Clarendon’s Veteran Influence Meshing Well With Sun

 


By Christopher Kwiecinski

clare.jpg

When asking Connecticut guard Layshia Clarendon how she’s fitting in after being traded to the Sun from the Atlanta Dream, take most of what you hear from nearby teammates with a grain of salt.

“We hate her,” Sun center Chiney Ogwumike joked. “We can’t stand her. Send her back.”

But Clarendon’s face told the truth: she’s happy being on the Sun. And not only is she happy, she’s flourishing in a veteran role on a young team that’s already clinched a playoff spot.

This must be a sigh of relief for Connecticut, considering the circumstances that brought Clarendon to the Sun.

Clarendon was traded to the Sun on July 8 after WNBAinsidr reported that then-Sun guard Alex Bentley was involved in a physical altercation with a teammate. Bentley was then traded to the Dream for Clarendon and a second-round draft pick.

Moving from the Dream to the Sun didn’t mean Clarendon was missing out on the playoffs, but solidifying a role on a new team midway through the season. Especially considering the circumstances.

But, Clarendon said she’s enjoyed learning with a young team that has the potential to make a run in the WNBA playoffs.

“It’s been a really good group,” Clarendon said. “It’s just you don’t always find the teams that have good personalities and people who mesh.”

Since joining Connecticut, Clarendon has averaged 5.2 points per game and 2.9 assists per game in 11 games. However, what doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is that Clarendon has taken on the role of being accountable for the bench.

As a reserve, Clarendon can flex her prowess as a veteran and gives the Sun a versatile two-way player to match up on different players.

“She really commands a team and runs a team at the point guard position, but she can guard multiple positions for us,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “She brings us toughness. We’re really pleased to have her.”

Having Clarendon come off the bench also gives a hearty boost to the Sun rotation. Sun forward and sixth-man Jonquel Jones has been providing points off the bench, as she’s averaging 10.9 points per game and is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.

It’s also easy to forget that Clarendon dished out 226 assists in 2017 and was named a WNBA All-Star as well. Clarendon said her role lets her dish out playoff experience and poise as well, especially as a player who knows how to handle big moments.

“We have a lot of talent off the bench, and that’s something I look forward to,” she said. “That’s something that helps you make deep runs in the playoffs.”

Clarendon’s presence also shoulders some minutes for starting point guard Jasmine Thomas.

Before acquiring Clarendon, there were two occasions this season where Thomas played over 30 minutes in back-to-back games. That hasn’t happened since the trade.

“Jazz has been our true one and only point guard for so long,” Ogwumike said. “She plays so hard on both ends of the floor and she needs a break sometimes. To have another ball handler, someone that can organize the offense and keep us together, to me that was the biggest bonus to getting Layshia.”

Becoming the Sun’s bench leader could be the key to a lengthy playoff run for the Sun, however it does matter who they play in the first round. Currently, the Sun would play the eighth and final seed in the playoffs if the season ended today.

However, that very easily could change in the remaining two weeks. But, a player like Clarendon can keep a young team focused, and that’s a big reason why the Sun acquired her.

“Besides her okay, semi-decent personality,” Ogwumike said.