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Jonquel Jones Is Back … And The Connecticut Sun Are Contenders Again

After missing the 2020 season, Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun is making an impressive MVP case this year. She’s already won the admiration of another MVP. “She reminds me of myself with her length and how she shoots the ball,” 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant told Business Insider in July. “I’m a huge fan of her.”

Durant isn’t the only one taking notice of Jones.

The 6-foot-6 forward led the Sun to the WNBA Finals in 2019 — and just one win from their first title. But she sat out the 2020 season with concerns about COVID-19, and in her absence, Connecticut finished two games under .500. The team’s .455 win percentage over the shortened 22-game schedule marked its lowest since Jones’s rookie season in 2016. But this year, with their three-time All-Star back on the court, the Sun are sitting atop the Eastern Conference and playing the Seattle Storm on Thursday for the Commissioner’s Cup. By this year’s Olympic break, Connecticut’s 14 wins had already surpassed its total from last season, when it finished 10-12 overall.

“I feel like JJ came in in such a good head space and just ready to be back with her teammates, and I know her teammates were extremely happy to have her back with them,” Sun assistant Brandi Poole told the Hartford Courant after the team’s 5-1 start to the season. “She’s a difference-maker … can shoot 3s and play inside and go off the bounce, and she’s a great teammate. She’s an All-Star in this league, and she continues to prove that night in and night out.”

Before last season, the 27-year-old Bahamian had never missed an appearance over her first four years as a pro. She also missed five games this season while competing for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 2021 EuroBasket tournament — and the Sun went 2-3 in those games.  Overall, since drafting Jones sixth overall in 2016, Connecticut has a .444 win percentage when she doesn’t play compared to a mark of .603 when she suits up, according to Elias Sports Bureau.


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Jones has already earned a unique trophy collection in her five-year career. She’s the only player in league history to earn Most Improved Player (2017) and Sixth Woman of the Year (2018) honors.1 No winner of either accolade has ever been named MVP of the WNBA. If Jones were able to take home that award, she would join Tina Charles (2012) as the only MVPs in Sun history.

She enters the stretch run needing only 33 points to become the 10th WNBA player with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks within five career seasons. Seven of the first nine to do so have been named MVP, and they all have at least three All-Star selections to their names.

Through almost five seasons, Jones is in elite company

WNBA players with at least 1,950 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks during their first five seasons played, through games of July 11, 2021

Player Points Rebounds Blocks No. MVPs No. All-Star
Lauren Jackson 2,853 1,210 338 3 7
Breanna Stewart 2,846 1,255 226 1 3
Tina Charles 2,833 1,730 222 1 8
Lisa Leslie 2,670 1,403 313 3 8
Yolanda Griffith 2,343 1,413 204 1 7
Brittney Griner 2,328 1,072 487 0 7
Liz Cambage 2,231 1,062 215 0 4
Sylvia Fowles 2,140 1,260 257 1 7
Candace Parker 2,031 1,124 253 2 6
Jonquel Jones 1,967 1,213 215 0 3

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Jones has been one of the league’s best interior presences, with an impressive shooting touch: She’s shooting 70.8 percent on shots within 5 feet of the basket, good for fifth in the league among players with at least two such attempts per game. But she’s also been deadly from three, at 43.7 percent. She’s a complete package, one reason why she is on pace to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game — and she would join Sylvia Fowles (2011), Candace Parker (2010) and Chamique Holdsclaws (2003) as the only WNBA players in a season to accomplish that feat.2

While Jones has been lighting it up on the offensive end this season, she’s also made an impact on Connecticut’s defense. Opponents are shooting just 38.7 percent with Jones on the court compared to a mark of 43.9 when she sits. The Sun are allowing the fewest points in the paint per game this season (29.3), more than two points clear of the next-best team, which would mark the first time Connecticut has ever ranked first in this category. In fact, the team has never ranked within the top-four over a full season.

Overall, Jones’s presence has swung the Sun’s net rating by a league-best 28.5 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA Advanced Stats.3  

Of course, Jones isn’t doing it alone. The Sun’s most-used lineup features Jones, fellow 2021 All-Stars DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones, as well as 11-year veteran Jasmine Thomas and 13-year vet Briann January — both former All-Stars themselves. Those five sport a net rating of +18.4 over their 164 minutes together this season. That unit’s defensive rating (85.8) ranked fifth-best among 36 qualified lineups4 prior to the Olympic break. 

Though there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, Jones’s return to the court has bolstered Connecticut’s drive for the team’s first-ever WNBA championship. FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor gives the Sun an 18 percent shot at doing so, trailing only the Seattle Storm (40 percent) and Las Vegas Aces (23). 

Jones said in June that she appreciates her inclusion in the MVP talk, but she remains focused on the big picture as the WNBA’s stretch run arrives.

“I’ve worked hard and I’m happy to be in the conversation, but I also know the conversation doesn’t happen if your team isn’t winning basketball games,” she said. “Your team has to win basketball games and you have to be a player that’s going to keep your team in contention to be the best in the league.”

Check out our latest WNBA predictions.


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Footnotes

  1. The Sixth Woman of the Year award dates back to the 2007 season; the Most Improved Player award dates back to the 2000 season.

  2. Minimum 10 games. Charles could also join that list.

  3. Minimum 150 minutes.

  4. Minimum 40 minutes.

James Jackson is a Florida A&M graduate from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Currently with ESPN, he has covered the NBA since 2014, with work featured on ESPN.com, NBA International and SB Nation, among other platforms.

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