In the same way that a watched pot boils, a basketball team probably can’t shine until the noise has subsided. After a pleasant and disappointing 2021, New York Liberty entered this season as a big question mark for the WNBA. How will they perform under new coach Sandy Brundello? Was anyone going to shoot? Can they expect a healthy bouncing season from big Natasha Howard? And what would you do of Sabrina Ionescu, who showed flashes of the brilliance she was recruited for on nights when she didn’t seem to be slowed down by injuries? Positive answers to all of these questions seemed like a lot to bet on. So, naturally, having tempered expectations completely by last season, Liberty has emerged this year as one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in the WNBA. If they’re nothing more than a ‘League Pass Team’ up to this point, more aesthetically pleasing than on record, does that really matter? This is the team Liberty that was promised a few years ago: a young, creative, offensive team that finally shows the pieces for something special are right there.
One reason for the change is that some of the art pieces weren’t there last year. Meet the 6-foot-10 Han Shuo and French Queen Marin Yohannes, who both rocked on their return from a two-year WNBA absence. (No, I don’t know why the court looks like this.)
The WNBA season is complicated each year due to the international basketball schedule. Players may miss large parts of a season (or an entire season) due to obligations to other teams, and international players who represent their national teams tend to get into conflict more often. This makes for some long and notable absences. Emma Meissmann, for example, has missed out on the whole last year to play in the Olympics and the FIBA EuroBasket with the Belgian national team. Jonquil Jones, after Become a Bosnian citizen Four years ago, he had to leave the sun in the middle of a WNBA season to play for EuroBasket. It’s an annoying problem made by the WNBA, and the product suffers as a result; The international pipeline to the WNBA is not as strong as it should or should be. But in a non-Olympic, non-EuroBasket year and COVID protocol, Liberty was able to take full advantage of their non-US-born talent. Johan is a wonderful bystander, the kind who exists to be clipped and tweeted about. Her speed and creativity have given Liberty something that she has noticeably lacked in the past two seasons.
And then, Han! Oh Han! It was hard to tell what Han might become in the 2019 junior season, when she was just 19 and had seen little more than trash time. But it made it to the states this year and exceeded all expectations. in Her profile over at FiveThirtyEight This week, Howard Magdal writes about how her game – highly efficient and not just graphic – is far from comparable. At 6-foot-10, she’s done 15 of 32 three-point attempts this year. There’s a lot to find intriguing in any given Liberty game, and it’s still the baffling Han, insanely tall and good at shooting, that will grab your attention the most.
Returning players who needed to improve and their wellness too. Howard looks more like a former defensive player of the year than she did last year. Crucially, since early June or so, Liberty has acquired the Sabrina Ionescu she was hoping to be the face of the franchise.
This is a wondrous competition, capable of “grabbing” intervals where you think every shot you take will go in. Ionescu, who said she regretted playing through an ankle injury last year, looks more comfortable in attack this season. Still a very good passer with three WNBA doubles to her name, she now averages more than 17 points per game, up significantly from 11.7 last year. The fastest Johannes gently compliments Ionescu; Together, they may be the most [Italian chef kiss] backcourt in the WNBA.
Well, now is the time I have to admit to you that the mighty Liberty is actually between the ages of 13 and 18, thanks to some ugly losing streaks in May and July. But damn it if this isn’t the coolest losing team I’ve seen in a while. Team Liberty will spend the final weeks of the WNBA season fighting to hold a playoff position. The good news is that they have the advantage of an easy schedule on their side, and are on a three-game winning streak. No bad news: succeed or fail, it’s sure to be a good time.