The future of the New York Liberty is bright after making their second straight playoff berth and earning their first playoff win since 2017. Led by Coach Sandy Brondello on the sidelines and All-Star talents like Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, the Liberty could turn from a playoff threat to a title contender as the team improves on their 16-20 regular-season finish.
After Chicago eliminated New York from the playoffs with a 90-72 win on Tuesday, Ionescu didn’t let the fourth-quarter collapse stop her from having a positive outlook on her first fully healthy season in the W. The face of the franchise felt like she was at “the low point? of her pro career because she couldn’t shake the ankle pain that plagued the first two seasons of her career.
Sabrina Ionescu talks with @mariacmarino about how tonight's loss was a learning experience, how the team battled throughout the year, how the fans played such a huge role throughout the season, and what words Kobe Bryant would have for the team if he were still here today: pic.twitter.com/IfEAk1sOlW— SNY (@SNYtv) August 24, 2022
Heading into a pivotal offseason, the Liberty will be looking to continue building around Ionescu and Laney with “the right people,” per Brondello. Brondello also wants to improve the team’s defensive consistency and is a fan of the Liberty’s small-ball lineup that utilized Laney’s offensive versatility as a scorer and playmaker. After her first All-Star campaign, Ionescu will have a lot to prove as she looks to give New York an improved encore performance.
Ionescu is the first player in W history to record 500 points, 300 rebounds, and 200 assists in a single season. She’s also become the WNBA’s biggest triple-double threat after posting two triple-doubles this season, including a record-setting 30-point triple-double in July. The Oregon product is the youngest player in WNBA history to record multiple triple-doubles in their career.
“If you want me to be honest, I’m happy,” Ionescu said after New York’s season-ending loss, per Stefan Bondy. “I never thought I’d be able to complete a full season. I was at my lowest point a year ago. Obviously, I hate losing more than I love winning. But at the end of the day, I just have to look big picture and understand that a lot of people counted me out and didn’t think I’d be able to play at this level.”
“So being able to come back in my first year healthy and kind of show everybody that isn’t the full player that I am, but I’m still able to do it is something I’m excited about and something I’m going to take into the offseason. It’s fuel to the fire.”
The former All-American will head into the offseason looking to exercise the demons of scoring just 21 combined in Games 2 and 3 while turning the ball over (eight) more than she passed out dimes (seven). On Tuesday night’s Game 3 loss, Ionescu missed her final five shots of the night while Chicago ran off a decisive 16-0 run. As a result, Ionescu will likely work on becoming a better iso scorer.
“(Beating defenders off the dribble) is definitely something I’m capable of. I just haven’t been able to train at for the last two years,” Ionescu said. “I’m definitely excited to bring that next season.
“I think it should have in my pocket that I continue to use. This year, I faced a lot of teams trapping and hard hedging and bringing two on the ball. If I’m able to create offense without using a ball screen, it helps that much more.”
Ultimately, Ionescu will look to improve on the foundation she and New York have built. The Liberty has improved dramatically since winning two games in 2020. Going into her fourth season, the first-time All-Stars bar for success will likely be higher.
“The goal for me and my career is to be able to put this team in the playoff conversation every year,” she said. “And not the seventh or eighth seed. A lock. So that’s the goal next year. Not to have our backs against the wall.”