In the same way that a pot never boils, maybe a basketball team can’t light it until the noise cools down. After a rough and tumble 2021, the New York Liberty enter this season as the WNBA’s biggest question mark. How will they fare under new head coach Sandy Brondello? Was anyone going to shoot? Will star big Natasha Howard expect a healthy season? And what will Sabrina Ionescu do, who has shown flashes of brilliance on nights that don’t seem slowed down by her injuries? Affirmative answers to all those questions seemed a lot to bet on. So naturally, after an all-out upset last season, the Liberty have emerged as one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the WNBA this year. If they’re not much of a “league pass team” to this point, with charm over record, does it really matter? This is the Liberty team that was promised a few years ago: a young, offensively creative group that has finally shown it has the pieces for something special.
One of the reasons for the change is that some pieces were not exactly last year. Meet 6-foot-10 Han Shun and French phenom Marine Johannes, both rocking their return from a two-year WNBA absence. (No, I don’t know why the court looks like that.)
The WNBA season is complicated every year by the international basketball schedule. Players may miss a large part of the season (or the entire season) due to commitments to other teams, and international players representing their national teams are often caught up in the conflict. This makes for some long and high-profile absences. For example, Emma Miseman missed all of last year to play in the Olympics and the FIBA EuroBasket tournament with the Belgian national team. Jonkel Jones, the Be a citizen of Bosnia Four years ago, she had to leave the Suns midway through the WNBA season to play in EuroBasket. It’s a frustrating problem for the WNBA to operate on its own, and the product suffers because of it; The international pipeline to the WNBA isn’t as strong as it could be. But in a non-Olympic, non-EuroBasket, non-Covid-protocol year, they were able to take full advantage of the non-American talents of Liberty. Johannes is a great surfer, the type to cut and tweet. Her speed and creativity give the Liberty something they’ve lacked over the past two seasons.
And then, Han! Oh Han! At just 19 years old and having never seen more than a scrap year, it was hard to know what Hahn could become in her 2019 rookie season. But she exceeded expectations by reaching state this year. as if Her profile above on FiveThirtyEight This week, Howard Megdal writes about the way her game—highly skilled and not just about color—eliminates contrast. At 6-foot-10, she made 15 of 32 three-point attempts this year. There’s a lot to be attracted to in any libertarian game, and the one that catches your eye the most is the perplexing Han, who’s insanely tall and good at shooting.
So do returning players who need to get better and healthier. Howard looks more like a former Defensive Player of the Year than she did last year. Crucially, since early June or so, Liberty have been getting Sabrina Ionescu, who they thought could be the face of the franchise.
She is a fierce competitor with the ability to “control” every shot she takes. Ionescu, who said she regretted playing through an ankle injury last year, looks more comfortable attacking this season. Still an excellent passer, the WNBA triple-double to her name is now averaging over 17 points per game, up from 11.7 last year. The quick complements Johannes Ionescu very well; Together, they are probably too many [Italian chef kiss] Backcourt in the WNBA.
Well, it’s time to tell you that thanks to some ugly losses in May and July, the mighty Liberty is actually 13-18. But damned if not the best losing team I’ve seen in a while. The Liberty will spend the final weeks of the WNBA season fighting for a playoff spot. The good news is that they have an easy-ish schedule on their side and a three-game winning streak. There’s no bad news: whether it succeeds or not, it’s sure to be a good time.