by Sherron Shabazz / @SherronShabazz
The defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever may be having the most disappointing start to the 2013 season, losing seven of their first eight games. But their eastern conference finals opponents, the Connecticut Sun, are having an equally disappointing start. Last year’s two best teams in the east are this year’s cellar dwellers seven weeks into the season. The Sun’s start may be even more surprising than Indiana’s, due to the Fever being decimated by injuries.
The Sun lost long-time head coach Mike Thibault to the Washington Mystics in the offseason and has gone through a rough adjustment period. New head coach Anne Donovan has had to juggle roster moves and minor injuries while trying to conjure up team chemistry.
While last year’s MVP Tina Charles is being her usual dominant self scoring 18.6 points a game and snatching 10.4 boards, it’s veteran point guard Kara Lawson who is the unequivocal leader of the Connecticut Sun.
Lawson is in her 11th NBA season and, oddly, she just seems to be getting better. The former Tennessee Lady Vol had the best season of her career in 2012 with career highs in points, rebounds, assists and field-goal percentage. Most players with a decade or more of court time show signs of aging or decline, not Lawson.
“Coming to Connecticut, I’ve had the opportunity to play my natural position and I know that I’m going to be doing that every night and get those starters minutes,” Lawson told SLAMonline. “When you get those types of minutes if you’ve not been lazy and continue to work on your game then the results are going to come when you get your opportunity.
“Mine just came 10 years into my career which is pretty late.”
Lawson is currently on pace to best her 2012 statistics with averages of 15.8 points per game, 4.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists. She leads her team in assists per game, is second in scoring, and fourth in rebounding from the point guard position.
Despite the team’s 3-8 start Lawson and the Sun are eager to get back to the playoffs and remove the bitter taste from last season’s conference finals loss to Indiana.
“You always look back because we had control of the series,” Lawson said. “Winning the first game, it was a tie ball game with nine seconds left in Game 2 on the road, we certainly had our opportunities.
“At the same time, every year is a new opportunity and just because you got to a certain point last year doesn’t guarantee you anything for this year,” Lawson added. “We understand that. We feel good about our group coming back because we have had experience together in the playoffs. That gives you confidence but we also know it’s a long season and a lot can happen. So our focus is to stay healthy and try to pick up Anne’s system as quickly as possible.”
The Sun have struggled with Donovan’s system and rank ninth in the league in points per game (72.7). Despite a handful of offensive weapons, Connecticut simply struggles to score. Some of that is due to the team’s new coaching staff, but a lot of that has to do with the new and improved WNBA.
“Every year is tough in this league,” said Lawson. “It’s probably the most competitive sports league in terms of the margin for error. So you’re a couple of points here or there from making the playoffs or being in last place in the conference.”
Connecticut currently sits in last place in their conference partly due to the improvement of last year’s lottery teams, Washington and Chicago. The Mystics (6-6) occupy the third seed in the east while Chicago is second (8-4).
While Thibault gets the credit for the Mystics’ success it’s rookie Elena Delle Donne who’s given a boost to the Sky. Lawson is more than impressed with Chicago’s rookie sensation.
“Ultimately what you mean to a sport is based on your production and what you lead your team to,” Lawson explained. “Early returns in Chicago are that Elena will make a huge difference for them.”
A former WNBA champion with the Sacramento Monarchs and 2008 Olympic Gold medalist, Lawson brings leadership and experience to a team that’s hungry to claim its first championship. Having tasted victory in the past Lawson is eager to savor success once again.
“I think you just always try to get more of whatever you have,” Lawson explained. “You go to a buffet and get a plate of stuff you like, you eat it and say, You know what, I’m going to go up for seconds. That’s what you do if it’s good. Same thing, I’m just trying to help this group win.”
“On this team nobody has done that,” Lawson added. “It would be fun to be around a group to experience that for the first time and help these players achieve that—they work hard for it. That’d be really cool to do and to be able to do it with two franchises, and the first time for each franchise with totally different players and personnel. It’s not like a team that’s been able to build with the same group. We’ve really had to build this from when I got here in 2010. We were all young and had so many rookies to the point now where we’re pretty experienced. That would be cool to kind of complete the circle here in Connecticut.”