DeWanna Bonner crosses halfcourt at a jog. Her thin frame is gazelle-like, the ball in her right hand. Her ponytail bounces against her purple Phoenix Mercury jersey.
Her defender in transition is Tiffany Mitchell, who is to her left, keeping pace. As soon as Mitchell drops into her defensive stance, Bonner crosses over left, running the Indiana Fever guard into a rub set by Brittney Griner.
Three yellow jerseys are between Bonner and the basket, but she sees a path through. The closest to challenging her attempt is a unique competitor: her wife, Candace Dupree. Still, Dupree’s rotation is a split second late. She wallops Bonner’s right shoulder as the 6’4” guard/forward double-clutches and finishes.
A FINAL SEASON IN THE DESERT
The Mercury finished 15-19, clinching the WNBA’s final playoff spot in an up-and-down season. During their one game playoff, the Chicago Sky ran Phoenix out of the gym, topping them 105-76. Despite falling short of expectations, the Mercury extended their playoff streak to seven straight seasons. When the back of Diana Taurasi struggled to hold up in 2019, the team leaned on Bonner and Griner as much as it could.
Bonner’s 32.9 minutes per game ranked behind only Minnesota Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier, and Griner checked in just behind at 32.8.
While on the floor, Bonner had a green light: her 14.8 attempts from the field were her most since 2012. Her field goal percentage—just 37.7—suffered from the usage, coming in under 40 percent for just the third time in her 10-year career and well below her career average of 41.4 percent.
Despite the lower percentages, the 17.2 points Bonner posted were fifth in the W.
Her aggressiveness in the half court manifested itself in points at the charity stripe. Bonner led the league in both free throw attempts and makes. She converted most of those attempts: Her 91.6 percent clip settled sixth in the entire league.
BREAKING DOWN THE SHOOTING STRUGGLES
Rightly so, much of Phoenix’s offensive sets were built around Griner in the low post. With the offensively gifted center clogging the paint, Bonner had to settle for perimeter looks more frequently.
According to WNBA stats, she shot 93 for 172 from within eight feet, a strong 54.1 percent. She didn’t attempt those shots, though, as much as she did 3-pointers: From deep, she converted just 52 of 191. Her 27.2 percent was five percentage points lower than anyone else in the top-10 for 3-point attempts.
The aforementioned minutes played took a toll as well. Each subsequent month, Bonner saw regression in both points scored and field goal percentage. Her 25.7 usage rate was 10th in the league, and she and Griner were the only pair of starters to crack the top ten.
Data courtesy of WNBA.com
Phoenix’s offense was significantly top-heavy last season, which also contributed to the cumbersome load Bonner endured.
Griner (20.7 points per game), Bonner (17.2 points per game) and now-Washington-Mystic Leilani Mitchell (12.8 points per game) were the only three players to score in double figures for the Phoenix Mercury in 2019. They accounted for 50.7 of the 76.5 points the team scored last season, good for a staggering 66.3 percent.
Despite having Griner down low, Phoenix struggled mightily to rebound the ball. Their 32.5 boards per game were second-worst in the league and ahead of only Seattle. They surrendered offensive rebounds on 33.4 percent of possessions, also 11th in the WNBA.
The Mercury were, however, middle-of-the-pack in defensive rebounding, thanks largely to Bonner’s efforts.
Her 7.6 total rebounds ranked ninth, though she did most of her damage cleaning the defensive glass. Only the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne edged her out for tops in the league (6.7 to 6.6). Though she didn’t frequently box out her opponents, she had a nose for the basketball, using her athleticism to navigate crowds and her height to secure the boards.
Bonner’s 1.3 steals per game paced the team, which ranked dead last in the W. Due to their lack of turnovers generated, they were last in points off turnovers, averaging only 12.7 points per game. Their struggles on the offensive glass also caused them to be last in second-chance points, at just 8.5 per game.
AN OFFSEASON OF TRANSITION
Until now, Bonner has spent her entire career with the Mercury. (Phoenix picked her with the fifth overall pick in 2009.) That season, she helped the team win the title while she won her first of three consecutive Sixth Woman of the Year awards. She went on to win a second championship and made three All-Star teams.
Bonner also met her wife during that span as she and Dupree were teammates from 2010–2016 before the trade with Indiana ahead of the 2017 season. Bonner missed the 2017 season herself when she gave birth to the couple’s twins. Both players’ Instagrams tote more toddler photos than basketball shots.
“We are just making it work,” Bonner said in an interview with WNBA.com’s Michelle Smith back in 2018. “It’s all about them.”
The kids, who have previously traveled back and forth during the season for weeks at a time, will have their travel distance cut in half now that Bonner is a member of the Connecticut Sun.
A few weeks back, of course, a sign-and-trade between the Mercury and Sun brought Bonner out east. She will earn a max contract—details courtesy of High Post Hoops—which will gradually escalate from $215,000 to $234,936 over the next four seasons.
THE NEW-LOOK CONNECTICUT SUN
Bonner’s addition is far from the only move made by Connecticut this offseason.
Through sign-and-trades or free agency, they’ve seen the following players depart: Rachel Banham (Minnesota Lynx), Layshia Clarendon (New York Liberty), Shekinna Stricklen (Atlanta Dream), Morgan Tuck (Seattle Storm) and Courtney Williams (Atlanta Dream). All five saw the court for at least ten minutes per game last year, with Stricklen and Williams each starting all 34 games.
Together, the group accounted for 44.2 percent of last year’s scoring output, meaning 35.7 of the team’s 80.8 points per game.
To offset the losses, the Sun have added Bonner, Briann January (Phoenix Mercury) and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Seattle Storm).
An 11-year vet, January is coming off a career-low 6.5 points per game but started 26 of the 32 contests she played for Phoenix last season. She also contributed 3.3 assists per game, while maintaining a 1.93 assist-to-turnover ratio, which was 25th in the WNBA.
The 5’8″ guard moved the ball extremely well within the context of the offense, decisively breaking down defenses while always looking for open players:
Mosqueda-Lewis will be employed similarly to how Morgan Tuck was in 2019 by spacing the floor.
In 14 minutes per game, Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 5.5 points per game while hitting nearly a three on 37.8 percent shooting. She was third on the team, with 78.5 percent of her makes coming off an assist, including 92.9 percent of her hits from beyond the arc.
Of her 82 attempts from deep, 75 came from above the break:
All this turnover makes it tricky to forecast Bonner’s role into the context of the 2019 Sun. However, her familiarity with January should help ease her transition into the Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas starting lineup.
Though Bonner’s athleticism made her dangerous from anywhere on the court, Phoenix was not a transition team. They played at the second-slowest pace, topping only the Dallas Wings. Connecticut, by contrast, were the fourth fastest.
In his four seasons leading the Sun, Coach Curt Miller’s team has never ranked lower than fifth in pace.
Those other hustle struggles the Mercury had? The Sun did not. Where Phoenix was last in points off turnovers and second-chance points, Connecticut was second and first, respectively.
This has been a busy offseason for the whole Sun organization as well, so all the new players will need some time to gel.
The largest difference for Bonner will be playing alongside Jonquel Jones, who is a threat from anywhere on the court. The extra space on the floor will allow her to be even more aggressive going into the paint, especially without the help of a second big defender collapsing on her. If she can continue to draw fouls while attempting more shots from in close, her percentages will climb again.
Connecticut nearly made it to the mountaintop in 2019. DeWanna Bonner can be the piece to help them crest the championship peak.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.