It has been a long time since the Connecticut Sun had an opening at head coach. For the last seven years, Curt Miller led the charge both on the sideline in the coaching box and in the front office as the general manager. That all changed weeks ago when Miller and the Sun mutually agreed to part ways. The two-time coach of the year swapped coasts and will be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks.
Miller’s departure represented a critical moment for the franchise. With big decisions looming ahead of free agency, the Sun needed a coach who can help deliver the title Miller and his teams were so close to grasping. They are hoping new hire Stephanie White is the person to get the job done. White has experience of leading a team to a WNBA championship when her and the Indiana Fever surprised the masses by taking the Minnesota Lynx to five games in 2015. The future is up in the air for the Sun and 2023 might be their best chance of finally getting to the mountain top with this current core. This is what White will need to do for them to get there.
Figure out what brand of basketball they are going to play
This is an obvious “to do” to check off for any head coach but when it comes to this Connecticut Sun team, the answer may not be as apparent as it should be.
The question around the team the last couple years has been whether or not there is too much overlap in the front court for them to be true contenders. The results were mixed. In 2021, they had the best defensive rating since 2007 Indiana Fever. However, the Sun were bounced in the semifinals by the Chicago Sky, who ended up winning the WNBA Finals that year. Connecticut got its revenge this past season, owning the best net rating in the league after the all-star game and beating the Sky in this year’s semifinals. The Sun lost to the Aces and now have decisions to make in free agency that will impact the way White wants to play.
Brionna Jones, who was an all-star last season and now the reigning sixth woman of the year, is a free agent and is expected to get more money than the $120,000 she received in 2022. The Sun need depth in the backcourt and could elect not to retain Jones in favor of finding a scoring guard. With Bonner, Thomas and Jonquel Jones on the roster, it wouldn’t shock anyone in the league if Brionna Jones is in a different uniform next season.
White has to figure out whether she wants to run with a comparable roster to last year’s team or whether she wants to open up the paint to help the Sun’s front court get better opportunities at the rim.
Unleash Jonquel Jones
Speaking of opportunities at the rim, White’s biggest goal should be getting Jonquel Jones more touches next season. The 2021 MVP averaged just 10.4 shot attempts per game last season and saw her free throw rate drop. That is partly due to veteran guard Jasmine Thomas being out for most of the season and the Sun not having a true playmaker behind her to lead an offense.
Jonquel Jones is one of the best scorers to come through the WNBA. She is a three-level scorer who opens up the floor for her teammates with her gravity. The Sun struggled to get her the same touches she received in 2021 and it resulted in her scoring 4.8 points less per game than she had during her MVP season. She could benefit from Connecticut adding more shooting around her but White is going to have to make sure Jonquel Jones is getting enough shot attempts to maximize her impact on the floor.
Develop young guards
The Sun’s offense was stagnant at times because of Thomas’ absence. Not having someone who could consistently lead the offense made life difficult for Connecticut in the first half of the season and they had a rotation of names come through to fill the void. Rookie Nia Clouden had some strong moments last season but she was buried in the depth chart behind Odyssey Sims, a late addition to the team in 2022. Natisha Hiedeman improved last year as well but is better utilized as a score-first guard.
Assuming Hiedeman comes back (she is a restricted free agent), White will have to get more out of the Sun’s guard play if Connecticut is going to be successful next year. Clouden especially could benefit from getting more reps in during the regular season so the Sun can see whether she is a long-term fit in the backcourt. Hiedeman has improved every season but also isn’t a finished product.