Last month, when Jonquel Jones left to compete in Eurobasket, the Connecticut Sun were sitting atop the Eastern Conference. With the Alyssa Thomas injury, Connecticut has suited up just 10 all season, so each absence is magnified—more so when losing JJ, arguably the MVP frontrunner for most of the year. Still, there was no panic in the veteran locker room, because they knew they could continue executing their same gameplan, leaning on their center, fifth-year pro Brionna Jones.
“It won’t change,” teammate and fellow All-Star DeWanna Bonner said. “She’s been that way since the bubble last year. Of course, we’re gonna feed her the ball a lot more… it’s gonna be Bri Jones’ paint right now. Everything plays through her.”
“Bri remains huge for us,” head coach Curt Miller told media ahead of the first game without Jonquel. “She’s obviously a big piece of the puzzle for us already. Even more intent for [involving]her moving forward… Bri Jones will be magnified without JJ.”
During that five-game stretch without JJ, Bri Jones—Breezy to her teammates—responded, averaging 18 points per game (PPG) on 61 percent shooting, while squeezing 7.6 rebounds per game (RPG). She’s nearly maintained those numbers, averaging 16.6 PPG and 7.8 RPG on 60 percent from the field in the five games since her frontcourt mate returned to the lineup. Breezy—the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week—put up 34 points in a win over Indiana, tying the franchise record for the most points scored in a regulation game.
She has been UNSTOPPABLE.
— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) July 6, 2021
Building off the Bubble
Truthfully, this recent spurt is just further development of her career-high production across the board. After averaging just 3.2 PPG across her first three seasons as a pro, Bri Jones broke out last season in Bradenton. After Jonquel Jones opted out due to COVID-19 concerns, Breezy found herself in the starting lineup for the first time in her WNBA career. Her response to the new responsibilities? 11.2 PPG on a league-best 60.5 percent shooting.
Following the 2020 season, Bri Jones was a restricted free agent, but one of the Sun’s top offseason priorities. “We talked about how much she’s valued by the coaching staff, how much she’s valued by the team,” Miller said. “We felt that she could be a big piece of bringing the first championship to Connecticut.” Jones returned on a protected two-year deal. Her $120,000 per season is a huge bargain, both with her current production and within the context of how money has flown around as teams have gotten acclimated to the new CBA.
This year, Bri Jones has continued her ascension. She’s firmly entrenched in the Most Improved conversation, alongside names like Marina Mabrey (Dallas Wings) and Sami Whitcomb (New York Liberty).
Jones’ 15.0 PPG and 6.9 RPG are new personal bests, and her 55.9 percent shooting is good for fourth in the W. She ranks in the 90th percentile in points per possession (PPP), according to Synergy. Her 1.043 PPP is actually down from last year, where she compiled a 1.073 PPP, thanks to that aforementioned 60.5 percent shooting. Both marks, obviously, are elite, and more impressive still with the adjustments to Connecticut’s offense this season. Jones has scored on 52.3 percent of her touches, sixth in the WNBA behind other elite finishers around the rim (Brittney Griner, Nneka Ogwumike, Ruthy Hebard, Sylvia Fowles, and Mercedes Russell).
While most of Jones’ damage is done in the paint—she’s shooting 60.4 percent from eight feet and closer—she has also hit 17 of her 35 attempts from midrange, far above the league average of 36.6 percent. All those makes have come off assists, typically off a pick-and-pop or as an outlet off a double team. She’s particularly fond of the free-throw line jumper, but has also begun to slip more for short baseline shots. This allows her to clear the lane for Bonner or Jonquel Jones, but still be available once the defense collapses. She’s been shooting without hesitation, and she’s been converting.
Understanding the Assignment
Although Synergy grades Bri Jones out as just an average defender, her ability to patrol the paint and absorb some of the league’s most difficult post players allows Jonquel Jones to take on easier matchups on that side of the floor. With Breezy doing the dirty work, JJ stays fresh down the stretch. “Tina Charles is not a one-person matchup. It’s a team effort,” Jonquel Jones said earlier this year after a win over the Washington Mystics. “But Breezy has been doing that all season, guarding teams’ best post players or best options.”
As I discussed in detail last week in “State of the Sun,” Connecticut has been the far-and-away best rebounding team in the WNBA, and that starts with the Joneses up front. In two games against the Phoenix Mercury’s stout Griner/Brianna Turner duo, JJ and Bri have been dominant, winning the matchups 18-8 and 22-12. On an individual level, Bri Jones bested Griner both times, 7-5 and 9-4. Connecticut has bested the Liz Cambage/A’ja Wilson-led Las Vegas Aces in both rebounding matchups, 34-29 and 44-26. The most dominant performance on the boards this season—and ever, according to Across the Timeline—was a recent +39 effort against the shorthanded Mystics, where the Sun grabbed 52 rebounds to DC’s 13.
“We always try to keep every team one-and-done,” Bri Jones said after a win over the earlier this season. “So it’s always an emphasis for us to get on the glass offensively and defensively. We did a good job of that.” In that game, Breezy compiled eight rebounds while holding both New York centers—Kylee Shook and Kiah Stokes—to just a single board.
Jones’ 10.4 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks ninth among qualifiers this season, directly leading to second-chance points (ranked third with 3.5 PPG, behind only Nneka Ogwumike and Jonquel Jones). Her 12.1 percent defensive rebounding percentage ranks startlingly low—just 75th in the W—but watch any game, and you’ll see her primary focus is to box out and clear the rebounds for her teammates. Down to the intangibles, she’s a team player, which explains why her teammates were so thrilled to hear she’d been named to her first All-Star Game.
Hey Now, You’re an All-Star
Next week, before the WNBA hits its midseason Olympic hiatus, the best of the best head to Las Vegas to compete against Team USA in an All-Star exhibition. Jones is one of six first-time All-Stars, making her ASG debut alongside Kahleah Copper, Dearica Hamby, Betnijah Laney, Satou Sabally, and Courtney Williams.
She will also be joined by a pair of teammates, DeWanna Bonner (fourth appearance) and Jonquel Jones (third appearance). “I’m so happy Brionna got the nod,” Bonner said. “Breezy deserved it. That’s one thing we don’t have to worry about—what Breezy’s gonna bring in night in and night out. She’s so consistent, one of the best players on the court… oh man, I’m just so proud, I’m tearing up now.”
Her sister and teammate, Steph Jones, is not at all surprised by Bri’s success. “I don’t think she’s doing anything different than she’s always done, in my opinion, her whole life. She’s always been a really dominant post player. But now, I think, the main difference is she’s more confident and she’s being more aggressive and finding her rhythm with this team.” Steph admitted, though, that they both got teary-eyed in the moments after her sister got the call from Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “I was so proud of her and she worked really hard for this.”
Bri, who is also near the top of all the Most Improved conversations, is excited for the recognition. “I’m just looking forward to going there, having my family there, getting to play with some of these players I’m used to playing against.”
This season, Bri Jones has been the Sun’s stalwart, so the national acknowledgement is long overdue. With her team sitting atop the Eastern Conference and closing in on the Commissioner Cup final, her successes are sure to keep piling up.