Connecticut Sun 2010 Season Preview
Be ready for a slow start.
We continue previewing the 2010 WNBA Season with the Connecticut Sun. You can read past previews here.
by Clay Kallam
Naturally, Mike Thibault is optimistic – not only is it wired into the DNA of coaches and players to think happy thoughts at the start of any season, but it’s also his job. After all, if the coach doesn’t believe in his team, neither will anyone else (including the players).
But that said, it’s hard to see this team as being one of Thibault’s better ones, despite his positive spin in the WNBA teleconference Friday. To begin with, the Sun will start without three key players who are still in Europe, and could find themselves stumbling out of the gate. And since games in May count as much as games in August, a strong finish in the competitive East may not be able to make up for a slow start.
More important, though, is that the Sun just don’t appear to be that good. Thibault was forced to send Lindsay Whalen to Minnesota, and in return got second-year point guard Renee Montgomery, whose primary virtue is a nice three-point percentage. Unfortunately, that virtue is more sought after among shooting guards, but even shooting guards are expected to have better than a 1.1 A/TO. Montgomery, in fact, had only six more assists than turnovers in 764 minutes, which is not what anyone wants from a point guard, especially at the WNBA level.
Kara Lawson is also a better shooter than a passer, but she did have by far her best A/TO season in 2009. Lawson, though, is a battered 29, as she has to play all-out every night to overcome a relative lack of athleticism. She missed seven games in Sacramento last year, and her practice time was severely limited – but if she’s healthy, expect her to do more ballhandling than Montgomery.
Still, that’s two small guards on the perimeter, neither known for defense, and with another shoot-first wing, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, penciled in the starting lineup, Connecticut is going to need a strong interior defense to make the Playoffs. That should start with 6-4 Sandrine Gruda, who like Jekabsone-Zogota is not yet in America – but she needs to stay out of foul trouble, rebound more consistently and make her free throws (55.8 percent).
Asjha Jones will score, but she turns 30 in August and missed 11 games last year with injuries. She’s also not much of a rebounder for a power forward, but when healthy, she does pretty much everything else but shoot threes. Also in the post mix is the underrated DeMya Walker, who can defend and score inside – but she’s 33 and her medical charts take up an entire file cabinet. In her ten years, she’s played all 34 games just three times, and she totaled 12 in 2007 and 2008.
Of course, there’s rookie Tina Charles, the number one overall pick in the draft, but it’s asking a lot to expect her to step right in and contribute while waiting for Jones and Gruda. Another rookie who will get her chance early will be Allison Hightower, who could turn out to be one of the steals of the draft. The 5-10 guard can actually be expected to make a bigger contribution than No. 3 pick Kelsey Griffin, who doesn’t really have a position – she was a four in college, but is expected to transition to the three despite having no outside shot. But, like the other rookies, she’ll get her opportunities early and maybe prove she did deserve to be picked third.
Of course it’s possible that Connecticut will put the pieces together: Montgomery will emerge as an elite point guard; Tan White and Hightower will rise to the occasion; and Griffin will, along with Charles, Gruda, Walker and Jones, give the Sun an imposing front line. But there are too many questions in Uncasville this year, and the contracted WNBA is too tough, so the Sun look like lottery fodder – which means that Thibault most likely gave up his chance at Maya Moore by trading his 2011 first-round pick in the off-season.
Then again, if the Sun don’t make the Playoffs, he’s probably going to be gone anyway, so that will be someone else’s problem. Thibault’s problem, then, is to find a way to make it work this summer, and justify his pre-season optimism.