Sun's Alyssa Thomas getting her shooting righted
Mohegan — Alyssa Thomas is right-handed.
Through her first four WNBA seasons, Thomas shot with her left.
“I’ve grown up always using my left hand,” the Connecticut Sun power forward said. “I've just always played basketball left-handed. ... I was a capable shooter in college with my left hand."
Okay, but Thomas writes and throws with her right.
“Yeah,” she said with a smile, “I’m a little backwards.”
Thomas has switched to shooting right-handed this season and has felt comfortable so far. She and Connecticut have one of their biggest challenges Thursday night when they host the Los Angeles Sparks before a nationally-televised audience at Mohegan Sun Arena (7 p.m., ESPN2).
Shooting left-handed worked for Thomas at Maryland where she was a 77.4 percent free throw shooter.
Sun fans have fidgeted the last few seasons watching Thomas at the line. She shot well enough during her 2014 rookie season (75.7 percent), but it all went south after she injured her right shoulder on Aug. 12, 2015. She missed the next 10 games.
Thomas has made just 59.3 percent of her free throws the previous two seasons. She also injured her left shoulder playing overseas before the 2017 WNBA season.
“It’s hard coming back, getting that strength back and range of motion,” Thomas said. “It’s a constant process. You just deal with it.”
Thomas decided to start shooting with her dominant hand playing in South Korea this past WNBA offseason. She only got to the foul line once in Sunday’s 101-65 rout of the Las Vegas Aces and made one of two.
Thomas surprised with her shooting from the floor, though, as she made one 15-foot jumper and two from 20 feet.
Making three mid-to-long range shots is in no way a sample size. Consider, however, that she had taken 69.7 percent of her shots from within five feet of the rim her first four seasons, according to statistics compiled by the Minnesota Lynx's Paul Swanson.
Thomas shot 25.9 percent (36-of-139) from 11 to 21 feet away over that time, so the fact that she made three from 15-feet out was noteworthy.
As it was, Thomas was already one of the WNBA’s most unique players. She’s an undersized power forward (6-foot-2), but strong and physical enough to get rebounds. She also handles the ball like a point guard. That allows her to get the rebound and immediately start the break.
“It’s as close to having LeBron (James) lead the break,” Sun Chiney Ogwumike said. “(She’s like a) bulldozer.”
WNBA coaches voted Thomas to her first All-Star Game last year. She was also just one of two WNBA players to finish in the top 18 in scoring (14.8, 18th), rebounds (6.8, 12th), assists (4.5, fourth), and steals (1.6, fourth).
The other player — Los Angeles’ Candace Parker, one of the greatest to ever play the game.
“We joke all the time that she could be a walking triple-double,” teammate Jasmine Thomas said.
The Sparks (2-0) are the only team Connecticut (1-0) hasn’t beaten the last two seasons (they’ve played six times). Part of it has to do with Los Angeles being so great and so consistent — they’ve played in the previous three WNBA Finals and won in 2016.
“They’re very, very talented,” Miller said. “Every possession is a grind offensively. … They force you into more contested shots than anyone in the league.
“Offensively, they’re a tough match-up because they have five players on the floor who can score.”
Noted, but the Sun have split their last six games against the mighty Minnesota Lynx, which won the WNBA title in 2015 and 2017.
“The versatility of (L.A.'s) post game (is different),” Miller said. “They have outstanding guard play and reversible post players with Nneka (Ogwumike) and Candace who can go in-and-out, in and-out.
“Minnesota is always really tough to guard, too, but at times, you have a consistent person around the basket when you’re guarding them, (center) Sylvia Fowles. That’s not always the case with L.A.”
WNBA GMs voted the Sparks to win the title in their annual preseason survey. They're without Parker (minor back injury) and sixth-woman Jantel Lavender (overseas commitments), yet they won at Minnesota on Sunday, 77-76.