Plenty of questions surround the Connecticut Sun’s 2020 campaign, and COVID-19 certain isn’t helping the cause.
There are several variables fo the Sun entering the season, especially after a hectic offseason that saw some major talent come and go from the squad. Three of Connecticut’s five starters from 2019 will not play for the sun in 2020; Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen joined the Atlanta Dream in February, while Jonquel Jones opted out of the season in June “to focus on personal, social, and familial growth.”
Connecticut has just six returning players entering the upcoming season, the other six being newcomers of all shapes and sizes. The Sun lost some considerable talent in the offseason, leaving some big shoes for players to fill when the team’s regular-season slate begins Sunday.
The novel coronavirus already has hit the team, too, with Natisha Hiedeman and Briann January returning positive tests before joining the team in the WNBA’s bubble environment at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. They likely won’t be the only ones to test positive this season, either.
Connecticut doesn’t lack the talent to fill in the gaps by any means, though it won’t be a simple task, either. Jasmine and Alyssa Thomas are expected to return to the Sun’s starting five, providing a small sense of familiarity for fans entering a topsy-turvy season. Several other players, both new and old, have a chance to lend a helping hand as the team resumes its quest for its first-ever WNBA title, too.
Just who might step up for Connecticut in 2020 outside of the team’s remaining starters, you ask? Here are eight players — four new and four returning — that could make-or-break the Sun’s 2020 season:
Barring any negative developments, Bonner is poised to be one of the biggest difference-makers for the Sun this season.
The former Mercury star could make quite an impact in her first season with the Sun, especially with two WNBA titles and three All-Star nods under her belt. After being traded to the Sun for three draft picks after a successful decade-long career in Phoenix, the 32-year-old will have plenty to prove in 2020. And while Connecticut fans likely would have enjoyed seeing Bonner team up with Jones, there’s a good chance Bonner could put together a stellar campaign with the Sun this season.
In fact, Bonner hopes to give the Sun the “extra push” it needs to claim its first-even WNBA title. And considering her boundless talent, she’s more than capable of doing so. Anything less, however, could prove costly for Connecticut.
Perhaps one of the biggest question marks entering the Sun’s 2020 campaign is what kind of impact January will have on the team.
January brought plenty of depth wherever she’s landed in the WNBA, though he power largely lies on the defensive end of the court. The 33-year-old has been named to the All-WNBA All-Defensive First Team four times and the All-WNBA All-Defensive Second Team twice in 11 seasons. In fact, she is the only WNBA player to be named to either of the league’s All-Defensive First or Second teams from between 2012 and 2017.
Despite no All-Defensive Team nods in her two seasons with the Mercury, January still played an important role in Phoenix’s success, starting in 59 in her 65 regular-season games with the team and averaging 6.75 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. January did test positive for COVID-19 before traveling to Bradenton but is expected to rejoin the team as soon as she returns two negative tests.
Though Connecticut didn’t draft Mompremier in the 2020 draft, the Sun wound up with quite a talent.
Mompremier was selected 20th overall by the Sparks in the 2020 WNBA Draft before being dropped by Los Angeles picked up by the Sun in a matter of three weeks. The 23-year-old, who was one of the Associated Press’ honorable mentions for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, averaged 16.9 points and 11.3 rebounds at the University of Miami, where she spent the two years of her college basketball career.
The Florida native has shown plenty of promise in the last two years. What she’ll bring to the WNBA, however, is a different story, though her talent could pack quite a punch.
Not far behind Mompremier in the draft was Kaila Charles, who was selected No. 23 in the 2020 Draft by the Sun.
It’s easy to see what Connecticut liked in the 22-year-old, too. Charles averaged 14.7 points and 1.9 assists per game in four years with the University of Maryland and is one of six players in school history to become one of the program’s top 10 scorers and rebounders. She could be quite the dark horse for the Sun, and is one to keep an eye on once the season commences.
Could 2020 be Jones’ break out season?
The 24-year-old forward has begun to hit her stride in the last couple of seasons, averaging 49.2 percent shooting despite playing just eight minutes per game. Jones put her best foot forward while playing for USK Prague following the WNBA’s 2019 season, averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. And with so many variables factoring into Connecticut’s 2020 campaign, this three-year WNBA veteran could be just the person to give the Sun an extra spark.
Despite testing positive for the novel coronavirus before entering the WNBA’s bubble, Hiedeman still is one of the top candidates to lend the Sun a helping hand in 2020.
The 23-year-old played 20 regular-season games during her rookie season, averaging 3.7 points and 1.5 rebounds in 10.2 minutes per game. She finished the regular season with 73 points, 30 rebounds and 38 assists before putting up 18 points, four rebounds and five assists in the postseason.
Hiedeman showed tremendous growth in 2019, and has the potential to do so once again this go-around. Where she’ll land once games begin, however, appears to be up in the air.
Holmes had a steady impact on the Sun’s bench last season and has a chance to expand on that success in 2020.
After missing the 2018 season due to pregnancy, Holmes put together a solid 2019 campaign in her first season in Connecticut. The 26-year-old averaged 6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds off the bench, reaching 600-career points July 30 against the Chicago Sky.
2020, however, will be a different scenario for Holmes, who will be one of the most senior members of the team entering the season. And she likely will not be overlooked as the Sun revamp the team.
Though her role on the Sun’s 2019 squad was limited, Plaisance could see an increased workload this coming season.
This 28-year-old has much more to offer than initially meets the eye. Despite averaging 4.3 points per game in her six-season WNBA career, Plaisance has shown promise overseas. She even posted 51 points and 31 rebounds in her first game after supposedly catching (and being hospitalized for) COVID-19 in December while playing for Shaanxi in China, despite feeling as though her lungs would explode.
Coronavirus or not, Plaisance has proven her worth as a player. Whether she can showcase that further for the Sun this season, however, remains to be seen.
Thumbnail photo via Chris Poss/Connecticut Sun