In this year’s edition of their preseason survey, WNBA general managers voted Jonquel Jones as the player most likely to have a breakout season. Jones validated that by grabbing 20 rebounds in the season opener and recording a double-double of 19 points and 12 boards the next game. Sun teammate Alex Bentley wasn’t the least bit surprised, saying last week of Jones, “Y’all haven’t seen nothing yet.”
Bentley and the GMs were right. On Sunday, Jones officially had her WNBA coming-out party.
In guiding the Sun to their first victory of the season, she became just the 13th player in league history to post 20 points and 20 rebounds in the same game. Jones finished with 23 points and 21 boards – both career highs for the second-year center – as Connecticut earned a 97-79 win at Chicago.
After an up-and-down rookie campaign, Jones has already joined an exclusive list with her hot start this year. Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles are the only other players to record multiple 20-rebound games in a season.
“I think I just have a better understanding of the game and what to expect,” Jones told WNBA.com on Monday. “I feel like my teammates are trusting me more and we’re trusting each other. Even though it’s not showing up in the win column, we’re playing together and we’ll get over the hump.”
With Jones as their leading scorer and rebounder, the Sun are just 1-4 to start the season. But three of those losses were one-possession games in the final minute, and the other came against the undefeated Lynx. Connecticut, the youngest team in the league, is also without former All-Star Chiney Ogwumike due to injury.
Jones has emerged as the centerpiece of a promising, young core. Two weeks into the season, she is averaging 14.6 points on 50 percent shooting and leading the WNBA with 12.2 rebounds per game. Thanks in large part to Jones, Connecticut owns the third-highest rebounding percentage in the league and has scored the most second-chance points.
As Sun coach Curt Miller puts it, WNBA teams knew it would only be a matter of time with Jones.
“Everybody was reaching out and asking if there was any way they could acquire her,” Miller told WNBA.com, referencing this past offseason. “Obviously she was off limits, a big piece of the puzzle for our future. But everyone sees the potential, her versatility. She has a really special future ahead of her.”
Jones showed signs of this late in her rookie year, and then she won MVP in South Korea’s league during the WNBA offseason. However, her emergence early this season may not have been possible without the devastating injury to Ogwumike.
Ogwumike hurt her Achilles while playing in China in November. As Miller sees it, an ‘unintended consequence’ of the season-ending injury is a less crowded frontcourt, one in which Jones can play freely knowing she won’t be the odd one out. On Sunday, Jones scored 19 of her 23 points in the second half after a rough start.
“It has opened the door for Jonquel to not only play a lot of minutes, but to be able to play through mistakes without looking over her shoulder,” Miller said after Sunday’s game. “Tonight was a perfect example of that. She did not have a particularly good first quarter. She missed some assignments and was off to a start where our coaching staff and veteran players challenged her to get into the game. If we had Chiney, if we had more depth in the post, it could mean she may not have the opportunity to get herself out of it.”
The Sun couldn’t have predicted the injury to Ogwumike, their second-leading scorer last year. Still, they deserve credit for taking a chance on Jones as part of a major decision that’s now paying dividends.
On draft night in 2016, the Los Angeles Sparks selected Jones with the No. 6 overall pick before trading her to Connecticut shortly after. The Sun sent guard Chelsea Gray – a former first-round selection – and their 2017 first-round pick to the Sparks in exchange. Jones had led the nation in rebounding as a senior at George Washington.
The Sun believed in her from day one. As other WNBA teams begin to see the same potential, Jones is motivated to dominate the way Connecticut always envisioned she could.
“Any time an organization believes in you like that, you want to play well for them,” Jones said. “Especially coming out of college, and I wasn’t in one of the power conferences. I’m still trying to prove them right every time I step on the court.”