Why Connecticut Sun’s draft pick face stiff competition for roster spot and playing time

The Connecticut Sun possess one of the deepest rosters in the WNBA, a collection of talent that should contend for a championship this summer.

And that was before head coach and general manager Curt Miller selected three players in Monday’s WNBA Draft.

The Sun added three guards: Nia Clouden from Michigan State, Jordan Lewis from Baylor, and Kiara Smith from Florida. Smith suffered a knee injury at the end of the season and will not be available this year, so the Sun picked her as a future option.

Clouden, drafted 12th overall, could earn a roster spot as an offensive weapon — she averaged 20 points and shot 39.6% from 3-point range last season. Miller said the Sun could use scoring off the bench, particularly in the backcourt.


But are there enough minutes available? That seems unlikely.

“We don’t want anyone to get complacent,” Miller said “We want people to fight for the spots on the team.”

The reality facing Clouden and Lewis as training camp begins Sunday is that Connecticut’s roster is nearly set. The Sun have WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones anchoring the frontcourt with center Brionna Jones and guard-forward DeWanna Bonner. Jasmine Thomas starts in the backcourt and forward Alyssa Thomas is returning from an Achilles injury.

Guard Courtney Williams, a popular player and productive player with the Sun from 2016 to 2019, is back after two seasons in Atlanta. Williams (16.5 points) could start at guard or provide offense off the bench.

The rest of the bench: guard Natisha Hiedeman, swing players Kaila Charles and DiJonai Carrington, and forwards Beatrice Mompremier and Stephanie Jones. Niedeman was one of the best reserve guards in the league last season, averaging 7.6 points while shooting 39.8% on 3-pointers in 20.1 minutes per game.

That’s 11 players, with two veteran guards coming off the bench.

Guard Briann January, who started 29 games last season, signed with Seattle as a free agent. January is the only loss from a team that had the league’s best record (26-6).

So the draft picks and free agents — the Sun signed undrafted players Aleksa Gulbe from Indiana, Alexus Dye from Tennessee, and Delicia Washington from Clemson — will be competing in camp for perhaps one roster spot.

“We’re excited about that competition,” Miller said. “We always are a franchise that tries to create competition.”

Clouden (5-foot-8) can play both guard spots. She left Michigan State as the program’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,882 points.

She was also consistent and productive over four years — 16.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists. As a senior, she was 15th in the country in free throw percentage (88.5%).

“We think Nia is a three-level shooter,” Miller said. “Impressed by the increased 3-point shooting this year. Love her wiggle, love her ability off ball screens … obviously we’re big fans.”

Miller targeted Clouden, but thought she might be picked before the Sun’s selection. There was a run of forwards in the first round, allowing Clouden to slip.

“As every pick was announced before us, we held our breath,” Miller said. “One more time, one more time.”

So Clouden comes to Connecticut with a chance to provided backcourt depth. Lewis (12.1 points, 4.2 assists) is considered a strong passer and more of a traditional point guard. If she performs well in camp, she could play herself onto a WNBA roster — but not necessarily with the Sun.

Smith was an intriguing selection. She may have been a first-round pick had she not injured her knee last month. She averaged 18.8 points as a junior and 14.6 as a sixth-year graduate student, leading Florida to a 21-10 record and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years.

Miller said point guard was the deepest position in the draft. And Smith — even after her injury — was a player he tracked.

In fact, he considered picking her in the first or second round. Given his team’s roster, drafting Smith as almost a lottery ticket was an interesting option.

“She was on our radar as a possible first round pick,” he said. “We considered stashing her at 12. … To stash her at 36 is an unbelievable opportunity for us.”

paul.doyle@hearstmediact.com

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