We have an MVP on the move, folks!
There's been a ton of smoke surrounding the New York Liberty landing a superstar this offseason. To the surprise of many, Breanna Stewart isn't the player heading to the northeast.
That honor goes to Jonquel Jones.
First reported by Rachel Galligan of Winsidr, the Sun are trading the 2021 MVP to the Liberty as part of a three-team deal. Howard Megdal of The Next came through shortly after with the outline for the deal.
Liberty receive: Jonquel Jones (CON), Kayla Thornton (DAL)
Wings receive: Natasha Howard (NYL), rights to Crystal Dangerfield (NYL)
Sun receive: No. 6 overall pick, Rebecca Allen (NYL), Ty Harris (DAL)
And before you could quizzically ask, "Wait, that's it?" about the Jones return for Connecticut, we got the she-asked-for-this nugget from ESPN's Alexa Philippou:
BREAKING: Jonquel Jones is being traded to the New York Liberty, sources confirm to ESPN. The 2021 WNBA MVP with the Connecticut Sun requested the trade specifically to NY.@RachGall had it first— Alexa Philippou (@alexaphilippou) January 15, 2023
So, wow. Superstar trades are fun. Superstar trades before free agency begins are even more fun, and help set up a good deal of (potential) fireworks.
On the Sun's side, Jones' departure actually helps them retain their top free agent. Brionna Jones, two-time All-Star and reigning Sixth Woman of the Year, was set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason. With Jones heading to the Liberty, the Sun plan to use the core designation on Bri Jones, giving them exclusive negotiation rights — and locking in a one-year max offer for Jones, unless her and the Sun agree to a long-term deal.
Beyond that, I like the pieces the Sun added, even if the return still falls short of Jones' status in the league.
Harris should give the Sun another steady hand at point guard, something they lacked with Jasmine Thomas missing most of last season due to injury. That placed a heavier creation burden on All-World forward Alyssa Thomas, who practically served as the de facto point guard. With Harris providing depth, the Sun should have an easier time building cohesion in the half-court.
For a team that didn't take many threes — the Sun ranked 11th in three-point rate (26.1% of shot attempts) but third in percentage (35.4%) — Rebecca Allen could be a godsend. She's drained 37.2% of his threes over the past three seasons, an impressive mark considering a dip in efficiency last season (31.3% on 3.3 attempts per game). She cares very little about shot contests, and has a knack for finding space off the ball. It's easy to envision her presence taking pressure off of others, particularly in the half-court.
(Are you sensing a theme here?)
The Wings being included as the third team was interesting. There have been rumblings about their own star talent (Allisha Gray) potentially being moved over the offseason. For the Wings to land an actual All-Star in Natasha Howard was a pleasant surprise.
Howard's a versatile talent, able to pop or roll as the ball screener, put the ball on the deck against larger opponents, and bully her way to the basket against smaller ones. Her activity on the defensive end, notably her quick hands, allows her to play in — or quarterback the back end of — more aggressive coverages. That could become important depending on who her frontcourt partner will be this season.
Former Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield is a walking (running?) paint touch that could serve as a nice replacement to Ty Harris. She was able to find life as a complementary piece to Sabrina Ionescu last season, with her ability to pressure the rim helping to unlock Ionescu as an off-ball threat. She could provide similar value playing alongside Arike Ogunbowale or Marina Mabrey whenever the other is on the bench.
Of course, the true winners of the deal are the Liberty.
Jones is, at worst, one of the six best players in The W. Even in a down year statistically — one that says more about the re-emergence of Alyssa Thomas, and a little bit about the inconsistent usage of Jones — Jones still earned All-WNBA and All-Defensive Second Team honors.
Players the size of Jones aren't supposed to be able to move the way she does, shoot the way she does or handle the way she does. That she can blend all of that together makes her one of the most difficult covers in the league.
On one possession, you can find Jones bullying some poor defender on the block. On another, you can find her spaced on the perimeter, one pass away from another post-up or a ball screen. A kick to her can lead to a three (that defenders have no chancd of contesting, thanks to her release point), or a catch-and-drive that most bigs in the league aren't equipped to deal with.
If you want to get fancy, you can run Jones off of screens. I don't mean simple cross screens to clear a side for a post-up or isolation — though you can obviously do that. You can run Jones off pindowns, off staggers, use her as the third screener in Spain pick-and-roll actions or anything else you can think of because of her footwork and ability to shoot off movement.
And on other possessions, you don't even have to draw up anything. Because of her defensive prowess, she can kickstart her own offense by grabbing a board and pushing the ball in the open floor.
In short, Jones is an absolute monster.
Pairing her with Ionescu — one of the best pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the league to put it lightly — is patently unfair. Jones hasn't played with a ball-handler this dynamic; Ionescu hasn't a screening partner like this, and certainly hasn't played with a big who can clean up messes on the other end like (an engaged) Jones can.
But not only did the Liberty land Jones, but they were also able to snag Kayla Thornton from Dallas as well. The Liberty were a middling defense last season (No. 7 in defensive rating), but struggled on the perimeter. Adding Thornton, a multi-positional defender who can disrupt things on and off the ball, should help shore things up. Having Jones, Thornton and a healthy Betnijah Laney should give the Liberty a solid foundation.
There will be questions up and down the board. The Sun will need to nail the sixth overall pick if they keep it — much like they did with Jones in 2016 — to make the fan base feel better. You don't really replace an MVP, but it's hard to overstate just how much scoring gravity (and versatility) is walking out the door. Bri Jones can capture a good bit of the interior force, but shooting will still be a question mark overall.
Howard is certainly a talent upgrade, but it's worth wondering just how fluidly the offense will operate. Thornton is a lesser offensive talent, but her ability to fill gaps complemented the Ogunbowale-Mabrey backcourt. Howard will require more touches — obviously fine, but it's worth noting she isn't, say, Candace Parker as a high post passing hub. There will likely be some growing pains.
There's less to question on the Liberty front, but implementing Jones may not be an early slam dunk. Even with Ionescu shifting more off the ball in the second half of the year, she still finished in the top 10 in usage rate — and, if the tracking were available, I'd bet she ranked just as highly in touches per game. Jones wasn't always utilized as frequently as an MVP should be — something I imagine factored at least somewhat into her desire to be traded.
Still, it's hard not to be excited about — or terrified of — what the Liberty can become. Per Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr, the Liberty actually created more cap space with this trade. The rumors of Stewart in New York aren't dead.
And if the Liberty are able to land Jones and Stewart in the same offseason... whew, buddy, I don't know what you do with that kind of star power.