Last November, the Oregon Ducks and the Louisville Cardinals played each other in the Paradise Jam, with Louisville coming out on top.
And on Friday, three of the players in that game were drafted by the New York Liberty, as they took Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu with the first overall pick, and then Louisville’s Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook at 12 and 13.
That got me thinking: First, could I find that game somewhere on the Internet, since I wasn’t able to watch it when it happened. And if I could find it, could I use that game as a lens through which to understand those three players?
The answer to both of those things was yes, so here we are. I rewatched this game, and I’ve video-clipped some of the moments that best illustrate what these players might be bringing to Brooklyn.
Oregon/Louisville: The Game
So, this is one of those games that I was really mad about missing last year. It aired on a pay service that was out of my price range, and then when Louisville upset Oregon I was even more upset about missing this one. I’m not going to rant about women’s basketball’s marquee games needing to be more accessible right now, but feel free to close your eyes and pretend I’m ranting about that.
Anyway, it didn’t take long for this game to showcase something happening from a future New York Liberty player, with Jazmine Jones scoring the game’s first points:
This play is full of New York Liberty action, as we see all three players get involved in some way. Jones starts the possession out with the ball, then gives it up and heads over to the corner. Kylee Shook is down there in the post, but she’s positioned in a way that makes it easy for her to move back out towards the perimeter. Jones sweeps back around and gets the ball, but she’s got the unenviable task of being guarded by Satou Sabally, which is not something you want to have happen. Enter Shook, who sets a screen that helps Jones get the switch she wants — i.e. just not having to try driving against Sabally — which allows Jones to start driving toward the paint. Sabally leaves Shook to try to chase down Jones, which leaves Shook open at the top of the arc for a potential pick-and-pop look. The ball never goes back her way, but with her shooting ability, teams should not be leaving her open up there.
But anyway, Oregon does a good job adjusting here and cutting off Jones path to the basket, forcing her to pull-up with the midrange shot. Sabrina Ionescu was guarding out in the corner, but slides over to offer resistance to Jones drive. It doesn’t end up mattering here, as Jones lifts up and connects on the midrange jumper. (It should be noted that per Synergy, Jones worst zone for jump shot efficiency was that medium jumper from 17′ out to the arc, so Oregon got the shot they wanted from her. But the shot aside, Jones shows some good dribble moves here.)
The very next play — and I promise I won’t talk about every play of this game — showed us what these players are able to do on the other side of the ball.
Sabrina gets a lot of attention for her scoring, and we’re definitely going to get to her scoring in this piece, but first, let’s look at this play where she gets an assist.
A few things. First is the attention Sabrina commands from a defense. One Louisville defender chases her around the screen. Another Louisville defender is dropped back, ready to challenge if Ionescu drives. That opens up a possible open pass to the roller, but Ionescu also sees an open Minyon Moore on the wing. No one picked up Moore after she passed the ball off, which leaves Kylee Shook — the center who is down around the free throw line in the zone — responsible for closing out on her. Shook tries, but Moore’s too deep and the initial separation is too much. But I do feel good about Shook’s ability to react defensively here, and I also feel good about the fact that Louisville had Jazmine Jones guarding Satou Sabally, as it shows that they trust Jones to take on a very tough matchup.
A lot of Kylee Shook’s game takes place out on or near the perimeter. On this play, for instance, Shook comes up from the post to the free throw line and sets a screen, which helps create a cutting lane for one of her teammates. But when Sabrina Ionescu follows that cutting player, space is opened for Shook to get the ball passed her way just inside the arc.
She doesn’t just take the shot though, instead putting the ball on the floor and dribbling towards the basket. Once she gets there, she backs up the defender, and Jazmine Jones swings around, scoring off the hand-off from Shook.
It’s really good to see that Shook isn’t just a shooter, that she can work the ball inside on drives sometimes and diversify her offensive output. The smart pass to Jones is an added bonus of this play as well.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, one thing that we kept seeing in this was Sabrina Ionescu working her way to the middle of the floor for a free throw line jumper.
One thing to note about Sabrina Ionescu is that while she ran the Ducks offense in the half-court, Minyon Moore often was the initial player to bring the ball up the floor before delivering it to Sabrina somewhere over on the left side.
Another thing to note is that early on in this game, before Ionescu started firing up threes with Oregon behind, we saw a lot of this play. Ionescu on the left wing. Someone sets a pick. Ionescu curls around it, gets some space in front of her, and ends up taking the free throw line jumper. She’s got such a smooth, quick release on her shot, making it tough for the defense to really do much about it.
How about some Kylee Shook defense?
Love her ability to react and to cover so much ground here. She’s initially just under the basket, but then zooms out to the perimeter when the inbound goes to an open player there. She retreats back toward the paint after someone else picks up the perimeter player, but then the Louisville defense gets a little lost, leaving Shook as the only defender on a side with two Oregon players. But she does a good job of sensing the drive, and is able to cover the ground she needs to reach the driver, get her hands up, and block the midrange attempt.
Oh, I haven’t highlighted a Kylee Shook bucket yet? Here’s one:
Shook does a good running the pick-and-roll with Dana Evans here, though looking at her overall numbers, Shook didn’t fare so well on year as a roller, scoring in just the 39th percentile on those possessions, though it should be noted that she was very efficient when rolling to the left side as she did here. Of course, the majority of Shook’s pick-and-rolls were really pick-and-pops.
Also, we’re not going to talk about Shook without talking about her threes. On this play, she sneaks out for the catch-and-shoot three, and despite playing the five for Louisville, Shook had a lot of these kinds of looks all year. She actually was pretty slow to start connecting on threes for the year, but as the season wore on, we saw more and more of it from here, and she ended the season with five games in a row with multiple made threes.
In terms of fit with New York, Walt Hopkins wants to shoot the three, and being able to sub Amanda Zahui B.out and replace her with someone who does a lot of the same things Zahui does would be some nice continuity for this team on both ends of the floor.
Oh yeah, Oregon was also playing this game. I’ve been focusing on Shook because 1) Jazmine Jones left the game early with an injury, then returned just to get in foul trouble and 2) this was not Oregon’s night, but let’s take the time to admire Ionescu’s footwork and pacing as she drives into the basket here. I usually hate making cross-sport comparisons, but if you’re an NFL person, isn’t there some Le’Veon Bell in her here? The way she slows down on the drive, patiently waiting for the slightest opening to re-explode to the basket and score.
Anyway, I’m going to end the clipping of plays here, but Oregon did mount a bit of a comeback, getting the score within six off Ionescu’s first made three of the game, but Louisville answered back, winning 72-62, handing the Ducks their first loss of the season.
In terms of Liberty-related things I learned here, I don’t think there’s anything new about Ionescu to be gleaned from this game that I didn’t already know, unless you want to pick apart her bad shooting night, which would be fair. And Jazmine Jones was out of rhythm from the injury and foul issues.
But I left this feeling much better about the drafting of Kylee Shook. I know making this Liberty roster will be tough for everyone they drafted after Jocelyn Willoughby, but Shook has it on both ends of the floor, and she’d be a good addition to the Liberty’s final roster.