The Whiteboard: Connecticut Sun are an absolute juggernaut

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The WNBA playoffs kicked off last night with a pair of single-elimination games. The Chicago Sky pounding the Dallas Wings and the Phoenix Mercury barely survived without Diana Taurasi to knock off the New York Liberty. The second round will begin on Sunday but teams like the Mercury and Sky may be headed for a tough road against some incredibly top-heavy contenders.

The Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm both had fantastic seasons and could be headed for a rematch of last year’s Finals. But to do that, someone will have to beat the Connecticut Sun — something no team has been able to manage since July 3. The Sun come into these playoffs on a 14-game winning streak and with the statistical profile of an absolute monster.

The Connecticut Sun are a historic defense

The Sun allowed just 93.7 points per 100 possessions this season, the best mark in the league by a wide margin — the Las Vegas Aces were second at 98.0. But even that remarkable gap is probably selling them short. That defensive efficiency mark — 93.7 per 100 possessions — is the lowest since the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2008. But that was a different era when 3-point attempts were far less frequent and offensive efficiency was generally lower. Relative to the league average in each season, the 2021 Sun have the third-best defensive efficiency in WNBA history, trailing only the 2005 Sacramento Monarchs and the 2002 Houston Comets.

In an era of pace-and-space, the Sun defense is as stingy as those from the earliest era of the league, when post play was the dominant and grinding out wins was the norm.

The Connecticut Sun have unbelievable balance

What makes the Sun even more dangerous is that they don’t just win with defense. They had the third-best offensive efficiency in the league this season and, relative to the league average, it ranked in the 83rd percentile among all offenses in league history.

Four different players posted double-digit scoring averages for the Sun this season, and that doesn’t include Alyssa Thomas who averaged 15.7 points per game on 50.7 shooting from the field last season and just returned to the lineup after recovering from an Achilles tear. The Sun also have four players in the rotation who averaged at least two assists per game this season and four who shot at least 36.0 percent from beyond the arc on two or more 3-point attempts per game.

And they find themselves in the somewhat luxurious position of not having to make offensive-defensive trade-off decisions in their rotations. According to Positive Residual’s Estimated Contribution metric, there were seven players in the WNBA this season who were worth at least a point per 100 possessions at both ends of the floor. Four of them — Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones, Jasmine Thomas and DeWanna Bonner — play for the Sun. And, again, that’s not including Alyssa Thomas who was plus-0.5 points on offense and plus-0.6 points per 100 possessions on defense last season.

On both ends, the Connecticut Sun have the profile of a juggernaut

Put their efficiencies at both ends of the floor together and you have a remarkable profile. The Sun posted a strength-of-schedule-adjusted scoring margin (SRS) of plus-8.85. That’s the eighth-best mark in league history and three of the seven teams with better marks were Houston Comets squads from the first four seasons of the league’s existence. Every one of the teams with a better mark went on to win the WNBA championship that season. Of the other top 20 SRS marks in league history, you have one other team from this season (the Aces), four who lost in the WNBA Finals and 10 who won it all.

If history is any guide, the Connecticut Sun should be overwhelming favorites for both a Finals appearance and the first title in franchise history.

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If you’re looking for more WNBA playoff prep, check out Howard Megdal on the one stat that defines each team and Jummy Owookade on five players who could power deep runs for their teams.

This Gersson Rosas – Timberwolves mess is just another reminder that the best front office isn’t just the one with the best basketball minds.

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