After a critical ankle damage in her rookie season and a considerably hesitant second 12 months, Sabrina Ionescu reached in her third 12 months the type of heights everybody anticipated of her, and her freedom is again in the WNBA playoffs.
No. 7 Liberty will face No. 2 Chicago Sky – the defending champions – on Wednesday for the primary sport of a first-round best-of-three sequence.
When the Liberty drafted Ionescu No. 1 general in 2020, hopes had been excessive. The crew had been horrible for 2 seasons, however Ionescu had been a transcendent star in oregonwhere she had a NCAA document 26 triple-doubles. She appeared just like the type of participant who might rework a crew nearly on her personal.
In solely her second sport in the WNBA, she scored 33 factors, together with six 3-pointers, added 7 rebounds and seven assists, and thrilled followers going ahead.
That future rapidly turned bitter when, in her third sport, she suffered a critical ankle damage that stored her out for the remainder of the season.
Without her, and with out their veteran star Tina Charleswho had been traded, the crew was a catastrophe, ending 2-20.
The crew bounced again in 2021 and snuck into the playoffsbut it was a gaggle effort led by Betnijah Laney, Natasha Howard (after coming back from damage), Sami Whitcomb and Michaela Onyenwere, who was named rookie of the 12 months, which pushed them there. Although Ionescu had a full season, his goalscoring sport was a bit under what one would count on.
Not that she didn’t assist the crew, nevertheless it was in a extra supportive position: regardless of being among the many league’s help leaders, she averaged solely 11.7 factors per sport and confronted persistent ankle ache. She was usually the third or fourth scoring choice.
But in her third season, Ionescu got here ahead and he or she was named to her first All-Star crew. She improved in almost each class, enjoying extra minutes, capturing the next share, and growing her rebounds, assists, and steals whereas reducing her turnovers.
Notably, she took on an even bigger position in assault, capturing round 14 occasions per sport to guide the crew, in comparison with just below 10 occasions per sport final season, which led her to attain a season excessive. crew of 17.4 factors per sport. Playing in all 36 video games helped her rank in the league’s prime 10 in factors, assists and rebounds, the one participant to take action. And his bouncing numbers are significantly spectacular since she is Liberty’s principal ball handler.
Ionescu additionally made historical past in her third season, changing into the primary participant to document a triple-double in three quarters and, individually, the primary participant to attain a minimum of 30 factors in a triple-double. Those two triple-doubles tied her with Chicago’s Candace Parker for essentially the most profession triple-doubles, with three.
Ionescu’s step ahead, together with Howard’s availability all season, helped the Liberty return to the playoffs and overcome dropping Laney for a lot of the season to a knee damage.
Last season, the Liberty misplaced their knockout playoff sport, 83-82, to the Phoenix Mercury. Ionescu had 14 factors and 11 assists, however she missed a desperation 3-pointer from 30 toes on the buzzer that might have received the sport.
The crew has an opportunity to rectify that in the primary spherical of the playoffs this 12 months, which shall be best-of-three as an alternative of single elimination. But even with Laney again, the percentages are lengthy. Eight of the WNBA’s 12 groups advance to the playoffs, leaving room for groups that completed below .500, together with Liberty (16-20).
A sport in opposition to Fort Sky (26-10) with All-Stars reminiscent of parkerKahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot and Emma Meesseman, and with the primary two video games in Chicago, shall be powerful for the Liberty.
The Liberty is among the WNBA’s eight founding franchises and the one one nonetheless in its hometown that has by no means received the WNBA title. Its final decade has been significantly fallow, with just one journey to the semifinals or convention finals.
Like any crew, the Liberty might want to construct expertise, draft shrewdly and take just a few breaks to transition into championship high quality. But greater than the rest, they must depend on Ionescu to proceed enjoying on the stellar stage she has achieved this 12 months. Or ideally, provided that she’s nonetheless solely 24, to get even higher.