February 17, 2023
Brionna Jones returns to Connecticut Sun ready for her moment
Sun success will orbit around Brionna Jones' growth and opportunity in 2023
After years of shifting roles to fit what the Connecticut Sun needed, the stage is finally set for Brionna Jones to be the cornerstone of the franchise’s next chapter.
Now that she’s back with the team on a one-year contract, the Sun believe it’s time for her to capitalize on years of consistent work and become the full-time star and dominating post presence the team will need to continue contending without Jonquel Jones.
“Bri has been able to step in and do what she does best in a role that typically was JJ ‘s or in a role that was typically AT’s. But we’re not asking her to be those players,” Sun head coach Stephanie White said. “Bri has shown her ability to continue to get better, her ability to build confidence in the team because she’s reliable, because she’s a good teammate because she’s consistent. And I don’t expect any of those things to change.”
A two-time All-Star, 2021 Most Improved Player and 2022 Sixth Player of the Year, Jones has already established herself as one of the league’s premier centers over the past three seasons, despite being the odd one out of Connecticut’s stacked frontcourt.
Since moving off the bench in 2020, Jones has been one the most consistent and efficient players in the WNBA – averaging 13.2 points on 58.2 percent shooting, 6.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game. She’s been top three in the league in offensive rebounding each year and trailed only Breanna Stewart and MVP A’ja Wilson in win shares last season despite playing just 25 minutes a game.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since signing what is reportedly a one-year, $208,000 deal to return to Connecticut, Jones showed her trademark humility, saying she was happy to sacrifice playing time to help the team last season. But she’s ready for her starring role.
“I’m always willing to do whatever it takes to win, and now I’m excited that price paid off and now this year I get to come in and be a core player for this team,” Jones said.
Despite a one-year deal, Sun see Jones as franchise cornerstone
Sun GM Darius Taylor told The Next last week his goal was to sign Jones to a multi-year deal, but the Sun announced this week she signed for one year.
Jones said the one-year deal was what’s right for her right now, and she wants to see how the season goes. But she said she’s still committed to Connecticut and that the Sun have shown they’re committed to her.
“Just the way they cored me from the jump, just having that belief in me before free agency started, and knowing that they wanted me to come back and be a part of this new era, I guess you could say, in Connecticut,” Jones said about why she wanted to stay in Connecticut another year. “I think just coming in with that, and showing me that they wanted me to be a part of this, that they wanted me to be this franchise player – somebody who could continue to grow this organization.”
It’s clear the Sun see the 27-year-old Jones as a franchise cornerstone they can build around for years to come. White described her as a great teammate, communicator and a consistent hard worker who does what she needs to do off the court to continue to improve.
“You don’t want to lose a player who brings what she brings every single day,” White said. “And we know that she can even get to a different level on the floor.”
Even after trading Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas – set to earn a combined $401,150 this season – the Sun still have a tight cap situation. Signing Jones for $208,000 instead of the $234,350 supermax core offer gave them just enough room to sign All-WNBA guard Tiffany Hayes to a one-year, $162,477 contract, and sign an eleventh player to a $62,285 non-veteran minimum contract to fill out their roster.
“We still have some cap things to work out going forward, so it just puts us in a position to be able to re-sign her and balance out our cap a little better,” Taylor said. “So I don’t really have a concern about that right now.”
What does a starring role mean for Jones’ trajectory?
White has promised to overhaul the Sun’s often-stagnant and bunched up offense into a modern, uptempo system where players stretch the floor with threes and push in transition.
Even with those changes, Jones said the vision that Taylor and White pitched her and Alyssa Thomas during offseason meetings in Prague doesn’t stray far from recent Sun teams – emphasizing the consistent hard work, commitment to preparation, and gritty mentality that have made them perennial contenders.
“We play hard every day. We show up, we go to work,” Jones said. “So I think continuing that and then bringing a new gameplan on the court with Steph White as our coach, I think that gets us in the right direction. And that was part of their pitch that really solidified me wanting to come back.”
As a new focal point of the Sun offense, White said that Jones will play more minutes and be able to expand on the parts of her game where she already excels. In a system that emphasizes frontcourt playmaking, they’ll want her in more screens and handoffs to force defenses to rotate and open up high-percentage shots for Jones in the post, White said.
White also expects Jones to continue to anchor the Sun’s defense. Her ability to read offenses and communicate with her teammates has been an underrated part of the Sun’s consistently strong defenses, and White said her impact on defense is hard to quantify.
“She’s going to be a centerpiece of how we play moving forward on both ends of the floor,” White said. “Her growth and commitment speaks to itself, but I think some of the things that you don’t see on the floor and you don’t see on the stat sheet, she’s going to be able to expand on that exponentially because now she’s gonna have even more opportunity.”
But the Sun also want Jones to do what she’s done each season – continue to expand her game. For a team that has struggled with spacing and just lost one of the best shooting bigs in the league, that means shooting more threes.
Jones took nearly 73 percent of her shots from within 5 feet last season and is just 1 for 11 from deep in her WNBA career, but it’s a part of her game she said she’s been working on overseas.
She does have a capable jumper from the mid-range – hitting nearly 40 percent of her looks from beyond 10 feet over the past two seasons – and she made 84.4 percent of her free throws last season and 78.4 percent on her career.
“I would fully anticipate as she continues to build her own confidence in her 3-point shot that she’s going to be taking some of those as well,” White said.
Jones said she also wants to expand her game from the high post, continuing to grow her face up game that started to blossom last season. But in addition to filling an expanded role as a player, Taylor said they expect Jones to take on a more vocal leadership role.
“When you’re the type of player she is, the other players value her opinion. They value what she brings to the team, and that’s just the next step, the next phase for her,” Taylor said. “The basketball part is going to continue to take care of itself. And then it’s the mental part – and that’s the leadership part. How do you make the players around you better and want to come play with you? And I think that’s a big part of it. We’re happy that she’s going to embrace that role.”
Jones’ path of winning Most Improved Player and Sixth Player of the Year mirrors the early career path of her former teammate and 2021 MVP, Jonquel Jones. And the Sun believe Brionna Jones’s dedication means she has more room to grow.
“We want her here,” White said. “We want to continue her growth process as an individual player, and we want to continue competing for championships. This is a place that we can do that. This is a franchise that has done that since its inception. And we’re just honest with our expectations with where we see her and how important she is to our franchise.”