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Season Review: Behind Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, the Connecticut Sun once again exceeded expectations

The Connecticut Sun, once again, defied the doubters, with a MVP-caliber season from Alyssa Thomas leading the Sun to the third seed and a franchise-record 27 wins.

2023 WNBA Playoffs - New York Liberty v Connecticut Sun
A dynamic duo on and off the court, it was an epic season for Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The notion of the “disrespCT” directed toward the Connecticut Sun would be a tired trope if it was not so true. Season after season, prognosticators, including us here at Swish Appeal, underestimate Connecticut, expecting the the team to take a step back. Yet, season after season, in spite of injuries, trades and other changes, the Sun prove us supposed experts wrong, repeatedly establishing themselves as one of the WNBA’s elite teams.

In 2023, the Sun were a legitimate threat to the league’s two super teams, a certified contender as they captured the No. 3 seed behind a franchise-record 27 wins. In the semifinals, the Sun gave the Liberty all they could handle in four hard-fought games.

However, the story of the Sun’s season must begin with Alyssa Thomas. Here’s more on Thomas’ historic season, as well as other takeaways about the Sun:

AT authored an all-time season

2023 WNBA Playoffs - Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty
Alyssa Thomas.
Photo by Mike Lawrence/NBAE via Getty Images

Thomas offered the definitive assessment of her 2023 season, declaring after the Sun were eliminated in Game 4 of the semifinals, “I had a season never seen in this league. And probably won’t see again, unless I do it.”

The “never seen” things Thomas accomplished included a WNBA-record six triple-doubles and 28 double-doubles, as well as becoming the first player in league history to lead the league in total rebounds and assists. Her unprecedented statistical resume was the product of her willingness to do whatever was needed—and do it all the time. She served as the offensive engine for Sun, from pushing the ball in transition to orchestrating in the half court to barreling to the basket. On the other end, she often took on the toughest defensive assignment regardless of position, setting the tone for the Sun by frequently busting up opponents’ actions. And in typical Thomas fashion, she played in all 40 games, sitting for less than four minutes per game.

In a testament to Thomas, opponents praised her performance, with the likes of Natasha Cloud, Kristi Toliver and Isabelle Harrison lobbying for Thomas’ MVP case. While she would receive the most first-place votes on MVP ballots, she finished second overall, matching her second-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Never doubt DeWanna Bonner

WNBA: OCT 01 Playoffs Semifinals New York Liberty at Connecticut Sun
DeWanna Bonner.
Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last season, it seemed Bonner had approached the down slope of her career, with her scoring and rebounding numbers falling to her lowest per game averages since 2014. Then in her 13th season, it was understandable if Bonner’s play had slipped.

This season, however, she showed that it was just a blip. Bonner reemerged as the high-wire high-activity player that has been integral to elite teams throughout her 14-year career, playing in all 40 games as she averaged 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. Her durability is even more impressive considering that she, like Thomas, had to fill a number of different roles. After jumping center to start each game, Bonner then would battle bigger players in the post, chase others around the perimeter, push the ball in transition, fire off deep 3-pointers, cut to the basket for scores and more. (And, as we all know, she did all this after having twins!)

Through her enduring excellence, she continued to rise in the WNBA’s all-time standings in a number of categories, establishing herself as one of the league’s greatest players due to her combination of longevity, consistency and versatility.

Stephanie White was the right woman for the job

Connecticut Sun v Phoenix Mercury
Stephanie White.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Stephanie White entered the 2023 season with an unenviably tricky task. She was taking over a veteran team that soon would trade their former MVP. And while expected to invigorate the team with fresh ideas, especially on the offensive end, a seventh-straight playoff berth also remained the overarching goal. And then, just over a month into the season, her two-time All-Star center would go down with a season-ending injury.

Yet, she deftly navigated the difficulties, deservedly winning the 2023 Coach of the Year award.

White was smart not to try to alter Connecticut’s identity as an aggressive, physical team; instead, she added some dashes and doses of difference, urging more ball and player movement in the half court.

The season-long growth of Ty Harris and Olivia Nelson-Ododa also is a credit to White and her staff. The third-year guard and second-year big saw their minutes steadily increase over the course of the regular season before both provided positive contributions during the playoffs. Encouraged to confidently fire away when open from behind the arc, Harris drained four 3-pointers to help the Sun close out the Minnesota Lynx in the first round. In the semifinals, Nelson-Ododa stepped up as an effective interior presence.

A big offseason for CT

Connecticut should want to run back the 2023 team in 2024. But can they?

Bonner, Brionna Jones, Tiffany Hayes and Rebecca Allen are unrestricted free agent this offseason. Keeping all four would leave the Sun with little of their $811,910 in cap room to spare.

Connecticut should prioritize retaining Hayes and Allen, as both newcomers proved their worth throughout the season and playoffs. When healthy, Hayes is one of the W’s best rim-pressure threats, using her elite first step and short-area quickness to get to the basket, regardless of who is in her way. Allen is a rock-solid two-way player, a playmaking perimeter defender who can cause trouble for opposing defenses by firing deep 3s. With another year under White, it’s easy to imagine both bringing more value in 2024.

It seems safe to assume that Bonner is not going anywhere. A rich one-year contract, which would put her on the same timeline as Thomas, could be the course of action.

Jones’ situation, however, is a bit trickier. Because she injured her Achilles in late June, she may not be ready to go for the start of the 2024 season. And when she returns, it could take her awhile, possibly until the 2025 season, to regain her previous form. The Sun is a franchise that has shown patience with their stars’ absences and injuries, first with Jonquel Jones’ absence from the Wubble in 2020 and then with Thomas’ Achilles injury in 2021. Yet, Thomas will be 32 at the start of next season and Bonner will turn 37 during the season. To win a title with the tandem, the Sun must maximize all available roster spots and salary slots. Although she is a success story for the Sun, might moving on from Jones put Connecticut in a better position to, finally, claim a championship?

The Sun also own their 2024 first-round draft pick, which, if the majority of eligible players enter the draft, could allow the team to add a young contributor.