New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Jones has shown exponential growth
When Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller first learned of Alyssa Thomas’ injury in January, he immediately looked to his sixth-woman: Brionna Jones.
Jones had consistently grown through her previous four years with the team, but without Thomas in the starting lineup, Miller needed Jones to rise up more than ever.
And that she did. Following Sunday’s conclusion of the regular season, Jones has had her best season with the Sun. She’s averaged career-bests of
14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 30.6 minutes per game. She’s regularly helped the Sun defeat opponent after opponent on its way to earning the No. 1 seed ahead of the 2021 WNBA playoffs and has made her stance in being in the running for the league’s most improved player.
“I mean Cathy [WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert] should be here to give her the award today. Like come on,” Miller said. “Bri Jones has had an amazing year, an amazing two years frankly, and what stats will never tell you is just how dynamic of a teammate she is and how much our team believes in her.”
After drafting Jones as the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Connecticut has poured endless efforts into growing the 6-foot-3 University of Maryland forward.
However, with such depth in talent already on the roster, Jones was often limited to less than 10 minutes per game to begin her WNBA career. In her first three seasons, she averaged just 7.9 minutes and 3.1 points per game.
“I was really outspoken in preseason of 2019 and said the league, the world is gonna get to see Bri Jones and it didn’t materialize as much in 2019,” Miller said. “I thought she was ready. We saw what we’re seeing now only glimpses. But it wasn’t there each and every night. She didn’t get as many extended minutes in 19 and so she had to have short spurts with it.”
But all that changed in 2020.
With the Sun’s starting forward Jonquel Jones opting out of the 2020 bubbled season, Brionna (not related to Jonquel) was asked to step up and take the open the starting role.
Brionna started in all the Sun’s game that season, earning her first starts of her WNBA career. She played over three-times the amount of minutes (26.1 average) and nearly quadrupled her point average too (11.2 ppg). She had finally found her grove with the team and led Connecticut to the playoff semifinals that summer with a team-leading 60.5 field goal percentage
“It all came together in 2020. Partly because JJ opted out which now gave her more extended minutes and gave her the ability to really settle into the
game and you’re seeing what you’re seeing now,” Miller said.
Fast forward to winter 2021 and Miller was again looking to use Jones as a sixth-man weapon with Jonquel Jones returning to the lineup. Yet, with injury of Alyssa Thomas taking her out for the majority of the season, Brionna found herself back in the starting five.
“She is just absolutely just a phenomenal Xs and Os mind and anchors in some ways so much of what we do and we lost that with AT,” Miller said. “My biggest concern, was not just the engine that Alyssa Thomas was this year, which how smart Alyssa Thomas is, but when you have Bri Jones equally as smart Xs and Os wise, it’s just a credit to her in how much she’s improved her career in the WNBA.”
The five-year veteran has only continued to build off her 2020 success. This summer she’s averaging career highs in nearly all statistical categories and ranks second in the league in offensive rebounds (10.8 per game) and third in field goal percentage (57.1 percent).
“The unfortunate injury of Alyssa Thomas once again provided a great opportunity for Bri Jones,” Miller said. “That’s why we went out and invested in her. That’s why we went out and made her a priority in the offseason. People were wondering why have such a high priority on what potentially was going to be a sixth-man, but we knew what Bri Jones is and what we knew was what she could be for us and we can’t be more happy than the investment we made in her.”
Jones credits her growth to learning how to have patience both on and off the court and from also watching Thomas play overseas as the two were teammates on USK Praha (Czech Republic).
“I’d say I’ve grown the most just in my patience and ability to read a defense, whether they’re giving me the paint, whether it’s scoring for myself or finding my teammates,” Jones said. “I think that’s been my biggest growth and just being able to finish and execute those plays.”
To Jones, while she too has noticed her improvement on the court, she couldn’t be more thankful for her team’s support in helping her grow and is excited to watch just how far the team goes this postseason.
“Just knowing that I have their support and that they’re behind me all the way just makes me feel great and makes me want to keep going and keep doing what I’ve been doing and try to continue to do what I’ve been doing this season,” Jones said. “It just goes to show all the hard work that I’ve put in this season, the last season, so I’m just excited to see how we finish out.”