For the second time in three seasons, Connecticut Sun all-star center Chiney Ogwumike is going to be missing significant time with an injury. She was kept out for the entirety of 2015 after a knee procedure and is now looking at another season down the drain after partially tearing her Achilles overseas.
Luckily for Connecticut, they have another budding star to step in for her. Jonquel Jones, your table is ready.
Acquired on last year’s draft day from the Sparks, Jones’ immediate role in Connecticut was not clear. The team was bogged down with young post players, including Ogwumike, 2015 Most Improved Player Kelsey Bone, and 2016 lottery pick Morgan Tuck. Projected as a raw defensive player, it was no surprise that it took a little while for Jones to get rolling in her rookie season.
Once she did, though, she showed WNBA fans what made Sun head coach Curt Miller so excited to have her. Jones is 6’6”, long, and mobile, and her ability to both handle and shoot the basketball make her a tough cover for just about anyone.
If it sounds like those are the same words used to describe stars like Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart, and Elena Delle Donne, well, it’s because they are.
Of course, Jones isn’t on that level yet, but the point is that her potential has never been in question; it’s how quickly she’d be able to showcase it. By September of 2016, Bone had been traded to Phoenix and Tuck was injured. During the month, Jones averaged 10.8 points (on 61.7% from the field) and 5.2 rebounds (3.0 offensive) per game, while making 6-of-10 3-pointers attempted. This was all in just 18.2 minutes played per contest.
Such production came too little and too late for an All-Rookie nod, but at the end of the season, Jones’ advanced metrics ranked favorably among her first-year peers. Among rookies who played at least 800 total possessions, Jones ranked first in both true shooting percentage (60.9%) and net rating (7.1) while finishing second in free throw rate (.431) and WNBA.com’s Player Impact Estimate formula.
In other words, Connecticut was a better team with Jones on the floor, and she’s going to have a golden opportunity to build on her success in 2017.
Like any post player, Jones will need to cut down on the fouls (5.4 per 36 minutes last year), but the opportunities will be there for her if she can stay on the floor. Though the Sun made frontcourt depth a priority this offseason, the only realistic challenges to Jones as a starter will be midrange ace, Lynetta Kizer.
No one else on the Sun can bring what Jones does offensively, and she’s a perfect fit for how Miller wants to play: fast and with lots of ball screens. She has the pick-and-pop capability that makes her dangerous alongside guards like Alex Bentley, but Jones will once again be at her best getting the ball on the move; there aren’t many people who are going to stop her if she gets a full head of steam.
While Ogwumike’s absence may mean trouble for the Sun early on, the silver lining is that the rest of their young talent will have the opportunity to develop. Look for the big George Washington product to seize this opportunity and put up some big numbers.