A subsequent trip to southern California has appeared to cleanse any lingering frustrations for the Sun squad. While taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine, Connecticut also captured two comfortable wins over the sputtering Los Angeles Sparks.
On Tuesday, Jonquel Jones posted a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds as the Sun cruised to the 97-71 victory. Thursday, Connecticut again demolished LA 93-69 behind 17 points and eight rebounds from J. Jones, with Alyssa Thomas stuffing the stat sheet with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
The second victory in Los Angeles also locked Connecticut into the third playoff seed. The Sun will play the sixth-seeded Dallas Wings in the first round of the playoffs, a three-game series that will begin at Mohegan Sun Arena Thursday.
First, on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET, the Sun will close out the regular season, hosting the Minnesota Lynx for Sylvia Fowles’ final regular-season game.
Since Sunday’s game has no postseason ramifications for Connecticut, now is a good time to take a look back at 2022 season, offering a short evaluation of the Sun’s top six rotation players.
Sun player snapshots
On the surface, it would not be unreasonable to argue that Jonquel Jones has had a disappointing season. The 2021 MVP has not been in the conversation for the league’s top award this season, with her stats down across the board. However, per 36 minutes, Jones’ stats, while still lower, are comparable to the numbers she posted last season. It could be posited that if her usage percentage was the same (23.3 in 2022 vs. 26.3 in 2021) her 2022 season would be nearly indistinguishable from last season’s MVP campaign.
Of late, Jones’ numbers have increased — epitomized by her four-straight double-doubles (a streak that ended Thursday evening) — suggesting that, as the playoffs approach, the Sun are upping her usage. Yet, Jones’ usage percentage in five August games is the lowest usage percentage for any month of the 2022 season. Rather, her 15.8 points per game in August is the product of hot shooting, particularly a 53.3-percent performance from 3 on an average of three attempts per game.
Although the stats indicate that the Sun would be wise to direct more usage to Jones, the burden for being at her best also falls on Jones. Although she possesses the ability to dominate, exerting her dominance by demanding the ball is not in Jones’ nature. With her elite ability to drain the deep ball, swish shots from the midrange and power in buckets from the post, Jones need not defer.
The impressiveness of Alyssa Thomas’ season has been under appreciated. Because she returned at the end of last season, it seems that it has been lost that this is Thomas’ first full season after tearing her Achilles. At age 30, Thomas has shown no lingering effects, with “The Engine” instead always running at full throttle.
That she registered the first two triple-doubles of her career exemplifies how Thomas has done nearly everything for the Sun this season. With a season-ending injury befalling Jasmine Thomas, AT has assumed a more central playmaking role, leading the team with a career-high 6.1 assists per game. All the while, she remained the fuel of the Sun’s defense, rightly being promoted by the Sun as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
It is not surprising that, approximately one week before she turns 35 years old, DeWanna Bonner showed signs of decline this season. Playing just over 30 minutes per game, she scored the fewest points per game (13.6) and grabbed the fewest boards per game (4.8) since 2014.
More revealing than the number of points she scored was how she scored these points. 31 percent of Bonner’s points came from 3-point range, the highest percentage of her Connecticut tenure, while 29 percent of her points were scored in paint, a percentage far lower than her previous seasons with the Sun. Bonner, in short, increasingly relied on 3-pointers, rather than more dynamic drives to the basket, to generate points. That Bonner shot 32.8 percent from 3 this season suggests her shifted shot selection was less than ideal. Additionally, reduced drives from Bonner resulted in reduced drive-and-kick opportunities, evidenced by the fact that Bonner also averaged the fewest assists per game since she became a Sun.
Bonner, certainly, has not been a negative player. For one, her overall 3-point percentage belies her ability to find herself on a scorching hot streak. Nevertheless, the differences in offensive game have not helped alleviate the Sun’s occasional bouts offensive anemia.
Because of how her two-year stint with the Atlanta Dream ended, there sometimes seems to be a sense that Williams’ time with ATL was unsuccessful and that, in returning to the Connecticut, she would again be in an environment where she could play her best basketball. Additionally, it could be assumed that Williams, overtaxed as the top offensive option in Atlanta, would slot back into a tertiary offensive role with the Sun, allowing her to be more efficient and effective on offense while also devoting more of her energy and attention to the defensive end.
Yet, Williams has not reached another level in her return season in Connecticut. This might be an unfair expectation, but the Sun need an A+ version of Williams on both ends of the floor to fulfill their championship ambitions.
Elevated to the starting lineup with Jasmine Thomas’ injury, Natisha Hiedeman might be a bit overextended as a starting point guard, with her skillset more suited to serve as a secondary ball handler. Nonetheless, the fourth-year player has confirmed that she can contribute to winning basketball in the WNBA. Hiedeman has used fearless, and accurate, 3-point shooting to carve out her niche at the professional level. She fires 4.6 3-point attempts per game, converting them at 40.6 percent. That’s the sixth-best 3-point percentage in the W!
Hiedeman also works hard on the other end of the floor to not be a defensive weak link. She scraps to compensate for her lithe 5’8 frame, evidenced by her 1.2 steals per game.
It’s hard to offer any complaint or critique of Brionna Jones.
The winner of the 2021 Most Improved Player award amicably slotted back into a bench role, suffering little drop in her productivity, efficiency or consistency. For the second-straight season, she was named an All-Star. Earning All-Star status as a reserve should all but guarantee her the WNBA’s 2022 Sixth Woman of the Year honors. Yes, Chef Breezy has been cooking!
As is the case with the other Jones, the Sun could benefit from diverting more usage to her. In particular, she puts pressure on opposing defenses when going to work in post. This season, Jones has drawn more shooting fouls per game and converted her free throws at an improved rate.