (better than last year’s Storm team) is ludicrous considering they’re without not only the best defensive player on their team, but maybe the best defensive player in the WORLD. Alyssa Thomas tore her Achilles in January and will miss the rest of the season.
For the second straight year, Connecticut looks like a defensive problem despite being down one of its stars. And the team could still improve when six-time All-Defensive Team member Briann January returns from an ankle injury that’s cost her the last three games.
Let’s talk about another player besides Jonquel Jones who’s rising to the occasion
Natisha Hiedeman has been the breakout third scoring option Connecticut’s needed to stop scoring droughts. In her first season as a starter, the 2019 No. 18 pick is scoring a career-high 12.7 points on a career-best 42.9 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent from 3-point range with 3.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.8 steals.
Where can the Sun go from here?
I’m not daring to put a cap on where the Sun can go — especially after they took the Las Vegas Aces to a five-game semifinals last season. The WNBA looks wide open in 2021, and it’d be foolish to overlook Connecticut as a team that can go all the way.
Now, let’s look at some more things you might have missed from around the league.
Marina Mabrey is on another level
Mabrey’s in the way-too-early Most Improved Player of the Year conversation because of all the new tools she’s added to her bag since her rookie campaign. She’s no longer just a spot-up shooter. She’s creating her own looks, taking defenders off the dribble, and playing with a level of confidence reminiscent of her Notre Dame days. Look at the range on this shot!
In three games, she’s averaging 19.3 points per game (seventh-most in the league) on 52.4 percent shooting including 9-of-15 3-point makes with 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.3 steals.
Betnijah Laney is on an even higher level
Laney was awesome in her Most Improved Player run last season, and now she’s taken her game to an All-Star level and beyond. New York’s leading scorer is pouring in 22.7 points per game on an unreal 54.3 percent shooting from the field including 12-of-23 3-point makes with 4.0 assists, and 3.7 rebounds.
This is an extraordinary second leap from a player who was cut by the Indiana Fever prior to the 2020 season.
Diana Taurasi played two games with a fracture in her sternum?
In terrible injury news, the Mercury announced on Tuesday that Taurasi will be sidelined for at least four weeks with a fracture in her sternum. Hopefully, she can make a full recovery for the second half of the WNBA season.
Taurasi’s injury report came as a surprise because none of us knew it existed considering she… played in two games since suffering from it.
And get this. In the two games combined, she scored 30 points in 51 minutes on 11-of-21 shooting including four 3-pointers with five assists, two rebounds, and four turnovers.
Stop the injuries!
Taurasi’s injury is just one of many. The WNBA has had some especially crap luck with several key players sidelined.
Candace Parker’s gruesome ankle sprain cost her the Sky’s opener in Chicago, and she’s only appeared in one game this season. Natasha Howard suffered a sprained MCL and will miss the next four-to-six weeks. Aerial Powers is out indefinitely with a strained hamstring. Angel McCoughtry, Thomas, Alysha Clark, Jasmine Walker and Jocelyn Willoughby will all miss the entire season. Elena Delle Donne’s yet to play a game, and Amanda Zahui B. January, Rennia Davis, Allie Quigley, Bria Hartley, and more are still out.
Make it stop!
The next two weeks
This column will run every two weeks, and the league is sure to look drastically different by then.
A few things I’ll be watching for:
- Can the Liberty continue to win without Natasha Howard protecting the paint?
- Is Jonquel Jones the frontrunner for MVP?
- The Sparks stunk in their first two games. What adjustments will they make?
- Let’s applaud Jewell Loyd and Tina Charles for their (so far) career years
- When will Delle Donne return?
- Who will step up in Taurasi’s absence?
- The Aces were boasted as the team to beat. Are they?
See you in two weeks!