Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A few notes on ... Asjha Jones

And so on ...

Asjha Jones
6-foot-2 forward
Averages: 16.8 points, 6.2 points, 2.2 assists

The Good: In her seventh season, Jones is playing like an All-Star starter ... and a dark horse in the MVP race. She leads the Sun in scoring, rebounding and shooting (48.9 percent), and she's already had streaks of 14 straight games in double figures and 10 straight games in leading Connecticut in scoring. She also ranks 10th in the league in points and 20th in boards, and among players with as many as 300 field-goal attempts, she is fourth in percentage.

Jones is only now entering the discussion as one of the WNBA's top forwards because A, she played as a reserve for the first five years of her career, and B, she had't before been the top scoring option on her team, despite averaging similar numbers last season (15.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 44.9 percent shooting).

The difference this year: She's more consistent; only four times she's scored under 10 points and two of those games she has nine, and seven times she's grabbed eight or more rebounds, including 10 twice for double-doubles. More importantly, with all the change Connecticut went through during the offseason, Jones has never been more important to the team's success, to which she's responded with her best year in the pros.

How is she doing it? Jones has added a few more wrinkles to her game this year. Though her jump shot remains streaky at times, her jump hook has never looked better. She's used it more and more, and if it's on, no one's been able to deter her from using it. In 26 games, she also has many offensive rebounds (59) as she did in 34 games during the 2006 season, with some of her best rebounding games coming in the last month. When asked about Jones -- and he has been more so this year than ever -- Sun coach Mike Thibault has constantly said Jones is playing with a more confident mindset, that she knows she's one of the league's top players. Jones, in turn has, said she is simply being more aggressive. I wrote in (great) length about this before, but having Tamika Raymond has also helped Jones. Jones has become a more vocal leader and a bigger presence in the Sun's clubhouse, things that were also asked of her through all the offseason change.

One of the best parts of Jones' game remains her versatility. She has the ability to create loads of match-up problems for other forwards, as there's few others can do what she does. (Candice Dupree and Sophia Young have similar games.) If I had to choose a team (and subsequent league) MVP, I would probably lean toward Lindsay Whalen, only because she is doing things few, if any, one in league history has ever done (and I'll get to those in a few days). But Jones is playing her best basketball -- and it doesn't get much better in the WNBA.

The Bad: I'm not trying to be a homer, but I really can't say much here. Even in games where's she struggled shooting, such as against Chicago on July 20 (5-for-19) and against Phoenix on June 29 (5-for-17), Jones made up for it in other ways, like at the free throw line and by limiting her mental mistakes. She also had a stretch during June where turnovers really hurt her productivity; in seven games, she committed at least three turnovers five times, including five twice. But she's largely corrected that, and any other small things I could find would be nit-picking at this point.

Outlook: By playing through a severely sprained ankle, Jones struggled at times last year, and really wasn't herself. She said prior to the break that she could feel her legs starting to tire, but with time off -- and some free days to actually celebrate her 28th birthday -- Jones should be prepared for a strong stretch run. I know I say that about virtually everyone on the Sun -- and it's probably true for everyone in the league not playing in the Olympics -- but considering Jones has played nearly 30 minutes a game (only Whalen has played more), it makes a difference in this case.

Also, I've written previously that if there was an All-Star game, Jones would be in it. But it will be interesting if she gets All-WNBA honors. At this point, she seems like a shoe-in for second-team honors, but we'll see. With games against some very good frontcourts (such as Seattle, Houston and San Antonio) left, she'll definitely have opportunity to make her case for more. (By the way, if I had to pick a first team right now and do it quickly, it would go: Whalen, Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus, Candace Parker, Lauren Jackson. Don't be surprised if I change that at least twice before the end of the season.)

On deck: Danielle Page
In the hole: Tamika Raymond

No comments: