Jazmine Jones earns spot on WNBA All-Rookie team
Jones becomes the 5th Liberty first year to receive All-Rookie honor
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Jazmine Jones #4 of the New York Liberty drives to the basket against the Julie Allemand Indiana Fever on September 10, 2020 at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages.
Jazmine Jones has always played basketball with a chip on her shoulder. Ever since Middle School, Jones was told she couldn’t.
Her peers were first skeptical when she joined her school’s varsity team in sixth grade. Three years later, she won her first of four straight state championships. Jones wasn’t a McDonald’s or a Jordan Brand All-American, but she played her Collegiate career at Louisville, one of the heavyweights of the ACC. She made the All-ACC First Team, the All-ACC Defensive Team, and the ACC All-Tournament team.
But who had her on their draft board? Not many.
Who knew that her name would be called at the tail end of the first round? Not many.
Notice the pattern? It’s all Jones knows and it’s what has led her to success. “The accolades like that stuff, the All-American stuff, it's all cool, yeah, that would have been nice and all that, but it’s just motivation to me,” she said about being overlooked.
Defying everyone else’s odds but her own once again, she proved to be one of the top-performing rookies in the 2020 draft class. Today she was named to the WNBA All-Rookie team, an honor that four other Liberty players have received in league history including Kalana Greene in 2010, Kelsey Bone in 2013, and both Brittany Boyd and Kiah Stokes in 2015.
Jones wasn’t even supposed to be the New York Liberty rookie that was recognized widely in 2020. Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins and his staff expected Sabrina Ionescu to be a strong candidate for this honor, but a season-ending third-degree ankle sprain during New York’s third game against the Dream kept Ionescu not only away from her team, but far from being recognized at this season’s end.
Hopkins wasn’t surprised that Jones received this honor and was even relieved. “She deserves it,” he said. “Jaz was a sparkplug for us all year. Regardless of what position she played, she just she brings so much energy on both ends of the floor. You know some of her numbers were pretty striking… In spite of not getting the same amount of minutes as some of the rookies who were playing starter minutes, she still managed to put up some really impressive numbers and do so pretty efficiently, so yeah she couldn't be more deserving of this.”
In 21.4 minutes per game—the lowest rate out of any member of 2020’s All-Rookie Team—those numbers included finishing fourth among rookies in scoring (10.8 ppg), third in rebounding (4.1 rpg), and first in steals (1.4 spg).
What stands out about Jones in New York Liberty history is she has recorded not only the most steals per game out of a Liberty All-Rookie (1.4), but she finished with the most points per game of any All-Rookie in Liberty franchise history. She tied Boyd with 2.3 assists per game and Greene with a 33.3 three-point shooting percentage.
Graphs made by Jackie Powell on google sheets.
Even outside of Liberty All-Rookie history, Jones had more steals per game than a youthful Candace Dupre and tied a rookie iteration of Maya Moore. But in 2020, out of all the rookies on this All-Rookie team, Jones had the highest steal percentage (39.4), the highest percentage of fast-break points (16.2), and the highest percentage of points off turnovers with 28.2. She finished second highest in percentage of points off free throws to Satou Sabally with 29.2.
This defensive set below against Connecticut is vintage Jones. She reads the pass from DeWanna Bonner, tips it, and is able to outrun Kaila Charles, who the pass was intended for in transition. Jones finishes on Charles with a mini-euro step before the ball lands in the net.
Before drafting Jones back in April, Hopkins and his staff asked around. Coaches who had worked with her or coached against her gave New York a consistent scout: she had “infectious energy” and she was an exceptional defender. “I'm an energy giver like I've been that way my whole life on any team I ever played on,” Jones said. New York expected energy-giving from Jones, but what the Liberty didn’t expect was how quickly her game on offense translated.
“I think the thing that surprised us was her ability to score as well as she did at this level, this quickly,” New York’s head coach said. “I didn't think it was outside of the scope of possibility that she was going to develop into this level of a scorer where she could really get to the basket and put pressure on defenses and shoot the three at a high clip. I just didn't think it was going to happen right out the gates like this.”
If Ionescu hadn’t fallen, who knows if Jones’ offensive game would have had the opportunity to come to fruition? Probably not. What a silver lining. Another is Jones’ 20 game crash course on how to play the point guard.
“Playing the point guard, this position is definitely hard and I give it up to all the point guards out there in the league,” Jones said. “It's just like playing a quarterback position on the football field, you're the head of the team, you're the head of the snake. And so you make the engine go. And so it was definitely, definitely hard.”
While Jones had her share of growing pains including more turnovers than she’d like, her transition expanding her game out to the one appeared natural. Her MO is making whatever team she’s on go, and playing the point was a slightly different application. This transition allowed Jones to harness and express characteristics that define her as a basketball player and as a person.
Point guards give to their teammates. Point guards play without fear. Point guards are coachable. (At least the exceptional ones are.)
Jones has been lauded as an energy giver and as someone who celebrates her teammates, but part of her learning curve in 2020 and for the rest of her WNBA career remains how she responds and fine-tunes that power of hers. Her energy permeates to her teammates and that can be a blessing and a curse. There’s a massive responsibility that comes with being that type of player, and while Hopkins thought she carried it well in year one, he believes she still has room to grow.
“She's going to get better and better at using that power that she has,” he said. “But I think that the mercurial nature of having somebody who can be such an energy giver. They always have to be careful that they're not being an energy taker because of just that kind of the power that they have.”
While Amanda Zahui B. prophesied how “fearless” the young 2020 New York Liberty would be, it was Jones who routinely carried that torch. “She wasn’t afraid of anyone ever,” Hopkins said.
“There's a toughness to her that every team needs, every team needs a Jazmine Jones.”
Her athleticism, toughness and motor all define Jones’ rookie season and the trajectory for her WNBA career. But for Hopkins, her best quality is “she’s really coachable.” Although Jones is tied for first with Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner for most technical fouls during the 2020 regular season, she’s receptive to the coaching staff. In conjunction with all the fire she has in the heat of a moment, she would still listen, make eye contact, and convert in-game adjustments.
“I said to Jaz when she was fired up on the court and she either got a technical or was about to get a technical, and I'd say Jaz, Jaz stay with me, and she dropped right back down,” Hopkins said. “I gotcha Coach, I got you, [Jones would say] and she calmed right down. And that, to me, was one of the most impressive things about her, the level of maturity necessary to do that.”
In watching Jones discover how to play the point again after around a four-year hiatus, Hopkins recognized that containing her when it came to teaching her how to run an offense wasn’t the way to go. It was about teaching her without putting a damper on her other natural abilities. Taking the reins away from her might have created fewer turnovers, but Hopkins’ offense requires players to read, react, and learn on their own.
“You might get fewer turnovers or fewer mistakes, but you're also going to get way fewer of the things that make her great, the dynamic finishes and the tough shots and the barrage of mid-range jumpers she'll go on sometimes when she gets hot,” he said. “You have to be really careful coaching a player like her because you don't want to hold her back, you want to let her find her way while being that aggressive.”
Jones found her way and will continue to. Her point guard crash course prepares her for what the future holds. The amount of film she watched to learn her teammates’ tendencies in 2020 will be invaluable. Jones comes into year two with not only an award but with an updated arsenal: an ability to not only play the two and the three, but the one as well. When Sabrina Ionescu returns, Jones will still need to use her facilitation skills to get Ionescu off the ball when necessary.
Jazmine Jones has swag, but she isn’t arrogant. Those aren’t mutually exclusive in her case. When she found out she had made it to the WNBA All-Rookie Team, she had just gotten off her flight from Tallahassee to Atlanta in route to France to play for Tarbes Gespe Bigorre. Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb texted her saying that she needed to call Cathy Engelbert. “Oh Lord,” Jones thought. What did she do now? Were there penalties for getting three technicals? Her anxiety turned into relief as Engelbert congratulated her while Jones was walking around in the airport trying to find her gate.
After hearing the news, she didn’t call anyone. She had a party for one at a bar near her gate. She was content. And not because she had proved a ton of folks wrong, but rather because she had satisfied her own expectations. She knows what she can do. She puts the work in. Accolade or no accolade, the chip on her shoulder remains.