The young point guard has emerged as one of L.A.’s most dependable bench players
Before the 2019 WNBA season began, the Los Angeles Sparks knew they had a pair of veterans in the backcourt with Chelsea Gray and Alana Beard, but the rest of their guard depth was a bit of a question mark.
Odyssey Sims was traded to the Minnesota Lynx and Essence Carson signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Mercury. The rest of the guards on the roster were all young and relatively unproven. The opportunity was there for one of those young players in Alexis Jones.
Jones was part of the Sims trade, having spent the first two seasons of her career with the Lynx. She didn’t play all that much in Minnesota, but she did get big game experience against the Sparks, no less in the 2017 WNBA Finals.
She had one big game in particular in Game 3 when she came off the bench to score nine points and dish out four assists in a Lynx win. It was then that she grabbed the attention of Candace Parker. When Jones was initially traded to the Sparks, Parker knew she’d be a valuable addition to the team.
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“I played against Alexis on the Minnesota Lynx, and she was crucial in their championship, the second year we made it to the finals where we lost at Minnesota. She was crucial in that Game 3 for them to get the victory. She hit some huge threes for them and wasn’t scared of the moment,” Parker said before the start of the season. “I think that she’s a guard who can shoot the ball, really stretches the defense, understands the game of basketball, and can play alongside Chelsea Gray.”
When Jones first heard about the trade, she was excited to come to Los Angeles. But what helped seal the deal for her was when she spoke with Sparks general manager Penny Toler over the phone. Toler let Jones know she’d have a role on the team and be able to play her game.
“Penny’s not going to let nobody change me. That’s what Penny really preached on me to be here, just to be me,” Jones told High Post Hoops. “I can bring my experience that I learned from over there, just bringing my experience and the energy that I brought and my talent over here. To learn and to grow with another great organization and just to be here in LA, I can be who I am.”
Before the season began, the Sparks had made headlines when they acquired Chiney Ogwumike from the Connecticut Sun. Along with Parker and sister Nneka, it was widely assumed that Los Angeles would have one of the best frontcourts in the league.
There wasn’t much fanfare regarding the backcourt, however. Gray, who is a perennial All-Star, would be there, along with Beard, who remains one of the best defensive players in the WNBA. But the rotation was a bit of a question mark aside from that.
Sydney Wiese hadn’t made much of an impact in her first two years with the Sparks, and Marina Mabrey was a rookie. Riquna Williams had yet to be signed, leaving Jones as the probable first guard off the bench.
Even so, Jones felt as if the Sparks backcourt was being slept on a little bit.
“Our backcourt is crazy too, I think it’s going to surprise most people. I think that’s the way people might want it to be,” Jones said. “We have a lot of shooters, we have a lot of penetrators, we got a lot of different varieties that we could put on people. If they don’t know, they’re going to know.”
And with the season now fully underway, the Sparks backcourt has proven to be a team strength, with Jones being a big part of that. She started the first month of the season as a relatively dependable point guard off the bench. She had one of her best games of the season with 10 points on 4-6 shooting back on June 4 in a road win over the New York Liberty.
She continued to be a solid contributor until she went down with a knee injury in late June. She ended up missing about a month, but she returned to the court on Aug. 1 in a win over the Las Vegas Aces.
After the Aces victory, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher praised Jones’ work ethic during her injury rehab that led to her being able to return to the lineup and be effective immediately.
“That’s not easy to do when you’ve been out for a while,” Fisher said. “I think her success began with the choice that she made when she got injured that she was going to commit herself in a very serious way to the rehab process and the early workouts.”
The injury rehab process ended up being very beneficial to Jones, and it’s something that Fisher believes will help her career tremendously moving forward.
“I think as a young player that hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunity prior to being here with us, there was things she didn’t understand about how you need to train your body in order to really be a pro and play every night and be healthy,” Fisher said. “I think she was able to learn some things about herself through that process, that she’s a better player today than she was when she showed up in May. That says a lot about her and her willingness to continue to become a better pro.”
In Jones’ absence, Wiese emerged as a capable playmaker and knockdown shooter. Mabrey has also been a very deadly shooter who plays with a lot of energy and toughness. Before the suspension, Williams had been the scoring punch the team needed.
But recently, it’s been Jones who has steadied the backcourt and the second unit. Against the Aces, Jones had seven points, four rebounds, and two assists in 21 minutes. She followed that up with four assists and two steals in a win over the defending champion Seattle Storm. In the win over the Phoenix Mercury, she had another seven points and three assists.
When she enters the game, she’s making sure that the team doesn’t have much of a drop off while Gray gets a breather.
“Just being that backup for Chelsea, just bringing that extra energy, bringing the same thing that Chelsea is bringing, just in a different way,” Jones said about her role. “Just trying to keep that energy going and keep learning from playing behind her. I’m taking it game by game, every game is a different game. I’m just going to keep taking it game by game and just keep rolling with the punches right now.”
Before playing in the WNBA, Jones played for some pretty prestigious college programs. She initially began her college career at Duke where she was a teammate of Gray. She then transferred to Baylor and played under the legendary Kim Mulkey.
She didn’t get much of an opportunity immediately out of college, and she credited what she learned from those programs with helping her keep her head up and staying ready for the next opportunity which happened to be in Los Angeles.
“When you go to these training camps, don’t go in there thinking you know everything. And not even about you knowing everything, but showing people that you’re willing to learn,” Jones said. “When you show people that you’re willing to learn, you can get much more out of it. It’s going on the court and when they tell you something, you actually put it to the court, you actually learned it. That’s what I provide for young players who are going through these situations.”
And for the first time all season, the Sparks are relatively healthy. Beard is still out with a hamstring injury, and Williams still has a few more games left for her suspension, but the lineup is starting to come together.
It remains to be seen what happens with the backcourt when Beard and Williams return, but for now, Jones has settled into her role as the lead guard off the bench and the second unit’s floor general. Whatever happens between now and the rest of the season, she’s just hoping to be the best she can be.
“I’m hoping to be the best I can be, to keep working hard. As long as I work hard, God’s going to take care of the rest,” Jones said. “The players around me, they’re going to take care of the rest too. I just got to keep working hard and keep playing hard and everything’s going to take care of itself.”
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