Sabrina Ionescu scouting report, Vol. 1: In-depth look at the scoring ability of WNBA Draft’s likely top pick


The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the entire sports world, including the upcoming 2020 WNBA Draft, which will now be held virtually. While plans and logistics had to change, at least one thing has remained the same: Sabrina Ionescu will be the No. 1 overall pick.

A 5-foot-11 guard out of Oregon, Ionescu likely would have been the top pick last year, but decided to return to school in the hopes of capturing a national championship. That obviously didn’t happen, as the NCAA Tournament was canceled, but Ionescu put together yet another tremendous season. 

Averaging 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 1.4 steals, while shooting 51.8 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point land, Ionescu led the Ducks to a 31-2 record, and a Pac-12 Tournament championship.

She was named the Most Outstanding Player for that event, and over the course of the season became the first player in NCAA history — man or woman — to record 2,000 career points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. 

Those are the broad strokes, and at this point are pretty well known by college basketball and WNBA fans. But what about the details? What allowed Ionescu to put up those kind of numbers and establish herself as the expected No. 1 pick? 

Over the course of the week, we’ll take a closer look at different aspects of Ionescu’s game, diving into the film and breaking down her ability on both sides of the ball. First up, it’s the most important part of the game: Putting the ball in the basket. 

Pick-and-roll scoring

Ionescu is a talented passer and did an impressive job getting her teammates involved at Oregon, but we’ll have more on her playmaking skills later in the week. For now, we’ll focus on how she used the pick-and-roll to create her own offense.

If there’s one thing you can criticize about Ionescu’s pro prospects, it’s that she’s not some unbelievable athlete; she’s not going to size you up in isolation and use quickness to get past a defender. Instead, she prefers to operate out of the pick-and-roll, where she can put her skill and IQ on full display.

Per Synergy Sports, over 40 percent of Ionescu’s offensive possessions — times where she looked to shoot — last season were pick-and-rolls, and she destroyed teams to the tune of 1.053 points per possession. 

Most of the time, Ionescu is looking to take a pull-up jumper, either from 3, or in the mid-range, and for good reason; she’s just an unbelievable shooter. For the season, she took 98 off-the-dribble jumpers, and shot a ridiculous 56.1 percent on them. If you give her any space, it’s over, and even if you don’t, she showed time and again that she can make tough shots. (We’ll focus on the 3-point shooting later.)

But if the defense overcommitted to make sure she couldn’t get an open jumper, Ionescu made them pay. She has a nice little in-between game, using her smarts to keep her defender on her hip, and a soft touch to drop in floaters before the big can arrive. This shot will serve her well at the next level. 

And if she spotted an open lane, she wasn’t afraid to take it all the way to the rim. In particular, her ability to finish with her weaker left hand in traffic was noticeable.

Because of the way she can shoot off the dribble, Ionescu is just a menace in the pick-and-roll. You either have to live with jumpers and hope she misses, or overplay and open up the lane for her to finish or pick you apart with her passing. 

Going against longer, quicker, more physical defenders in the WNBA will be a challenge for Ionescu, but with her smarts and skills, she shouldn’t have too much trouble adjusting. 

3-point shooting

The WNBA hasn’t embraced the 3-pointer quite like the NBA, but being able to knock down outside shots is still a crucial skill, and it’s one Ionescu excels at. Consider: She shot 39.2 percent on 3s this season, and it was by far the worst shooting season she had in college. 

For her career, she went 329 of 779 from downtown, good for 42.2 percent. Most importantly, Ionescu showed she could shoot it well not only in catch-and-shoot situations, but off the dribble as well.

That flexibility will be key as she heads to a New York team with a number of other talented guards. While Ionescu is at her best with the ball in her hands, she’s more than capable of playing off the ball and spacing the floor. 

Here’s a look at some of her long-range shooting. She’s not Sami Whitcomb by any means, but in catch-and-shoot situations she has a pretty quick release. 

And then, off the dribble. If there’s one thing that’s going to really separate Ionescu at the next level, it’s this ability. There just aren’t that many players who can consistently knock down 3s off the bounce, and it puts so much pressure on the defense. 

Drawing fouls

“I’m definitely a pass-first point guard,” Ionescu told ESPN earlier this year. But while she might not have to take on the scoring load she did at Oregon, the Liberty aren’t drafting her just to pass the ball and run their offense. 

In order to be a top player in this league you need to be able to score consistently. And in order to do that, you need to get to the free throw line. Those easy points are crucial for not only personal stats, but team success as well. 

Among the top-15 scorers in the WNBA last season, only three averaged fewer than 3.3 free throw attempts per game, and that was actually a bit of an outlier. In 2018, the top-15 scorers all averaged at least 3.5 attempts, and in 2017, there was only one who averaged less than 3.7. You get the picture.

Ionescu isn’t a 3-point specialist, but she shoots a ton of jumpers, which is naturally going to limit her ability to get to the line. Despite that, she actually got there quite a bit earlier in her college career, and while her attempts fell to a collegiate low in her senior season, she still attempted a respectable 2.7 free throws per game. 

The thing you’ll notice is that for as many jumpers as she shoots, she is absolutely not afraid of contact. In fact, she’s a pretty physical and feisty player at times. 

Again, Ionescu is never going to lead the league in this category because of how she plays, but if she can hover around three attempts per game as a point guard, that would be very respectable. Plus, when she gets there, she’s automatic, shooting 92.1 percent as a senior, and 85.1 percent for her collegiate career. 





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