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Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas adjusting to new role with Connecticut Sun

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The Terps’ all-time leading scorer is showcasing her versatility with one of the WNBA’s top teams.

Connecticut Sun v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

When Alyssa Thomas arrived at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2010, it was clear to see that she was a special player from the start. She filled up stat sheets throughout her Terps career and led Maryland on several deep postseason runs. To this day, she remains the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder.

Thomas brought speed and strength to the table from the beginning — getting out in transition and scoring easy buckets. She also brought a solid midrange game and was reliable from the charity stripe, and despite not having a three-point shot, she still became one of the best players in the country. Thomas was selected fourth overall by the New York Liberty in 2014 and then traded to the Connecticut Sun, where she has spent her entire WNBA career thus far.

Five years later, parts of Thomas’ game have weakened. Because of injuries to both of her shoulders, her midrange shot and free-throw shooting are no longer as reliable. She shot 80 percent from the stripe in college and 76 percent as a rookie in Connecticut. But that percentage declined every year until she hit rock bottom last year at 55 percent. This season, Thomas also hasn’t looked to score frequently unless it’s in transition, although part of that is because she’s playing power forward more frequently, where her 6’2 frame isn’t the most natural fit.

All of these changes have caused Thomas to be even less selfish than she was earlier in her career. She’s making stellar passes seemingly every game, and not just in transition. Thomas is being patient in the regular sets and searches for her teammates. Her patience down low on taller defenders has helped her see the whole court and find the best pass to make. Sometimes it still seems odd and detrimental to have her in the paint, but she continues putting up solid stats (12.1 points and 2.5 offensive rebounds per game). And the Sun have cruised out to a 9-4 start, putting them in second place in the WNBA.

With star Chiney Ogwumike traded from Connecticut to Los Angeles before the season, Thomas has become a more vocal leader. She still leads by example first and foremost, though, and still has a breakout 20-point game now and then — like her career-high breakout of 28 points on June 26. In that game, she was able to score in transition and in the halfcourt and truly put her team on her back, even though Connecticut lost by one point to the Dallas Wings.

Thomas has made adjustments, such as shooting righty free throws now instead of lefty, but at the end of the day she doesn’t need to change a whole lot. She is still one of the WNBA’s toughest players and a great defender (with a career-high 1.8 steals per game at the moment). And she’s still second on the Sun in scoring, behind only MVP candidate Jonquel Jones. With Thomas’ versatility, she will inevitably make an impact regardless of how well she’s shooting.

Terps around the league

Washington Mystics (9-3)

The big stories with the Mystics have been Elena Delle Donne easing back into her dominant self this past week and the Mystics’ bench overachieving like crazy. But Kristi Toliver is still quietly the second best player on the team and is third in scoring behind Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins. And she dropped 14 points and had five assists in the Mystics’ 102-59 statement win over Connecticut on Saturday, which put them in first place in the standings.

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has continued to make an impact as arguably one of the best bench players in the WNBA. On Saturday, she bounced back from a two-point performance and contributed to the Mystics’ annihilation of the Sun with 11 points and six rebounds.

Tianna Hawkins scored in double figures for the fifth time this season when she dropped 15 points against the Sky on June 26. She now leads Washington’s bench in scoring average and, shockingly, also leads the Mystics’ rotation players in three-point percentage at 48 percent (16-for-33). She is also leads the WNBA with a .597 field-goal percentage.

Natasha Cloud hasn’t scored in double figures since June 11, but came close this past week with performances of eight and nine points. In the blowout win over Connecticut, she was 3-for-5 from distance and dished out six assists.

Connecticut Sun (9-4)

Brionna Jones played just 10 minutes against the Mystics on Saturday, but was able to come away with eight points in garbage time, which was tied for second on the Sun in what was an off game for nearly everyone else.

Seattle Storm (8-5)

Crystal Langhorne stepped up and had her best game of the season so far in a June 25 loss to the Las Vegas Aces. She scored a season-high 11 points in that game and played well defensively too. Langhorne has been replaced by Mercedes Russell in the starting lineup, but with her fellow power forward Breanna Stewart out, Langhorne is still getting more playing time than last year due to the lack of depth at that position.

Minnesota Lynx (6-6)

Lexie Brown had a quiet week with just nine points in two games. Her five points on Sunday all came in the final two minutes of the second quarter. She has the ability to score in bunches off the bench on days when she’s not playing starter minutes. Her 12 minutes played on Sunday was a season-low. She’s still shooting exactly 40 percent (20-for-50) from three-point range.

Season averages

Kristi Toliver — 11.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.1 blocks

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough — 7.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks

Tianna Hawkins — 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks

Natasha Cloud — 9.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks

Alyssa Thomas — 12.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

Brionna Jones — 2.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.4 blocks

Crystal Langhorne — 5.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks

Lexie Brown — 8.4 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals