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2023 WNBA Draft Watch: Haley Jones’ versatility leads the Stanford Cardinal

If you enjoy positionless basketball, the Stanford Cardinal and their star senior Haley Jones are required viewing. Jones’ unique skillset makes her one of college basketball’s best players, and she’ll soon be drafted to the WNBA.

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NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Championship
Haley Jones has had an undeniably successful career at Stanford, highlighted by a national championship in 2021.
Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Stanford Cardinal are one of the most storied programs in women’s college basketball, and as head coach Tara VanDerveer continues racking up wins, the number of players she sends to the professional level continues to grow. Haley Jones, who has become a fixture of the Stanford program since arriving in 2019, figures to be the next in line.

Jones, a 6-foot-1 guard from Santa Cruz, California, has been hailed as “the future of the game” by VanDerveer and a “unicorn” by assistant coach Kate Paye, the latter term a metaphor typically used to describe multi-skilled players who are not bound to just one or two positions on the court. VanDerveer has gone so far as to call Jones “the Magic Johnson of women’s basketball,” referencing the NBA legend who has gone down as perhaps the most electrifying playmaker in basketball history.

It’s high praise, of course, especially for someone who has yet to play in a professional game. Jones certainly has the tools to become special, though, and in an era in which positional versatility is becoming more and more valued, she has the opportunity to carve out a niche all her own and redefine what WNBA teams look for in a primary ball handler.

As it currently stands, Jones is the focal point of a Stanford program that has gone a combined 118-17 during her time there, winning a pair of Pac-12 Tournament titles and an NCAA National Championship in 2021. How her unorthodox-yet-effective game will translate to the WNBA is a frequent topic of discussion, but while we wait for that to become a reality, let’s go over Jones’ biggest collegiate accomplishments.

Honors and statistics

Jones was a highly-decorated high school player, having earned McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic honors, and was ranked as the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2019 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz.

Though Jones’ freshman season ended early due to injury, she impressed in the games she did play, averaging 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 52.8 percent from the field. She elevated her game as a sophomore, averaging 13.2 points (54.6 percent shooting) and 7.4 rebounds per game as a full-time starter and earning All-American Honorable Mention nods from the USBWA and Associated Press. Jones was also named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player during Stanford’s 2021 NCAA Championship run.

Since then, Jones has become a regular among both Pac-12 and national award honorees. She was named the Pac-12’s Player of the Year as a junior after leading Stanford to a 32-4 record, also earning All-American honors from the USBWA, The Associated Press and WBCA. Though Stanford was ultimately bounced from the 2022 NCAA Tournament in the Final Four, Jones was named to the Final Four All-Tournament Team, and the hype has continued into her senior season, with Jones on watch lists for the Naismith Trophy, Wooden Award, Wade Trophy and Cheryl Miller Award.

Internationally, Jones has been in USA Basketball’s pipeline since 2015. She won the Latvia U17 International and FIBA U17 World Cup with Team USA in 2018, and most recently won a gold medal in the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup competition, playing alongside other big names such as Rhyne Howard, Aliyah Boston and Diamond Miller.

Jones’ versatility is a key component of Stanford’s success

South Carolina v Stanford
Jones does much of her damage from the free throw line and below, where she can best exploit the size and strength advantages she has over most opponents.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Jones is listed as a guard on Stanford’s roster, and while that may technically be correct, her unique skillset combined with her size almost makes labeling her in such a way a disservice. There are few players in the country built like Jones — 6-foot-1 with a powerful base, long arms and broad shoulders — and when you factor in her ability to handle and pass the basketball at an elite level, the list of comparable players shrinks even further.

Needless to say, VanDerveer knew right away what kind of player she had in Jones. During Jones’ freshman season, VanDerveer commented that she constantly faced the dilemma of choosing between playing her where the team needed her most or where her individual skills shone the brightest — a problem that the legendary head coach was quick to clarify as a good one to have.

VanDerveer has changed up Stanford’s offensive system over the years, recently adopting a Princeton offense (explained here by Half Court Hoops’ Gibson Pyper) that emphasizes off-ball movement and trusts its players to make reads based on what the defense allows. The fundamentals that have made the Cardinal a national powerhouse have remained the same, however: No team screens, cuts and passes like Stanford, and when the Cardinal are at the top of their game, VanDerveer likens them to “an orchestra.”

Jones’ versatility is on full display in this read-and-react offense, particularly as a passer. Per Synergy Sports, about 10.5 percent of Stanford’s offensive possessions come on basket cuts (ranking in the 92nd percentile at 1.153 points per possession), and Jones is often the one assisting on those cuts, setting up her teammates with picture-perfect bounce passes made possible with her elite court vision and dexterity.

Jones’ own offense, meanwhile, is manufactured more so with her obvious physical tools than her feel for the game. 27.8 percent of her offensive possessions come as a pick-and-roll ball handler — situations that not only put her in positions to make plays for others, but also to attack the basket off the dribble and impose her will physically. Jones easily shrugs off contact at the rim, and she’s got turnaround jump shots and step-through moves in her offensive repertoire as well, making her quite a threat to score from below the free throw line.

Jones isn’t always asked to score on high volume — an orchestra has more than one musician, after all — but she heavily impacts every Stanford game, even if not all of her contributions show up in the box score.

Highlights: Jones contributes in every phase of the game for Stanford

In regards to Jones’ potential as a WNBA player, her game can be looked at through either a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty perspective. Stanford’s unique offensive system differs quite a bit from what most WNBA teams run, and Jones will be asked to be more of an off-ball threat in the pros, which will inevitably raise concerns about her outside shooting; she’s made just 3-of-33 (9.1 percent) of her 3-point attempts as a senior, and WNBA defenses will make her prove that she can hit those shots consistently.

Jones does, however, have pro-ready physicality, and just as she’s adjusted her game to suit VanDerveer, she’ll be far from a one-dimensional player in the WNBA. In particular, her ability to rebound, handle and pass will make her an effective transition player, and the cerebral aspects of her game will surely be appreciated by whichever WNBA coach she ends up playing for.

Watch her play

Stanford’s next game will be in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, which begins next Wednesday. We don’t yet know who the Cardinal will be playing in the first round, as the field will not be announced until Sunday evening, but according to the latest installment of Bracketology by ESPN’s Charlie Creme, Stanford is projected as a No. 1 seed, and most viewers would agree that Jones and company are talented enough to reach their third consecutive Final Four. The NCAA Tournament will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, with the championship game scheduled for Sunday, April 2 on ABC.

All statistics and team records for the 2022-23 NCAA season are current through March 11, 2023.