The day Curt Miller and the Connecticut Sun made his contract extension as General Manager official was supposed to be a celebration, “no way, nothing can happen today, this is going to be a great day” recounts Miller. Then he got the call to say Alyssa Thomas, the heart and soul of the Sun, nicknamed The Engine, had suffered a torn Achilles in a late night practice session whilst playing for USK Praha in the Czech Republic. Suddenly the upcoming WNBA season looked very different. At a press conference to discuss Thomas’ signing, Miller spoke about her impact and what it would mean for the Sun in 2021.
“AT is a great player and certainly spearheads the way we play, we create a lot of offence around her skillset, we scheme our defence approach around her multi-faceted ability to guard so many different positions and impact the game at the defensive end.” – Miller
With the loss of Thomas, Miller and Connecticut will need to pivot their approach, something they have had to do several times before. In 2017 they lost Chiney Ogwumike due to injury and played without dominant post player Jonquel Jones in the 2020 WNBA Bubble.
“Obviously you would expect our tempo to be impacted without a facilitating AT off the defensive rebound and in the open court… (this) puts the ball maybe back in our guard’s hands more or DB (DeWanner Bonner) becomes a facilitator. So we have to pivot and we’ll find a new tempo, a new style, but I’m excited that always the unintended consequence (of) an injury opens the door for younger players…to experiment people playing at positions maybe they don’t have the opportunity to get as many minutes.” – Miller
As Miller notes, an injury can provide an opportunity for a rotation player to increase their minutes and make an impression as Myisha Hines-Allen showed this last season for Washington. A 2.5ppg scorer in 8.5 minutes over her first 2 years, Hines-Allen broke out in 2020 when moved into the starting line-up and was a strong contender for the Most Improved Player award, increasing her scoring average to 17ppg in 30 minutes per game. Alternatively, a position shuffle could reveal some previous hidden talent. Who might step into that role for the Sun in 2021?
It is still early in Free Agency and there are contracts to be signed, trades and roster cuts to be made after training camp. As things stand in early February, three players currently signed to training camp contracts have the potential to step up.
Natisha Hiedeman: The 5”8 Guard from Marquette is going into her third WNBA season with career averages of 4.9ppg, 1.5rpg, 1.9apg in 18.5 minutes, with 4 starts in her 42 games played. Playing overseas in Israel for Ramat Gan, she is in the starting five, averaging 15.0ppg, 6.1rpg, 4.1apg and 2.1spg in just over 36 minutes of playing time. Increased playing time and a focus on guard play for the Sun would open up Hiedeman who has proven herself as an energy player off the bench and can play both guard positions when needed.
Beatrice Mompremier: Drafted with the 20th pick in the 2020 WNBA draft by LA then picked up by Connecticut as a replacement for Jones. At 6”4 Mompremier provides rim protection and rebounding. Playing in Hungary for Uni Gyor, and averaging 15.7ppg on 60.3% from the field, 11.8rpg and 1.4bpg her impact in post play is evident. Coming off the bench for the Sun in her rookie season with averages of 2.3ppg, 1.8rpg and 0.6bpg, she provided a glimpse into her potential with a 16 rebound (8 offensive), 4 block game against Las Vegas in September.
Kamiah Smalls: Selected by Indiana in the third round of the 2020 draft, released before training camp then signed back to the team in August, Smalls made a name for herself in her debut with a 13 point (4/4 FG, 3/3 3Pt, 2/2 FT) 4 rebound, 2 assist game in 17 minutes. Signed to a training camp contract by Connecticut, Smalls will look to replicate her overseas play for Rosa Empoli in Italy, where she is shooting 52.3% from the field for 18.1ppg, 5.5rpg and 2.6apg.
Talking about the situation the Sun now find themselves in, Miller is positive: “I’m excited about the challenge…about the chess match, getting back to work and trying to find a way to put this new group in position to be successful.” Based on his previous seasons results, Miller and the Sun’s future looks bright.