After a move from the Indiana Fever waiving Bria Hartley and signing Rennia Davis on July 15th, speculation immediately arose about where Hartley would sign. We have that answer now, as Rachel Galligan of Winsidr reported earlier today that Hartley has signed with the Connecticut Sun, with the team confirming shortly after.
The Connecticut Sun have signed Bria Hartley, sources confirm to @Winsidr
— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) July 18, 2022
— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) July 18, 2022
Hartley was a breakout player for the Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA bubble in 2020 prior to suffering an ACL tear late in the season, and has only played 26 games over the last two seasons. Returning late during a Finals team’s run, Hartley played a fairly minor role last season understandably, and that carried over this season in a showing of competitive polarity. Hartley came over late into the season for the Fever after a playoff run with her Turkish league club, Fenerbahce. Hartley played less than 100 minutes in Indiana this season, and it’s difficult to parse through who she is as a player at this time based off of her W season thus far.
My assumption is that Indiana already felt pretty set in their rotation, was comfortable leaning into their youth movement, and Hartley was primarily resting, rehabbing, and practicing. We’ve seen it happen a multitude of times in both the NBA and WNBA, so that’s my guess here. I’m more confident in that speculation considering her play in Turkey, which has me fairly bullish on her ability to impact a contending team as a bench guard.
Hartley played on a remarkably talented team in Fenerbahce, playing alongside Satou Sabally, Elizabeth Williams, Kayla McBride, and Amanda Zahui B. She’s at her best operating as more of a combo guard than a true lead guard, and she embodied that with her play on that roster. This is the quintessential Bria Hartley experience to me.
While Hartley isn’t the quickest guard (part of what makes her a combo) she pushes the break, generates a paint touch, and then relocates after moving the ball, culminating in a three point make. She doesn’t put a massive dent in the defense, but with her quick decisions and quality movement without the ball, she’s capable of starting sets and playing as a vital cog in an offense built around four players were ideally set up by a complimentary ball-handler.
That immediately ties back to the Sun and her fit with them. Alyssa Thomas has essentially performed as a quasi-creator for the Sun since Jasmine Thomas’ injury, but in the halfcourt, she’s at her best as a roller and screener. Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner, and Brionna Jones are all fantastic offensive players in their own unique ways, but again, are ideally set up by a complimentary guard. Courtney Williams is more of a true two or scoring guard than a combo in my opinion, which is not a bad thing, but is much more of a pick and roll scorer than creator.
Natisha Hiedeman has factored in well as a starter for the Sun and I view Hartley in that same fashion: not truly a lead creator, but a player more than capable of stirring the drink, getting the ball to the right people in the right places, and being a threat off of the ball.
Much of the coverages Hartley receives are due to her shooting ability, so her playmaking reads are typically built off of her shooting gravity. She’s not routinely going to manipulate a defender with her eyes or a wild combo into a jump pass, but combined with sets involving multiple dynamic rollers, she can help generate quality looks. One thing that will be interesting to note: if defenses are willing to switch on Hartley ball-screens, how will Connecticut attack? Hartley is a decent pull-up shooter inside the arc and was a quality pull-up shooter from deep during her 2020 season, but if that shot isn’t there and switches are fairly airtight, what then? I’d counter and say that switching against the Sun is pretty haphazard, as switching a guard onto any of their bigs would be a sizable mismatch, but we’ve seen some routine issues of establishing halfcourt offense from the Sun.
Her defense is decent, particularly on the ball, but her screen navigation and off-ball defense can be a bit spotty at times, likely a residual effect of recovering from that knee injury still. The Sun’s overwhelming length and quality defenders makes this an ideal team to mitigate most concerns that can be sparked by a perimeter defender. If you can keep the ball in front to some degree, there are a bevy of All-Defense level players rotating and crowding the lane behind you.
For a team that has truly missed a stable eighth player since Thomas was injured earlier this season, this is a really good signing by the Sun and a great opportunity for Hartley to find her game in the W again on a team that lacks what she brings at her best.