Liberty forward Jonquel Jones looks to pass the ball against Sparks...

Liberty forward Jonquel Jones looks to pass the ball against Sparks guard Rae Burrell during the first quarter at Barclays Center on Saturday. Credit: Brad Penner

The Liberty are off to their best start in franchise history, and the success can be attributed to the seasoned team’s adaptability. Guard Courtney Vandersloot’s eight-game absence has forced players to broaden their roles, showcasing the Liberty’s versatility.

“Our skill keeps the defense honest,” Jonquel Jones said after Saturday’s win over the Los Angeles Sparks at Barclays Center. “We have guards that can get downhill, so we just always need to have our hands ready. We knew that the shots were going to fall eventually, so it’s just about staying confident and seeing the ball go through the hoop.”

Jones has emerged as a key playmaker in her second season with the Liberty. The 6-6 center is a double-double machine — she had 15 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday’s 96-75 road win over the Atlanta Dream — and the Liberty improved to 17-0 the last two seasons when she posts a double-double.

But it’s her ability as a passer that has stood out this season for the Liberty (15-3), who have won three in a row and 11 of 12. Jones had four assists Sunday and recorded at least five in each of the three games before that, including a career-high eight against the Sparks in Thursday’s win.

“When someone goes out, there’s opportunities for others to step up,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “That’s what we do; that’s part of being a really good team. [Jones] has always had an ability to play, but now it has really evolved within the system.”

As Jones’ passing ability continues to unfold, the entire court reaps the benefits. Two of her five assists on Saturday found Sabrina Ionescu, who recorded 24 points. Ionescu notched nine assists of her own, two of which found Jones.

“When I’m trapped, I trust that I can give her the ball,” Ionescu said. “Trusting her to quarterback those decisions out of the traps has opened up the floor for all of us . . . She’s able to hit cutters. She’s kind of like another point guard out there in terms of her vision and understanding where she wants to get the ball. It makes my job easier.”

“The chemistry that you see on the court now is something we’ve been working on since last year,” Jones said. “Whether it’s just talking in the locker room, I just try to support [Ionescu] as much as possible and let her know I’m there for her, and she does the same for me. The success we have on the court is a result of our chemistry blossoming and growing.”

Sparks coach Curt Miller, who coached Jones during her six-year tenure with the Connecticut Sun, said Jones’ recent performances are reminiscent of her most prominent seasons.

“[Jones] is in great shape, playing with her motor that you saw her play with in her MVP season [2021] for us back in Connecticut,” Miller said. “She looks like an MVP candidate when she plays like that; she adds a different dimension to this New York team.”

Jones is averaging 16.8 points, her highest since 2021 (19.4), and a career-high 3.4 assists. She has 62 assists in 18 games after being credited with 73 in 40 games last year. The most she’s had in a season was 75 in 2021.

Jones also is averaging a career-high 1.9 three-pointers. Before Sunday, when she hit one three-pointer, she had recorded multiple threes in seven consecutive games, the longest streak by any frontcourt player in the WNBA this season. Overall, she’s 34-for-78 from beyond the arc, and her 43.6% shooting is a significant increase over her career mark of 38.0%.

Jones said the shift in her play boils down to trust — with herself and the players around her.

“I’ve been shooting with confidence,” she said. “When I went back and watched last year’s championship, there were so many opportunities for me to shoot. Even the shots that I did take, I felt like they were hesitant. This year, I’ve had a different level of intentionality with it. I’m understanding that it’s something I can do and I can do it at a high level.”



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