After the Connecticut Sun traded All-Star forward Chiney Ogwumike to the Los Angeles Sparks in April, many wondered whether the team could still compete for a championship this season. The answer is a resounding yes: the Sun currently stand on top of the Eastern Conference with a 6-1 record, the best in the WNBA, thanks in large part to the play of Jonquel Jones.
The 25-year-old Jones has stepped up in Ogwumike’s absence on the way to an MVP-level campaign. She is averaging 18.0 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game so far, ranking fourth, first, and first in the league, respectively. The statistics confirm what is already apparent — Jones has dominated in the paint and protected the rim with authority. Winning back-to-back Player of the Week Awards shows that Jones can remain a steady force game after game and that the Sun can rely on her to carry the team throughout the season.
The center makes use of her tough 6’ 6” frame to clear space near the basket with her shoulders while shielding the ball. Impressively, Jones also boasts a smooth shot from long-range, making threes comfortably and in rhythm, which helps to space the floor for the Sun. She possesses quick feet which help her on rebounding attempts, since she can agilely adjust to different bounces. Jones’ knack for timing leaps and her long arms, along with those quick feet, make for impressive blocks all around the court. She can take off and chase down would-be layups.
This triumphant 2019 performance represents the culmination of a journey that has seen Jones as a rookie battling for playing time, a dependable All-Star, a sixth woman, and now a franchise cornerstone.
Drafted sixth overall in 2016 by the Los Angeles Sparks, Jones was soon traded to Connecticut in a large deal that included Chelsea Gray and several draft picks. Thanks to her tenacity on defense, Jones started making an immediate impact on the Sun as a rookie, leading the team in blocks per game while averaging only 14.1 minutes.
In 2017, her second season, Jones moved into a more central role after Ogwumike injured her Achilles tendon and missed the entire year. Jones responded, averaging 15.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. She set the WNBA single-season rebounding record with 403 (which now ranks second all-time) and helped the Sun surge to a 21-13 record and an appearance in the second round of the WNBA Playoffs. For her efforts, Jones received the Most Improved Player Award.
Throughout the following year, however, Jones displayed her unselfishness, often coming off the bench to make room for the returning Ogwumike and punish opposing second-units. She averaged a career-high in field goal percentage (55.0%) and three-point percentage (46.7%) on the way to winning Sixth Woman of the Year. The Sun stagnated, though, as they once again finished 21-13 and lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Now, Jones once again holds a star role. She has improved year after year in her career, and 2019 has proved no exception. Jones has increased her free-throw percentage from a career-low mark of 67.1% last year all the way up to 84.4%. This allows the Sun to draw up plays for her late in close games without fear of a foul sending her to the free-throw line. And her rim protection has opponents stymied— her mark of 3.0 blocks per game more than doubles her previous best of 1.4 BPG (in 2017).
With Jones leading the way on both offense and defense, Sun fans can be assured that their team boasts one of the league’s brightest stars. Per game, Connecticut ranks second in the league in team blocks and rebounds, while allowing the second-fewest opponent points. It is simply hard to score on the Sun with Jones guarding the hoop.
Jones and the Sun are here to stay.