With Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty Have a Much-Needed Chance to ‘Reset’

Written by on April 17, 2020

For the Liberty, a tumultuous decade that put the franchise’s future unsure has given rise to a crew that’s new in virtually each method conceivable.

A brand new proprietor: Joe Tsai, not James L. Dolan. A brand new residence: Barclays Middle, after a long term at Madison Sq. Backyard and a two-year exile to the Westchester County Middle within the northern suburbs of New York, removed from the fan base. And after the W.N.B.A. draft on Friday evening, most likely a brand new franchise star: Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, not Tina Charles, the veteran All-Star the crew traded to the Washington Mystics this week.

Even the brand is refreshed, with extra black coloring to higher align with the N.B.A.’s Nets, which Tsai additionally owns.

There’s just one downside: No person is aware of when, or if, this season will start.

“For us, it’s a possibility, a little bit of a reset,” Basic Supervisor Jonathan Kolb mentioned. “And we’re excited to see the place this goes in 2020.”

Then he sighed, citing the uncertainty of “the place and when and the way.”

For Kolb, Walt Hopkins (who can also be new, as head coach) and all the Liberty entrance workplace, the low season has gone in keeping with plan. The crew is anticipated to make use of its No. 1 over all choose in Friday evening’s draft on Ionescu, by far the standout star in ladies’s school basketball. In free company, the Liberty added level guard Layshia Clarendon, an All-Star and U.S.A. Basketball veteran who can each mentor and play alongside Ionescu.

They’ll be part of a core that, even with out Charles, has vital younger expertise and could have the prospect to shoulder extra of the offensive load. The crew’s 2018 first-round choose, Kia Nurse, was an All-Star in 2019, and the crew’s 2019 first-round choose, Asia Durr, is a gifted two-way prospect who was out injured for a lot of her rookie season. Count on an expanded position, too, for 6-foot-9 Han Xu, the crew’s 2019 second-round choose, an intriguing stretch-five who doesn’t flip 21 till October.

Even the crew’s veterans are younger: The returning beginning heart, Amanda Zahui B., is 26, small ahead Rebecca Allen is 27 and capturing guard Marine Johannes turned 25 in January. The Liberty have three first-round picks on this 12 months’s draft, and 5 within the high 20 alternatives.

“We’re actually conscious of the age, and that’s one thing that we very a lot mentioned,” Kolb mentioned, including: “That is going to be one thing the place myself, our coach, our employees and our gamers are going to develop collectively in the direction of what in the end we hope will likely be one thing actually particular down the road. Getting gamers in our system goes to be main as a result of they’ll hone their expertise to suit precisely the way in which we wish to play basketball.”

The best way they intend to play, as Hopkins made clear at his introductory information convention in January, extra intently resembles the trendy offenses of essentially the most profitable groups immediately. The Mystics and the Seattle Storm, the previous two champions, have been among the many league leaders in 3-pointers tried and made, and Hopkins believes in scoring primarily on the rim or past the arc.

That’s the place Ionescu may are available in. Final 12 months’s level guards, Brittany Boyd and Tanisha Wright, completed first and second within the league in turnover share, and by a wide margin. Ionescu, in the meantime, averaged just 2.8 turnovers per game in her 4 seasons at Oregon and led N.C.A.A. Division I with 9.1 assists per game. That’ll imply extra open 3s when Ionescu finds her teammates, and fewer live-ball turnovers resulting in simple baskets for the opposite crew.

However there’s a component properly past Ionescu’s on-court match that makes her the no-brainer choose for the crew as properly, and that’s her star energy. The Liberty have drifted out and in of the highlight over the previous decade, and this was by no means clearer than previously two years. They had been enjoying in White Plains, N.Y., north of New York Metropolis, amid a pair of shedding seasons after three straight Japanese Convention regular-season titles and playoff appearances from 2015 to 2017.

However Ionescu, with a forceful off-court presence to match her relentless on-court recreation, instructions consideration in a method few W.N.B.A. prospects have. Mix that profile with a cultural second of elevated deal with ladies’s sports activities, and the Liberty have a possibility to hitch the franchise’s wagon to an genuine change agent.

“I feel, to me, she’s an ideal match for New York,” mentioned Rebecca Lobo, an ESPN analyst and former Liberty star. “The New York fan base is just a bit bit completely different. Even 20-plus years in the past once I was there, you might be strolling by Central Park and folks would begin speaking to you about basketball.”

Lobo continued: “I feel Sabrina is completely fitted to that, not solely her recreation, which is subsequent degree, however her persona, her drive, her will to win. She matches in in high-pressure moments.”

Despite the fact that Ionescu mentioned she had been to New York solely twice, that problem was one thing she mentioned she would relish, if the Liberty drafted her.

“I’m positively, hopefully, excited for the chance to play there at Barclays Middle,” Ionescu mentioned this week. “After which simply the marketability that there’s in New York and the hustle and bustle is one thing that I feel might be not solely useful to myself as an individual however as a model for ladies’s basketball. So if I get that chance, I’ll positively be excited to attempt to use that to one of the best of my potential.”

On paper, this can be a Liberty crew able to take an enormous leap ahead. In follow? Kolb mentioned the Liberty are “like everyone else, attempting to see what’s subsequent and what we’re allowed to do.”

The scheduled Could 15 begin of the season and coaching camp have been delayed indefinitely.

“After Friday, it’s a bit bit like, ‘OK, nice, let’s go,’ and we gained’t but,” Kolb mentioned.


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