Early in the fourth quarter on Friday, the New York Liberty were clinging to a four-point lead on the road against the Minnesota Lynx until Jonquel Jones decided to take over the game. The former MVP went for nine points and eight rebounds in the frame -- the Lynx as a team had 10 points and four rebounds -- as the Liberty cruised to a 10-point win.
Jones finished with with 15 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks for her sixth double-double in her last eight games, and the Liberty improved to 7-1 in those contests. After a slow start to her tenure in New York, Jones has finally started to look like her usual self in recent weeks, and the Liberty are reaping the benefits.
In January, the Liberty acquired Jones in a blockbuster three-team trade that kicked off arguably the best offseason any team has ever had. Along with Jones, the Liberty added Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot to a team that already had Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney and Marine Johannes, and were immediately hailed as a superteam.
But while Stewart and Vandersloot hit the ground running, and made the All-Star Game along with Ionescu, Jones was almost an afterthought for the first few months. Up until the All-Star break, Jones was fifth on the team and 55th in the league in shot attempts per game (7.7).
A big part of that was the team being cautious as she worked her way back from a stress reaction in her foot that she suffered in the 2022 Finals; she didn't play 20 minutes in a game until June. The bigger issues were that when she was on the floor she was neither getting enough touches nor making a difference on the glass.
All of that has changed after the All-Star break. Jones' playing time, opportunities, production and efficiency have all increased by a considerable amount. Since play has resumed, Jones leads the league in rebounding and is one of three players averaging a double-double.
Here's a look at Jones' numbers pre-and-post-All-Star:
|Jones' key averages||Minutes||Field Goals||Possessions||Points||FG%||Rebounds|
Jones' 3-point shooting has been solid all season long, and her ability to step out and space the floor is a key component of the Liberty's elite offense. When she's allowed to play in the paint, though, she thrives. Post-All-Star break she is shooting a ridiculous 72.5% on shots within eight feet.
The Liberty can run straight post-ups for her.
Or use her as a screener in the pick-and-roll, where her athleticism shines.
But while the Liberty have been a bit more deliberate about getting Jones the ball, she's also forced the issue by dominating the offensive glass. She's a center on a team with a number of high-level perimeter talents, and sometimes in those situations if a big wants the ball they have to go get it themselves.
Jones is averaging 3.6 offensive rebounds per game since All-Star, which is tied with Teaira McCowan for the most in the league. In those nine games, she's scored 21 points off put-backs per Synergy. That's compared to 27 points off putbacks in her first 18 games this season.
When Jones is more assertive she's more productive, and when Jones is more productive the Liberty are better. For the season, they are 9-0 when Jones takes at least 10 shots and 12-6 when she does not. When Jones gets the ball, particularly around the basket, good things happen.
That's a lesson they should remember and carry with them the rest of the way. Any hope they have of taking down the Aces and winning the first championship in franchise history rests in large part on Jones playing up to her capabilities. But she cannot be one of the best players in the world if she's not getting the ball.