The Connecticut Sun hope to finish the 25th WNBA season with a fairy tale ending, but they will have to wade through several competing storylines first.
Nothing has been easy for the Sun as they aim for title No. 1, and the 2021 season will be no different. There inevitably will be some questions Connecticut must answer along the way, especially after a fairly busy offseason.
So, which Sun storylines should you keep an eye on this season? Here’s our top five, in no particular order:
Alyssa Thomas’ injury
It is perhaps the most talked-about story entering the Sun’s 2021 campaign. Thomas is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery this offseason to repair an Achilles injury sustained playing overseas. She likely will miss the entire season, having had surgery in January, which will leave some massive shoes for Connecticut to fill.
Luckily, Jonquel Jones will be back after missing the 2020 season and will get to play alongside DeWanna Bonner for the first time since the former Phoenix Mercury star joined the Sun last offseason. Bonner and Thomas made quite a pair during Jones’ absence, and now, it’ll be Jones’ turn to try and make some magic with Bonner.
They will not be the only ones helping fill the gaps, though. Expect Brionna Jones and Brianna January to step up as well, much like last season. It is unclear if head coach Curt Miller plans to rotate out his fifth starter each game or if one particular player will take on starting duties, but he certainly has some options with Natisha Hiedeman, Beatrice Mompremier and Kaila Charles — all of whom made intermittent starts in 2020.
Jonquel Jones’ return
Jones is back with the Sun for the first time since Connecticut came one game shy of the WNBA title in 2019. She has had plenty of time to shake off her rust with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, though, averaging 12.1 points on 62.3 percent shooting and 7.7 rebounds (5.9 defensive) in 10 games.
In June 2020, Jones opted out of the WNBA season due to personal reasons as the COVID-19 pandemic was spiking for the first time. The Sun managed to reach the semifinals without her despite a sluggish start to the regular season. But Jones’ presence certainly was missed.
As previously noted, this will be Jones’ first season playing alongside Bonner in the WNBA. Thomas cannot wait to see what the two will accomplish together.
“To finally see DB and JJ on the court is going to be scary,” Thomas told reporters during Sun Media Day. “I mean, this is what we?ve all been waiting for, to have such length and to stretch the floor like that, like I said, it’s going to be a lot of fun. And I can?t wait to watch it personally.”
Thomas surely is not the only person looking forward to seeing Bonner and Jones finally team up, either.
Connecticut will have to lean on some of its young talent if it wants to make a run at the playoffs, let alone have a chance at claiming its first-ever title. Luckily, there appears to be plenty of that to go around.
Mompremier and Charles are entering their sophomore seasons following successful respective rookie campaigns. Together, the duo regularly gave Connecticut a major boost off the bench and will try to bring that into the upcoming season. They might not be the only youngsters that could make an impact in 2021, either.
The Sun have a strong rookie core this season, to say the least.
DiJonai Carrington, for instance, already has proven her worth during training camp (according to Thomas) as well as Saturday’s scrimmage against the Dallas Wings with 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting and five rebounds. Stephanie Jones, Brionna Jones’ sister, also showed lots of promise during the scrimmage with 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Millions of vaccines are being doled out every day in the United States, but that does not mean the threat of contracting COVID-19 simply goes away. And as we’ve seen with several other athletes (though unvaccinated), the virus does not discriminate, not even with age.
Like most other leagues, the WNBA has moved away from the “bubble” format and will allow teams to travel for games this season. All members of teams’ traveling parties will be at increased risk for contracting the virus, at least until they’re vaccinated.
Ultimately, someone inevitably will contract the virus at some point this season — and it could be a member of the Sun. How the team and WNBA handle positive cases and potential outbreaks will determine how smoothly the 2021 season will run for both parties.
Title No. 1
Despite the incredible talent the franchise has possessed throughout its 22-year existence, not one team has brought home a championship. The Sun got awfully close in 2019, falling one game shy of the title to the eventual champion Washington Mystics, and surprised many with their Cinderella run to the semifinals during the league’s shortened 2020 season.
Still, there is no WNBA hardware to be found in Connecticut just yet. Losing Thomas certainly hurts the cause, but regaining Jones will be a big help, not to mention the potential chemistry she might have with Bonner. Sprinkle in the young talent and a little momentum from past seasons and the Sun might have the recipe for a championship campaign.
Like last season, though, competition should be tight across the league. So getting to the WNBA Finals, let alone winning it all, will be no small task for any team this season. But will the Sun have what it takes to get the job done?