2020 WNBA Draft: How potential No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty will be the perfect match


For the first time in franchise history, the New York Liberty have the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft. For them, the timing couldn’t be better with Oregon point guard Sabrina Ionescu considered a lock to be the top choice in Friday’s draft. With a new coach in Walt Hopkins leading the way, and a new home in the Barclays Center, drafting Ionescu will have a significant impact on a rebuilding Liberty team whenever the 2020 WNBA season begins, which has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barring some unforeseen circumstance in which Ionescu doesn’t land with the Liberty, her heading to New York seems like the only certainty in the upcoming draft. Her college resume is filled with awards touting her as the best player in the nation by a mile. She also broke several records, including the one where she became the all-time leader in collegiate basketball — men’s or women’s — in triple-doubles with 26. She’s also the only basketball player in NCAA history, male or female, who has recorded 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in a college career. 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg to Ionescu’s accomplishments in her four seasons as an Oregon Duck. While it may seem like replicating that success — or even surpassing it — at the professional level seems a little far-fetched, for a generational talent like Ionescu, it definitely isn’t out of the question. With her historic college career in the books, it’s time we look ahead to what she can do at the next level. With her likely landing with the Liberty, let’s take a look at how she’ll fit with the rest of that roster on the floor, and what she’ll bring to one of the WNBA’s most storied franchises.

Ionescu’s impact in New York would be felt immediately

Last season, the Liberty had Brittany Boyd as their starting point guard for most games, and while she led the team in assists (4.6), and rated out as a reliable defender, the one piece this team was missing from its floor general was scoring. Boyd averaged just 5.3 points per game, and even though her speed allows her to get to the rim with relative ease, she was never a real threat on offense. That’s where Ionescu completely alters New York’s game.

In her senior year at Oregon, Ionescu averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds, and was a few percentage points away from recording a 50-40-90 season. With Ionescu slotted in as the starting guard for the Liberty, expect flashes of brilliance often in her rookie year. There will still be a learning curve for her, but with an elite combination of scoring, playmaking and rebounding, she will almost surely improve the Liberty in several aspects of their game immediately.

One of those areas that will see immediate improvement is 3-point shooting. The Liberty ranked eighth in the league last season in 3-point percentage (33.4 percent) on 19.4 attempts per game. Not a single starter shot north of 35 percent from deep, which makes life more difficult for five-time All-Star Tina Charles when she’s being double-teamed in the post because the Liberty don’t have more than one reliable outside shooter. Charles isn’t a lock to be on the Liberty’s roster at the start of the upcoming season as she’s been involved in trade rumors in free agency. If she does remain in New York, the former league MVP will certainly benefit from having an outside scorer like Ionescu alongside her.

In four years at Oregon, the three-time All-American shot 42.2 percent from 3-point range, establishing herself as a serious threat from deep. Whether it’s bringing the ball up the floor and pulling up from deep, sitting in the corner and launching in a defender’s face, or coming around a screen and letting the ball fly, Ionescu can get points from beyond the arc in a ridiculous amount of ways.

It’s not just her shooting from deep that will help the Liberty. Ionescu’s playmaking will elevate teammates around her (more on that later), and the 5-11 guard’s penchant for getting in the post and fighting for boards will take New York’s previously third-ranked pace (97.68) to new heights.

Her star power is perfect for The Big Apple 

Ionescu regularly trains with Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, and was mentored by NBA legend Kobe Bryant before his untimely death. She’s received respect from LeBron James, and is considered the next face of the WNBA who has the ability to increase the league’s popularity. Ionescu is also currently figuring out which shoe company to sign with between Nike, Under Armour and Puma.

As a once-in-a-generation talent, Ionescu has no shortage of charisma and has the poise that some professional athletes need years to develop. So it’s only fitting that a player of her potential gets to play in the biggest market in the country. She will have a chance to rebuild a Liberty fan base that was once a mainstay in the WNBA Finals, that played in front of a sell-out crowd inside Madison Square Garden in the ’90s. With the team moving to the Barclays Center this season, it will give the presumptive No. 1 pick and the Liberty a grander stage to play on instead of the tucked away confines of the Westchester County Center. 

Ionescu’s confidence and passion for the game will resonate with New York fans, and name recognition alone will help sell tickets for a team that ranked last in the WNBA in home attendance a season ago. Everything is lined up perfectly for the Liberty to not only boost its fan base by moving to Brooklyn and securing the top pick, but with Ionescu being the undisputed choice on the board, the product on the court will see a major increase, too.

Ionescu adds to the wealth of young talent for the Liberty

In the 2019 WNBA Draft, the Liberty selected Asia Durr with the No. 2 pick. The Louisville star was named the best guard in the country in her senior year. In 2018, New York grabbed Kia Nurse from perennial powerhouse UConn in the first round. Durr struggled with injuries in her rookie campaign, which limited her to just 18 games. Yet when she was healthy, she showed promise of becoming a building block for the Liberty’s future. Nurse averaged 13.7 points for New York last season, and was named an All-Star starter for her remarkable play. 

If Tina Charles is no longer with the Liberty at the start of the 2020 season, Durr and Nurse will be the focal point of this team’s offense. Adding Ionescu alongside that duo will give the Liberty a trio of players all on the same timeline in their development, with the capability to become a threat in the postseason for years to come. This is where Ionescu’s playmaking will shine through.

Nurse, who ranks sixth in the league in 3-point percentage among players who attempt five or more 3s a game, will benefit greatly from Ionescu’s court vision. The two-time reigning Naismith Player of the Year is a creative facilitator who can find a passing lane in the most dire situations. The beauty about her pairing with New York is that the Liberty already ranked fifth in the league in assists per game (19.6), and bringing the Oregon Duck into the fold will only elevate that strength for this team.

As far as the pairing of Ionescu and Durr in the backcourt, both players excel on and off the ball. Durr is a natural shooting guard, but her handles and speed make her a legitimate on-ball threat. If these two young guards take turns bringing the ball up the floor, be prepared for a lot of Durr assists to Ionescu out on the 3-point line, and Ionescu hitting Durr coming off a screen for her highly-effective elbow jumper.

Everyone on New York’s roster will reap the rewards of playing with Ionescu. The pick-and-roll game with her and 6-5 center Amanda Zahui B will echo the 1-2 punch of Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard at Oregon. However, Zahui B has a reliable jumper that she can stretch out to the 3-point line, something that Ionescu can get creative with in New York. 

Ionescu would fit with any team in the league, but the fit in New York seems like a perfect match. One that can take the Liberty from second to last in the WNBA in 2019, to an exciting young team with tons of upside for years to come.





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