Jones defying her age (25) and playing like an old-school veteran
Mohegan — These youngins today, you never know what they consider old school. Probably a fax machine. So it's no layup that Jonquel Jones, all of 25 years old, really knows of the Bird fallaway or the McHale up-and-under. Maybe that's a little too old school.
"I know those players. Come on," Jones said with a wry grin Tuesday night. "I've watched their old stuff."
Jones turned their old stuff into current events at Mohegan Sun Arena, unveiling part of her offensive repertoire that had Larry Legend and McHale in it. The fallaway, the up-and-under and a pair of 3-pointers — you-can't-guard-her kind of stuff — that helped the Sun rally past Washington, 83-75.
Jonquel Jones, 6-foot-6, is shaped like 6 o'clock, but the rest of her game screams prime time.
"She's playing great," Mystics coach and old friend Mike Thibault said. "Elena (Delle Donne) can do those kinds of things. Tina Charles on many nights does. (Sylvia) Fowles and (Britney) Griner are going to stay by the hoop. Breanna Stewart, when she was playing, did it. (DeWanna) Bonner does that. Those long, tall players who can step out are all special. (Jones is) clearly special. You don't have a team that's 6-1 and she's been player of the week twice by accident. She's worked at her game."
And now that Chiney Ogwumike is gone, Jones not only plays more — 24 points in 32 minutes Tuesday — but can be the go-to offensively. In a quieter moment earlier this season, Sun coach Curt Miller wondered how his team would react late in close games. Give it to Jonquel wouldn't be a bad place to start.
"Her back to the basket plays are huge," Miller said. "The fadeaway and the really important up and-under were huge tonight. They kept a body on her all night. She wasn't getting free often. Scoring late with her back to the basket in a critical game is going to pay huge dividends down the stretch. We keep imploring that she can be equally as impressive with her back to the basket.
"You can throw the ball to her in different places and play off of it. It's what you see around the league. Fowles and Griner late in games get touches and you play off of them. It would be a huge luxury if this continues."
The Sun, who generally play unselfishly and run great offense, nonetheless have a star in Jones. But given that the offense is democratic, can Jones become tyrannical on occasion and demand, demand, demand the ball?
"Funny you should ask that," Jones said. "Amber (Cox) our GM gave me a book from Abby Wambach called 'Wolfpack.' And chapter six was talking about how she played against an older player from the U.S. Olympic team once and learned that. I've been getting better at it."
Thibault said Jones began honing her three-point shot in college at George Washington. She's alarmingly accurate from there, belying how people her size often aren't. But the real improvement in her game has come underneath, where there is more traffic and elbows.
"It's been a big deal for me," Jones said. "I feel really comfortable in the 3-point area. But one of the things that can take my game to the next level is to be able to score inside. Our assistant coach Awvee (Storey) has really been helping me a lot with that. Working every day after practice. The repetition helps."
And so, the Sun are 6-1 now, winning despite not shooting the ball well every night. They've beaten Washington twice and have the tiebreaker against the equally talented Mystics (and wouldn't this make a heck of a playoff series). Most importantly, they have a star on their team now who played like one Tuesday night.
The fallaway, the up-and-under and a few threes. And now a late-game offensive set: give it to J.J. and get out of the way. It even rhymes.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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