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Liberty star Jonquel Jones says Caitlin Clark needs to be given ‘some grace’

The Liberty’s win in Saturday’s home opener wrapped up a 2-0 home-and-home series against the rebuilding Indiana Fever. In those games, the Libs got their first look at No. 1 overall pick Caitlin Clark, one of the league’s newest and brightest stars.

Clark — like most top WNBA rookies — showed flashes of greatness and some low moments. After becoming the NCAA’s all-time scoring leader as an Iowa Hawkeye, Clark has been under immense scrutiny after each of her first three games this season.

After Saturday’s win, Liberty center Jonquel Jones expressed why some of the pressure on Clark should be alleviated.

“I think the media needs to give her a little bit of grace and time to develop into a player,” Jones said after Saturday’s 91-80 victory at Barclays Center. “She’s learning every game she’s out there. Obviously, her impact on this league is going to be tremendous and only grow as she matures.”

Jones came to Clark’s defense after the guard recorded the best statline of the season: 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Clark, however, turned the ball over eight times. Her high turnover numbers have been magnified and are a result of tight on-ball pressure in her first three WNBA games.

In her season debut against the Connecticut Sun Tuesday, Clark scored 20 points on 5-of-15 shooting while turning the ball over 10 times. The Sun, one of the league’s best defensive teams, deployed DiJonai Carrington as a primary defender on Clark. And the home-and-home series provided Clark an even tougher defender: Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, a 2023 All-Defensive Second Team selection.

Clark’s home debut on Thursday, a blowout 36-point loss to the Liberty, got ugly. As the primary defender, Laney-Hamilton helped the Libs keep Clark to nine points on 2-of-8 shooting. The rookie coughed the ball up three times, grabbed seven boards and dished six assists in the loss.

The eight turnovers in her Barclays Center debut gives her a three-game total of 21. She shot 37% from the field and 30% from deep during that span. And she recorded a minus-46 in 96 minutes on the floor.

“She’s a knockdown shooter and she has that range,” Liberty star Breanna Stewart said Saturday. “Obviously, when you come into this league and you’re the number one pick, everyone’s going to know where you are on the court at all times.”

Both Jones and Stewart know what it’s like to have success early in their WNBA careers. Stewart won Rookie of the Year, was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in MVP voting after being selected first overall by the Seattle Storm in 2016. Jones, a sixth overall pick in 2016, experienced a slower start as a rookie off the bench in Connecticut, but made the All-Star team in 2017 and eventually won an MVP award in 2021.

Jones used Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum as an example on why more “grace” should be given to Clark. After being selected first overall by the then-San Antonio Stars in 2017, Plum failed to average at least 10 points in her first three seasons in the WNBA. Plum has now blossomed to one of the league’s greatest guards on a championship team after developing into a star.

To Jones’ point, Clark hasn’t even played a handful of WNBA games yet. And the very early season averages look like this: 17 points, 5.7 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game.

“But just give her some time,” Jones said about Clark. “Look at Kelsey Plum and how it was for her when she first came into the league and the player she is now. Just give her some grace.”


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