Chiney Ogwumike and Alex Bentley are still the Connecticut Sun’s key components, but the team’s success this year may depend on how far rookie Elizabeth Williams decides to take them.
2014 record: 13-21, 6th in the Eastern Conference, 10th overall
Additions: Elizabeth Williams, Alyssa Brewer, Chelsea Gray, Ka-Diere Simmons, Camille Little, Shekinna Stricklen, Jasmine Thomas
Losses: Katie Douglas, Renee Montgomery, Danielle McCray
It would be inappropriate to say the Connecticut Sun weren’t competitive enough in the 2014 WNBA season, but an inferior lineup relative to the league’s powerhouses could only do so much.
The Sun tried their best but were only manhandled by stronger opposition as they finished with a 13-21 record — the worst in the East, while ranking only 8th in both offensive and defensive rating.
But the Sun have undergone retooling to give people a new glimpse of what the team may bring to the table this time around. To put things in perspective, they missed the playoffs by only three wins and a few roster changes may elevate their performance.
To what extent will Elizabeth Williams’ arrival help?
The addition of talented big Elizabeth Williams from Duke via the 2015 WNBA Draft can give Connecticut fans new reason to hope.
A key trend from the Sun’s offense last year was Kelsey Bone setting ball screens for Alex Bentley at the high post. Bentley, whose 28 percent assist rate was 10th best in the league last year, is a gifted creator for the Sun. It was an effective part of the offense as Bone was a solid roll option and Bentley can hit jumpers should the defense go under the screen.
The addition of Williams to the picture may help supercharge the offense. The 4th overall pick from this year’s draft is relentless is in getting to the basket, operating underneath, and going at 50-50 balls.
Let’s not forget reigning Rookie of the Year Chiney Ogwumike is also part of the lineup, which will make it difficult for opposing squads to react as she also has the knack to clean up missed shots by crashing the boards and finishing with high percentage shots.
A Bentley-Williams pick and roll with Ogwumike floating on the weak side would provide several options from the one play; perhaps even a horns set can give even more problems to the defense, but the Sun needs to surround their key players with floor-spacers who are threats from beyond the arc in order to be more successful.
From a defensive standpoint, Williams may also change the game. With such energy for securing rebounds and swatting shots, Williams — although slightly undersized — will give the Sun an extra body inside the paint.
Last year’s finalists both had bigs who would patrol along the shaded area — Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles. Griner made it difficult for the Minnesota Lynx to defend their title as she was too overwhelming for both Janel McCarville and Rebekkah Brunson. Fowles provided the Chicago Sky with a rim protector who would give about a 12-point, 10-rebound stat line every night.
Will it be enough?
The loss of veterans Renee Montgomery and Katie Douglas, however, surely hurts the Sun. Montgomery is one of the Sun’s few creators whose ability to attack the lanes and set up scoring opportunities for her teammates was invaluable.
Douglas recently retired after 14 seasons, and her ability to space the floor, knock down three-point baskets, and score a pile of points will also be missed. She was the squad’s second leading scorer in 2014 and was above 35 percent from three-point distance.
Douglas and Montgomery are the Sun’s volume shooters from deep, with both players hoisting at least half of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc.
Relative to WNBA’s standard, the Sun are a below-average three-point shooting team. This is where the addition of Shekinna Stricklen, who shot a career-best 38.5 percent from three-point area last year, becomes valuable and so is the stepping up of other backcourt options.
How will the team fare this season?
From the looks of it, the Sun will definitely compete, and may be on their way to improving a 13-21 record. Williams’ presence on the defensive end is the most vital part of the season, and complementing Bentley with key pieces in order to create even more scoring opportunities on offense is another concern the Sun need to work on as the year progresses.
A playoff appearance may not be totally out of the picture but a realistic prognosis would be adding two to three more wins this year.