Back at the end of July, we had some important questions for the New York Liberty as they embarked on their final push to make the WNBA Playoffs. Sure enough, the team provided the answers, going 6-2 in their final eight games of the season as they advanced to the postseason. With the Chicago Sky awaiting them, let’s revisit the questions we had for them.
Can they get to the basket more?
Check! From July 31 to the end of the season, the team was:
sixth in shots attempted inside the restricted area attempts (20 per game)
fifth best efficiency inside the restricted area (64.8 percent)
eighth in free throws attempted per game (15.7 a night)
Those aren’t the greatest statistics, but they’re a stark improvement from where they were prior to the end of July. In pregame against the Atlanta Dream on Sunday afternoon, Nets Republic asked Sandy Brondello what helped the team get to and have more success at the basket:
“I think it’s a bit of everything. It’s about spacing, which is critical. Cutting, the appropriate cutting. We had to teach a lot of that, when to cut, when not to cut. And creating space so we can penetrate a little bit. And then just having an aggressive mindset. How can we exploit someone going underneath us? How can we exploit someone switching us? I think we’ve just gotten better. And it’s not just one person. It’s the team understanding how the next person besides them plays. Who should be cutting? Who shouldn’t be cutting?”
Their success in the paint was on full display against the Atlanta Dream last week. When they’re able to get to the basket, they keeps defenders honest and open up a world of possibilities. The offense becomes even more dynamic when they get two feet in the paint and seek out great shots instead of merely good ones.
Will Betnijah Laney return in time?
Yup! Laney got off to a rocky start upon her return, but she gradually regained her All-Star form the more she played. She scored 17 points against the Dream last Friday and, in postgame, said her ability to score in all three levels was key to her success. In the playoffs, having a scorer who can get their own shot like Laney takes on even more importance. When the Liberty need a bucket, they can call on B and she’ll deliver.
Even with all of her offensive excellence, Laney’s defense is just as important. When the Liberty go small and play only one big, Laney can slide up to the power forward position. She battles on the boards and often guards the team’s best perimeter player. Laney and the Liberty will have to slow down Kahleah Copper; if they keep her on the perimeter, that’s half the battle right there.
Can Marine Johannès and Han Xu finish strong?
Han had trouble with the increased physicality from opposing centers, but did have good moments along the way.
Han has developed into a solid rotation player and fan favorite coming off of the bench. Along the way, she’s provided some magical Liberty moments as well. It’s easy to forget sometimes, but Han is still only 22 years old and has a world of potential. She has to improve finishing at the rim and playing through physical contact, but she’s off to a good start. High stakes playoff basketball is a monster, and we’ll see how Han meets the Chicago challenge.
As for Marine Johannès , she was absolutely sensational down the stretch. In the final nine games, MJ averaged 10 points and two assists on .544/.488/1.000 shooting splits in 20 minutes a night. Against Dallas and Atlanta, Johannès was a huge source of offense coming off the bench. The Liberty sometimes go into scoring droughts, and having a player like Johannès who’s instant offense is a lifesaver. If she can continue to get downhill and find open teammates, she’ll keep the Sky at bay.
And it wouldn’t be a Liberty story without an amazing Johannès highlight…
That’s the good stuff.
Can Sabrina Ionescu close out the season on a high note?
To answer that question, let’s pass it over to the Liberty’s twitter account:
She was also August’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month and the AP’s All WNBA First team. Not too shabby.
The great thing about Ionescu is she doesn’t get discouraged when she struggles. If her shot isn’t there, she’s still looking to rebound and create for others. Sandy Brondello recently shouted out her defensive efforts against Aari McDonald and the Dream, as well. You need your franchise player to set the tone, and that’s what Ionescu does every time she plays. Even when she struggles, she can heat up and take over a game instantly. She’s able to make hustle plays and isn’t afraid to mix it up with her opponents. That type of energy is exactly what you need from your franchise players.
She’s had some success against the Sky, and will need to be even better if the Liberty want to win. When the Liberty get out in transition, they’re most successful and at their most dangerous. The Sky defense is hell on wheels in the half court, and easy transition buckets will establish the tone for the Liberty. The Liberty will put up a fight, and with Ionescu leading the way, might score a surprise knockout.