If you only casually watched the WNBA regular season, you may have assumed the 2021 WNBA MVP award would be handed to one of the usual candidates. Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson were popular preseason picks, and both All-Stars had terrific campaigns.
But this year’s MVP trophy will not be given to a previous winner. While the league has not yet revealed the official voting results, the discussion is already over. Go ahead and send those congratulatory tweets to Jonquel Jones.
WNBA PLAYOFFS: Bracket, odds, TV schedule and more to know
The Connecticut Sun forward has an airtight case, having checked all of the usual boxes. She is the leader of the WNBA’s best team and has been instrumental to the Sun’s success on both ends.
How did Jones set herself up to join the WNBA’s most exclusive club? Here’s everything you need to know about Jones and her impressive ascent.
Who is Jonquel Jones?
Jones was born in the Bahamas, but her basketball journey truly began when she moved to Maryland at the age of 14. She attended Riverdale Baptist High School, and coach Diane Richardson became her legal guardian. After showing off her talent at Riverdale and being named the 2011-12 Gatorade Maryland Girls Basketball Player of the Year as a senior, Jones became just the third Bahamian women’s basketball player to earn a Division I scholarship directly out of high school.
While she spent time at Clemson as a freshman, Jones rose to prominence after transferring to George Washington. She finished her collegiate career ranked in the top five on the George Washington all-time lists for points per game, total rebounds and total blocks.
The Los Angeles Sparks selected Jones with the No. 6 overall pick at the 2016 WNBA Draft, then traded her rights along with a second-round pick to the Sun in exchange for Chelsea Gray and multiple draft picks.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jones said after being drafted. “When I was a little kid, I thought about being in this moment and just thinking about walking across the stage and getting your jersey and all of that stuff, and now it’s happening.”
Jonquel Jones’ rise with Connecticut Sun
Jones played limited minutes in her rookie season, averaging 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.1 minutes per game. She exploded onto the scene in her second year, jumping up to 15.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 28.5 minutes per game and earning her first All-Star berth. She also won the 2017 Most Improved Player award.
Despite a smaller role the next season, Jones thrived off the bench, capturing the 2018 Sixth Woman of the Year award. She then returned as a regular starter in 2019, nearly averaging a double-double (14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds) and once again getting the All-Star nod. She landed third in MVP voting behind Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner. The Sun reached the WNBA Finals that season but fell to the Washington Mystics in five games.
She likely would have continued on her trajectory in 2020, but Jones opted out of the WNBA “Wubble” because of COVID-19 concerns.
“After careful thought and consideration, I’ve decided to forego the upcoming WNBA season and use this time to focus on personal, social and familial growth,” Jones said in an Instagram post. “This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made but the resurgence and unknown aspects of COVID-19 have raised serious health concerns that I do not feel comfortable competing in.
“I’d like to thank the Connecticut Sun organization, my teammates and fans for their unwavering support and understanding. While I won’t be competing this year I’m looking forward to lacing up with my teammates in 2021 and continuing the pursuit for a WNBA championship. Wishing the entire league and everyone involved a healthy and enjoyable season. Go Sun!”
Jonquel Jones’ MVP season
There was no rust for Jones, as she returned to her All-Star form in 2021. The 27-year-old posted a career-high 19.4 points to go with 11.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from 3-point range.
The advanced numbers also supported Jones’ MVP argument. She led the WNBA in win shares (6.6) and defensive rating (88), and she was right behind Griner (28.4) in player efficiency rating (28.3).
On top of her individual success, the Sun finished with the best record in the league (26-6) and will enter the playoffs as the title favorites after winning their last 14 games. Connecticut will have home-court advantage throughout the postseason, which is huge considering the Sun went 15-1 at home this year.
Put it all together, and Jones left no doubt as to which player should be the 2021 WNBA MVP. The only real question left for her (and a scary one for the rest of the league): What will she do next?