This Week in Seafoam:
This Week in Seafoam:

This Week in Seafoam: It’s Johannès Time In Brooklyn!

She’s back.

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Marine Johannès has returned to the WNBA for the first time since 2019. One of the world’s most exciting passers has already made an impact in New York, with highlight-reel plays. New York, which lost seven in a row earlier this year because it lacked playmaking beyond Sabrina Ionescu, looks significantly better now that it has Crystal Dangerfield and Marine Johannès on the roster.

The Liberty went 2-1 this week, beating the Lynx 88-69 and the Fever 97-83 before losing 88-86 to Chicago on Sunday.

In this week’s This Week in Seafoam, we’re basically going to ignore that Lynx game. Sabrina almost had a triple-double with 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but didn’t play late in the game because New York had the game comfortably in hand after a 29-11 third-quarter advantage. It was a good showing from New York. But it’s also not what we’re here to discuss, which is what the Liberty look like now that they’ve added another key player.

What Johannès Has Added

6-12-22 Liberty vs Chicago Sky

So, what has Marine Johannès added so far for the Liberty?

Scoring and playmaking, too things this team really needed.

Across her first two games, Johannès is averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. She’s shooting an equal 60 percent from the floor and from three.

This, of course, is the major highlight of her so far:

And there’s good reason for that, as it’s an impressive pass that leads to an open Dolson three.

Johannès and Ionescu are both really creative passers. On this play, Ionescu drives inside, draws the defense’s attention and then passes it out to Johannès, who is in one-on-one coverage on the wing. She drives inside, leading to the defenders who already had collapsed in on the Ionescu drive to continue focusing their attention in the paint. That’s where Johannès’ creativity comes into play. She could go for the contested shot here and probably would have a decent shot of making it, but she has this preternatural ability to know where every one of her teammates—teammates that she’s played with for two games, mind you—are on the floor. She whips out the magic tricks here and gets the ball to Dolson for the open three.

Johannès’ presence means that it’ll be easier for Liberty players to get open looks, because you now have another ball-handler who can sense which player is open and get the ball to them even if the passing lanes and angles aren’t ideal.

Other than passing, Johannès also has such a quick, smooth release on her shot:

Adding shooting is a good thing for this team, especially when Sandy Brondello likes to be pretty old school with her bigs. If you aren’t going to play small very often, then having more shooting at the 1-3 spots is another way of increasing your spacing plus your offensive upside.

How the Rotations Have Changed

6-12-22 Liberty vs Chicago Sky

DiDi Richards should be back soon, which will shift the Liberty rotation anew. But I wanted to look over how the team is using Johannès and what lineups are being built with her.

Looking at the Sky game in particular since Johannès had more time to work herself into the lineup, we see that most of the second half featured her paired with Ionescu. With Rebecca Allen unavailable, Sandy Brondello had this to say about the decision:

Now, this could change if Allen had been healthy, but it seems like New York wants more facilitators on the floor. The team’s win streak began when it paired Ionescu with Dangerfield. Now, you had stretches in the second half where you played all three together.

Small sample, but in 20 minutes this season with all three on the floor, the team has an offensive rating of 13.61 per PBP Stats.

Another thing we’re seeing is Johannès playing with Han Xu. Through two games, the two have played 34 minutes together, while Johannès has played 17 minutes without Han. Pairing them up in lineups allows you to get two exciting players on the floor together, which is especially intriguing offensively. PBP Stats has the team at a 120.00 offensive rating with the two playing together, better than when either plays without the other. Adding Johannès’ additional playmaking to Han’s ability to score on mismatches has been beneficial for this team.

The Final Minute Against Chicago

Okay. Let’s talk about the loss to the Sky, and specifically about some of the issues at the end of that game.

With 2:17 to play, a pair of Ionescu free throws made it 84-79 New York. But the Liberty went cold after that, and by the 0:48 mark trailed 85-84.

Ionescu managed a pair of free throws at the 0:34 mark to take the lead again, but then things fell apart.

With 24 seconds to play, Azurá Stevens missed a layup. Good for New York, right?

Except Allie Quigley got the rebound. But then she missed her shot attempt. So, good for New York?

Except Kahleah Copper got the rebound. But Stef Dolson blocked that shot attempt. Good for New York?

Yeah, you know where this is going. The shot was out of bounds off New York, so Chicago got the ball back. With 0:12 to play, Quigley missed a three. Copper got the rebound, but her putback attempt was blocked by Natasha Howard.

Replay review. Ball out on New York. Another chance for Chicago. This time, the Sky delivered with a Courtney Vandersloot three, putting Chicago ahead by two with 0.9 seconds left.

It was just opportunity after opportunity for the Sky there. And while the post defense for New York kept denying those opportunities, the team’s inability to just secure one single rebound was an issue.

I know Dolson had a block in this sequence, but would Han Xu’s height have offered a better chance to secure the ball in this late game situation?

And why was 5’5” Crystal Dangerfield in on a defensive possession? New York had chances to make substitutions. Even with Rebecca Allen apparently unavailable:

The team could have subbed in Sami Whitcomb, who you can trust a little more in late-game defensive situations.

Maybe then you don’t have this situation on that final shot for Chicago, where Dangerfield zeroes in on the player in the post and lets her original assignment here get open? Not that this play is necessarily her fault, as you had multiple unguarded Sky players behind the arc. But have to wonder if this goes a little differently with someone else in there, or if having Whitcomb in over Dangerfield could have led to a rebound earlier in this possession.

And then there was the play on the other end. With 0.9 to go, the Liberty still had a chance.

And then they had Sabrina Ionescu inbound the basketball.

I get that Sabrina is your most reliable passer. But she’s also your best scorer and if she’s inbounding the ball with under one second left, she’s not going to be the one taking the final shot. I thought that was an odd decision by Sandy Brondello. Sabrina has shown that she can hit clutch baskets. You need a clutch basket.

Dano Mataya, a writer for both Nets Republic and Her Hoop Stats, asked Brondello about that final play during postgame.

(I don’t hate the play they tried to run here. Johannès runs out and sets the pick at the free throw line, then cuts toward the basket. If Courtney Vandersloot doesn’t get a hand on the ball, Johannès has a chance at an easy bucket to tie the game. Still, Ionescu should have been put in a position where she could have taken a shot.)

Next Week in Seafoam

This is getting really long. Let’s just very quickly look at the upcoming schedule:

  • Thursday: vs Mystics
  • Sunday: vs Storm

Good news: two home games.

Bad news: two home games against good teams. The Mystics are 9-6 and the Storm are 8-5, with Seattle currently on a three-game win streak.

New York did recently beat the Mystics 74-70, with Ionescu scoring 24 points in the win. The team has also lost a pair to Seattle, with the latter a 92-61 blowout loss at the end of May.

Tough week. But this will be a really good test for the Ionescu-Johannès pairing.