Nearly a month into the 2021 WNBA season, the Connecticut Sun are arguably the team to beat. At 8-2, the Sun have knocked off the title-favorite Las Vegas Aces twice and won four games by double-digits. They’re tied for first in net rating with the Aces, boasting the league’s third-best defense and second-best offense. But now the team will really be put to the test.
Jonquel Jones, the Sun’s leading scorer and rebounder, will miss at least the next four games as she competes for Bosnia and Herzegovina in FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2021 in France. It is possible that her spell with the national team could cost her as many as six WNBA games. The tournament could earn Jones’ team a spot in the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
Official Release: Jonquel Jones to Compete in FIBA Women’s EuroBasket.
Good luck JJ! We can’t wait to have you back soon. pic.twitter.com/qW41RE4H0X
— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) June 6, 2021
The Sun’s winning ways have been a collective achievement but it’s no secret that Jones, the WNBA’s MVP frontrunner, has led the way. Through 10 games, Jones is averaging 21.6 points per game on 56.8 percent shooting from the field and 48.9 percent shooting from three-point range. The 6’6 center is grabbing 10.4 rebounds, dishing three assists, and contributing 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, too. She’s been a two-way force.
No single person can replace what Jones does on any given night, but the Sun played without her in the 2020 bubble, so this won’t be entirely new territory.
Brionna Jones’ role is sure to grow without Jonquel, as it did last season en route to a five-game semifinals showdown against the Aces. The 6’4 forward more than tripled her minutes per game on the year to 26.1 and nearly quadrupled her scoring output to 11.2 points on 60.5 percent shooting from the field (a 13.8 percent increase from 2019).
“Obviously, [she’s] a big piece of the puzzle for us already, but even more intent to play through [Brionna Jones],” Sun head coach Curt Miller said, according to The Hartford Courant. “Obviously, you know establishing paint points has been a big part of our success this year. Playing in the paint, so Bri Jones again just will be magnified during this stretch without JJ.”
Make sure to keep an eye on Natisha Hiedman, too. A third-year guard, Hiedeman, is off to a hot start this season, scoring 9.7 points per game with 2.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists. She scored 12 or more points in three of the first four games of the season and is nearly doubling her three-point makes per game year-over-year.
She’s a strong contender to close out the fourth quarter and maintain a four-out approach around Brionna Jones. Her sharp defensive instincts (17 steals in 10 games) could have the Sun running out in transition, too. She could be the x-factor to Connecticut surviving Jones’s absence.
Of course, there is an option that can provide veteran savvy and a steady hand in Jones’ absence. Two-time WNBA champion and three-time All-Star DeWanna Bonner is one of the world’s best scorers, and the Sun will need her to be at the top of her game while Jones is out. The 12-year veteran is scoring 16.6 points on a career-high 41.3 percent three-point shooting, but is making just 38.8 percent of her two-point looks, which is a career-low. She’s also grabbing 6.7 boards and dishing a career-high 3.7 assists.
Bonner has the talent to carry Connecticut on offense for stretches. The question will come down to whether or not she can find her shot in time.
Connecticut’s next four games are against the reigning champion Seattle Storm — who beat them in overtime with Jones — the Chicago Sky twice, and the Dallas Wings. The Sky are just 2-7, with all of those losses coming consecutively, but that was in the absence of Candace Parker, who is expected to return from an ankle injury on Wednesday. The Wings won’t be easy, either, as they just beat the Storm and boast the league’s third-best offense.
There’s no easy game in sight, and if Jones has to miss the two games after, the Sun will play the Wings and Sky short-handed once more.
The WNBA’s playoff system is cruel to teams that finish outside the top-2. The bottom four seeds out of eight have to play in two single-elimination games to reach the semifinals, and the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds play in one single-elimination game. The Sun hold the top seed in the league right now, but the Aces trail by just one game. In a mere 32-game regular season, Jones’s absence, even for just two weeks, could change everything.