Sun added depth in draft, but is it enough to contend for WNBA title?
Mohegan — There was a cheerful, rosy vibe around the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday night, the usual optimism that can be expected after any draft.
But one question remains: Can the Sun take the next step from playoff contender to WNBA championship contender?
Connecticut, theoretically, should be hitting its peak this season after spending the past three years building itself back up with young talent. The Sun are the only team with a top four finish in the overall standings the past two years.
The last two seasons ended with a home playoff loss to Phoenix because the Mercury have something the Sun don’t — a few superstar players, mostly former No. 1 picks who can consistently dominate and finish a game.
“I still think we won’t play through one person,” Connecticut general manager and head coach Curt Miller said after the draft. “But I think Courtney (Williams) has a chance to be an elite finisher in this league. Jas (Jasmine Thomas) and AT (Alyssa Thomas) are our leaders. Now it’s JJ’s (Jonquel Jones) time. It’s time to really take that next step for us. If she can, and when she does, then we have a chance to be special.”
The Sun’s 96-86 loss to Phoenix in last year’s WNBA one-and-done second-round illustrated the problem they’re up against, though. The trio of former No. 1 picks Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, along with DeWanna Bonner (a steal at number five in the 2009 draft), combined to score 77 of the Mercury’s points.
That trio also scored every point in a 10-0 run to close the game.
Few teams can match Connecticut’s depth, but history has shown that titles are won with superstars, not quality players and quality depth.
“We’re aware,” Miller said of that trend. “We’re out to prove people wrong and have a chip (on our shoulder); that you can win different ways in this league. And we’ve proved it during the course of the regular season. Now we have to do it during the playoffs.”
Connecticut, barring bad health, should still be one of the top teams in the league this season. The Sun have their core back for a fourth season — Chiney Ogwumike, Shekinna Stricklen, Jones, Williams and the Thomas. Point guard Layshia Clarendon, acquired in a trade last July, was a quality addition to back up Jasmine Thomas.
Morgan Tuck and Rachel Banham, the third and fourth overall picks in 2016, have shown flashes of living up to their draft spot. The Sun will also welcome Bria Holmes, an athletic guard they traded for last April despite knowing that she’d miss the season to pregnancy.
Third-year center Brionna Jones has done well in the offseason starting for Nadezhda Orenburg (Russia). She had 21 points and 12 rebounds on Wednesday to help her team win its first EuroCup title.
The Sun drafted post Kristine Anigwe, wing Bridget Carleton and forward Regan Magarity on Wednesday and traded for the draft rights to guard Natisha Hiedeman.
The 6-foot-4 Anigwe surprisingly dropped to Connecticut at No. 9. The senior from California was the 2019 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, averging 22.3 points and a nation-best 16.2 rebounds.
All that talent will make for a difficult training camp because teams can roster a maximum of 12 players.
“I’m excited about the pieces that we added tonight,” Miller said. “In Anigwe, it may take her a little bit of time to adjust, but her upside is certainly so high down the road.
“She’s a piece that we didn’t have. We needed to improve our athleticism. … and we did that.”
• Connecticut announced Thursday that it signed 6-foot-2 forward Emma Cannon to a training camp contract. Cannon last played in the WNBA in 2017 with the Phoenix Mercury and played in all 34 games, averaging 12.9 minutes, 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds. She’s played 26 games for Arka Gdynia in the Polish League and averaged 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
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