Liberty’s Jonquel Jones: Caitlin Clark needs ‘some grace’ as she adjusts to WNBA


No player entered the WNBA with quite the amount of media attention as the Fever’s Caitlin Clark. And after three games – the last two against the Liberty – the former standout at Iowa has yet to experience a win at the professional ranks after New York dispatched Indiana, 91-80, Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn.

Turning around the Fever – who went 13-27 a season ago to earn the first-overall selection – was never going to be a one-woman job. And, as perhaps expected, the rookie struggled in the early goings, scoring just 29 points in her first two games on 7-for-23 shooting (5-for-18 from three) with 13 turnovers to nine assists.

Breanna Stewart, a former No. 1 overall pick after winning four straight National Championships at UConn, knows about entering the league with hype and having the attention of the other team.

“She’s a knockdown shooter and has that range. When you come into this league and you’re the No. 1 pick everyone is going to know where you are on the court at all times,” Stewart said Saturday. “She’s looking to make the pocket pass and that’s gonna be the growth of this [Indiana] team over the season is them figuring out what the right spots are depending on what defenses are going to do.

“I think that us up here, it’s respect. We know she’s a great player and just trying to do whatever it takes to make it tough.”

In Saturday’s loss, Clark had her best game so far, scoring 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting (4-for-10 from three) with eight assists and six rebounds, but with eight turnovers.

“I think I was just more active [in Saturday’s game], I think I was cutting harder, I was setting up screens harder, got a few backdoor cuts for layups,” Clark said. “I think just playing with better pace and that’s kind of a learning thing. It’s not something I always had to do at Iowa.

“But in the league, everybody’s all over me, they’re hounding me 94 feet, I’m getting trapped on every ball screen, getting blocked on every stagger screen. So I think it’s just a learning process. And I’m gonna continue to learn from game to game. But I thought tonight was better.”

Jonquel Jones, the WNBA’s MVP in 2021 and a former No. 6 overall pick, said the rookie needs some space to grow into the league.

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

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

After the Liberty spoiled the Fever’s home opener with a 102-66 shellacking on Thursday night, Sabrina Ionescu, another former top overall pick, said the early struggles are the times when a player “figure out what you’re really made of and how you can continue to improve as a teammate, as a basketball player, as a person.”

“Coming back into my first season playing I was navigating being that No. 1 pick, having the target on your back and also navigating not being healthy and trying to come back,” Ionescu said referencing coming back after losing her rookie season to an ankle injury after just two games. “It’s just tough. You are always gonna have to fight adversity I think that’s part of everyone’s journey is being able to kinda weather that storm and figure out what makes you, you. And she’s so young, she’s gonna be able to learn and grow.

She continued: “I’m not the least bit worried about what she’s gonna be able to accomplish in the league. I just know she’s gonna continue to work really hard and stick with it. Good things will happen to good people.”

And Clark is prepared for it all.

“It’s the same situation for every rookie coming in here, you can make whatever excuse you want but there is no excuses,” Clark said after Saturday’s game. “Players that were in this league were rookies once before they dealt with the same thing. So everybody goes through it.”

While the media attention on Clark brings pressure to perform, the attention has translated into success off the court already as 17,735 fans were at Barclays Center on Saturday, earning the Liberty a league-record $2 million in ticket revenue.

“I thought the atmosphere was incredible. A lot of young girls here today which is definitely fun to see, but the Liberty definitely deserves this crowd,” Clark said. “They’ve been incredible over the course of the last few seasons and they’re gonna be incredible this year… Happy for New York to have this type of environment and I hope those fans continue to show up and I know they will.”

For Stewart, “the buzz and the eyes that Caitlin has brought from Iowa to the WNBA is gonna be a collective win for all.”

“When I first started in the league, some teams weren’t even making revenue,” Stewart continued. “it’s a long time coming and we’re happy to be at this point, but we’re not satisfied.”