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What explains the Connecticut Sun’s recent rut?

At 13-7, the Connecticut Sun have the third-best record in the WNBA. Yet, the Sun are only 1-3 in their last four games. Are these struggles indicative of a bigger problem?

WNBA: JUN 26 Connecticut Sun at Atlanta Dream
Head coach Curt Miller draws up a play during a recent Connecticut Sun huddle.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Overall, the Connecticut Sun are in a solid position, sitting third in the WNBA standings at 13-7.

However, since our last update, the Sun are 1-3, only securing a win over the stumbling Atlanta Dream (72-61) while dropping games to the Washington Mystics (71-63), New York Liberty (81-77) and Chicago Sky (91-83). For a team with championship aspirations, this stretch, while not detrimental or determinative, is concerning.

As such, it is worth considering what explains this less-than-inspiring run. Is it somewhat circumstantial, a product of some random, outlier offensive or defensive performances? Or, do the three losses expose deeper flaws that could bite Connecticut as they chase the franchise’s first championship?

A breakdown of the Sun’s big picture numbers

Before June 19, when the Sun suffered that lackluster loss to the Mystics on national TV, Connecticut’s key statistics were:

  • Offensive rating: 108.7 (#1)
  • Defensive rating: 96.9 (#5)
  • Net rating: 11.8 (#2)

After that June 19 loss, these stats are:

  • Offensive rating: 93.4 (#11)
  • Defensive rating: 96.5 (#2)
  • Net rating: -3.2 (#9)

Clearly, Connecticut’s issues are on the offensive end. So, why has the Sun offensive severely sputtered?

The Sun’s shooting has regressed

Over the last four games, the Sun’s shooting percentages have plummeted.

  • True shooting percentage: 48.0 (#12)
  • Effective field goal percentage: 43.5 (#12)

Before then, the Sun were one of the league’s sharpest shooting teams.

  • True shooting percentage: 56.8 (#2)
  • Effective field goal percentage: 52.1 (#2)

To say the Sun’s shooting has regressed is an understatement. The percentages prior to June 19 likely were the product of over performance, boosted by an unexpected league-best 37.2 percentage from 3-point range. Since June 19, Connecticut has gone more than cold from deep, shooting 26.0 percent on approximately the same number of 3-point attempts per game.

Concurrent slumps from deep from Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Natisha Hiedeman, the team’s leaders in attempts per game, are driving the Sun’s shooting struggles, with Jones shooting 22.2 percent and Bonner and Hiedeman both shooting 18.8 percent during this 1-3 stretch. Prior to June 19, Jones was at 39.7 percent, Bonner at 37.9 percent and Hiedeman at 39.4 percent.

Bonner long has been a streaky shooter, suggesting she will eventually find another hot streak. Jones and Hiedeman both have established themselves as above average from behind the arc, indicating that Connecticut can count on them to again more consistently drain triples.

The Sun also are not maximizing their offensive strengths

However, the Sun’s offensive troubles go beyond a temporary inability to swish 3s. After averaging 21.6 free throw attempts per game, the second-best mark in the league, prior to June 19, Connecticut since has averaged 16.3 attempts per game. Missing out on the opportunity for approximately five more points per game, in combination with the the team’s other shooting struggles, further explains the Sun’s reduced offensive output.

Yet, while even the best 3-point shooters fall victim to the variance of the basketball gods, a player, and team, have more agency over the ability to the get to the free-throw line. It is not a coincidence that the Sun’s drop in free throw attempts have been accompanied by a drop in points in the paint. Before June 19, the Sun were scoring an average of 39.8 points in the paint per game. Over the last four games, the paint points average has fallen to 34.5 per game.

In short, the Sun are putting less pressure on the rim and, in turn, less pressure on opposing defenses. This lowered level of offensive aggressive also is evident in a reduction in fastbreak points, which, before and after June 19, have gone from 12.2 to 9.8 per game.

In losing three of their last four games, the Sun have failed to maximize two of the primary strengths — owning the paint and scoring on the break — that were propelling their previously top-ranked offense.

Can the Sun get back on a championship track?

Because they employ three deserving All-Stars in Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas — a trio that, together, thrives by scoring inside and in transition — the Sun should be able to tap back into these strengths and improve their offense back to an above average, if not top three, level.

Connecticut also could also make things easier for themselves by getting off to better starts. In losses to Washington, New York and Chicago, the first quarter was a problem, with Connecticut getting outscored 29-17, 27-17 and 32-16, respectively. Avoiding early deficits, and, in turn, avoiding the extra exertion of energy required to try to overcome such deficits, would leave Connecticut fresher for fourth quarters.

It might be again worth asking if Brionna Jones, a consistent presence in the Sun’s best lineups, should be slotted into the starting lineup. By supplanting either Natisha Hiedeman, who might be overtaxed as a starter, or Courtney Williams, who can be spectacular and spectacularly inconsistent, Jones would give the Sun a jumbo starting five that could force opponents to jumble their preferred lineups.

On Sunday, the Sun will have their first opportunity to not only to return to a better version of themselves, but also to avenge one of their recent losses. They welcome the Washington Mystics to Mohegan Sun Arena at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN).