August 14, 2020 

Jazmine Jones keeps dancing for the Liberty

How Jones emerged as the New York's top rookie scorer

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Jazmine Jones #4 of the New York Liberty drives against the Los Angeles Sparks on August 11, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images.

The morning after scoring 24 points, shooting 50 percent from the field and registering five blocks, the most from a rookie in almost 15 years, Jazmine Jones was still dancing and still moving. She walked into Wednesday’s practice with a spring in her step and her rainbow and white Adidas kicks grooving to Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down.”

So, does Jazmine Jones ever tire? She does, she’s human of course. But for her, it’s not part of her personality to show it. She likes to perform not only on the court, but for a camera. But that doesn’t make her any less authentic. “Anytime music is playing I’m gonna dance, that’s just who I am,” she said.

In two different situations, Jones’ *energy* has kept the Liberty in games, providing a necessary spark in both the late-night game on Tuesday against LA and around two weeks earlier against the Atlanta Dream.

In the first quarter against LA, New York had trouble scoring. The Sparks’ defense clogged the lane, their defensive scheme reflected the MO of first-string point guard Layshia Clarendon. Taking away some of Clarendon’s comfort affected the play of all the starters, and it was Jones who lifted New York back into the first quarter. “[Jones] willed us back into that first quarter and kind of gave us some momentum going forward,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said in a postgame video conference.

With two minutes left in the third quarter, Clarendon passed the ball while in traffic on the baseline and Jones received it. Riquna Williams advanced to meet the New York rookie on the corner pocket, and suddenly, with absolutely no hesitation at all, Jones jabbed and then dribbles around Williams thanks to a screen from teammate Kylee Shook. With four seconds left on the shot clock, Jones fired a circus shot from outside the right elbow and it landed on the rim and then in, beating the buzzer to get within 11 after New York trailed by as many as 21 points.

“The main thing with Jaz is her energy, when she brings her energy,” Hopkins said before taking on the Fever on Thursday. “No matter what the shooting night looks, like no matter what, she brings us along, and it’s defensive, it’s toughness, it’s swagger. Jazz has been huge for us and so I think her keeping that energy level up, regardless of if she’s having a good shooting night or not or whatever the circumstances may be.”

Against the Fever on Thursday, Jones didn’t shoot as well, but she still hauled down four rebounds and shot 2-2 from three while scoring 11 points. She still had the energy.

How did Jones do it? It’s internal for her, almost a superpower. She has different strategies to unleash her inhumane amount of energy: such as feeling the music around her, taking in the auras of her teammates and even getting locked in on defense.

“Getting out on the passing lanes and trying to deflect balls and getting steals, that and so forth,” Jones told reporters after practice on August 4. “If I’m doing that, I feel like my offense will come easily. But my energy all starts on the defensive end for me.” 

Also, coming from an athletic family helps. On media day, she spoke about how growing up the culture established was instrumental in her ability to sustain and project her energy. “My parents instilled in us a good winning attitude and just to be a fighter and just get through anything, any tough challenges, just never give up.”

This energy that Jones is known for shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s tightly woven into her personality on and off the court. Back in early June, Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb spoke about how her enthusiasm at all times is “an intangible trait.”

“Jaz is the type of player that’s really going to pump up her teammates, both with her play, and even from the bench,” Kolb told The Next. And that much has been confirmed as when the camera flashes toward the Liberty bench during a game, she’s always up and waving a warm-up towel in the air. That’s energy.

What has come as a surprise, however, has been how Jones’ prodigious energy hasn’t only presented itself alongside her known on-court strengths, particularly defense. Flashing back to training camp, Jones believed that her defensive intensity and the value she places on defense would translate into more minutes on the floor.

So far, her game is fueled by the fundamental basketball concept of turning defense into offense. Jones’ offensive production has often been powered by the effort and tenacity that she expounds on the other side of the floor. While a heartbreaking injury to Sabrina Ionescu couldn’t have been predicted, were the Liberty expecting Jones’ comfort driving, grit to get to the line, and ability to create offense to translate this quickly to the W?

Jazmine Jones #4 of the New York Liberty shoots the ball during a game against the Las Vegas Aces on August 9, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages.

“I don’t necessarily think expectations have changed,” Kolb said. “She had the 20 against Atlanta previously. I think her energy is what is leading to this offensive output. What we are seeing is a really talented player producing.”

According to Kolb and assistant coach Shelley Patterson, Jones has flashed her own leadership style, contributing vocally and emotionally alongside Amanda Zahui B.

“I don’t know if I’ve been around a player that gives so much of herself, that being her energy, to her teammates,” Kolb said. “No matter how the game is going, Jaz is either giving herself to her teammates when she is off the floor and on the bench or through on court production and when both of those line up, it’s usually a special night for her.”

But sometimes for Jones, it’s not always the positive energy that stays with her. Energy sometimes manifests as negative thinking for the first year from Louisville.

After the Liberty’s 30 point loss to the Phoenix Mercury, Jones called her defense “horrendous.” As someone who prides herself on defense and was named to the 2019-2020 All- ACC Defensive team, that was a performance she didn’t want to accept.

“I told coach Walt I said I’m going to be better defensively, she said. “The offense will come, I’m not worried about that, it’s defense that’s going to win those games.”

On Thursday before New York’s game against the Indiana fever, Jones reflected on her 24-point performance. She wasn’t satisfied. What kept swirling through her brain were the five turnovers that loomed next to her name on the stat sheet.

“In Tuesday’s game, I had five turnovers and when I’m not playing the point or if I’m playing the point, to me five turnovers is unacceptable and I can’t do that,” she said. “I do have to get better in that, in that aspect and not turn the ball over and if I do turn it over, get it back on defense so I can do a better job in that aspect.”

And the Liberty have noticed Jones do a better job. Kolb told The Next that he finds it telling when looking at Jones’ response to her “down games.”

“She puts in the work.”

Young vet Amanda Zahui B. agrees. She noted after shootaround before the matchup against the Fever on Thursday that while Jones makes mistakes, especially at a position she hasn’t played since high school, she corrects them and corrects them quickly.

“Jasmine works extremely hard and she really wants this,” Zahui B. said. “She really wants to be great. And she goes hard in practice and she’s very vocal. She is a great leader, so for her stepping up and playing [point guard] which is not really her position. She’s doing an incredible job of just observing like everything that Layshia’s doing and following her way but also taking in, and allowing herself to make mistakes at first but then correct them. So, she’s a quick learner, she’s doing great”

Jones has learned quickly and has adjusted to the pace of the league. For the rookie, the difficulty was more in the halfcourt game rather than adjusting to the speed up and down the court. For the 12th overall draft pick, she’s noticed a difference in the way the women of the WNBA set and move off screens.

The challenge for Jones moving forward will be how she continues to balance that energy. She’s still filling a need for the team at the point— while newest addition Paris Kea makes her way to Bradenton—in addition to gaining comfort at shooting guard, the place where she’ll play most in her WNBA career.

But her performances against the Dream and the Sparks have proved that she’s met the challenge, moving quicker, and exploding more than she did even during her most impressive moments in college. She’s also responsible for exciting a team that’s completely new to her. Before the matchup against Indiana on Thursday, Jones was in the middle of the Liberty’s pregame hype circle, bouncing up and down while getting shoved around by Clarendon and roommate Joyner Holmes.

Written by Jackie Powell

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