The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, September 18, 2019
Why Sabrina Ionescu matters — Hear from Derek Fisher — Must-click women's basketball links
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In the moments leading up to Tuesday night’s WNBA Draft Lottery, every single Liberty fan I know made the same assumption, never mind the 44.2% odds in their favor: somehow, the Liberty wouldn’t get the pick.
It’s understandable. This has long been a team that has finished close. The Shot, of course, came in a 1999 WNBA Finals that the Liberty ultimately lost. They’ve been to the finals three times, finishing second each time. Their last three trips to the playoffs, they lost deciding games at home. Even last season, the Liberty finished 7-27, and ultimately drafted second, behind a Las Vegas Aces team much further along in its rebuild. They’ve never picked first overall.
But the Liberty are finally first at something, and it sets them up nicely to be first at everything soon. Sabrina Ionescu does everything the current crop of Liberty guards does not. She protects the ball exceptionally well. She sees the floor and finds her teammates at a generational level. She’s a plus-plus three-point shooter, she limits mistakes, she is like an antidote to the team’s point guard play since… well, it’s been a long time. (Where’d you go, Becky Hammon?)
Ionescu is also someone who puts on a show on the court. And so, the addition of Ionescu is merely the latest sign that everything appears to be coming together for Joe Tsai’s Liberty. You know what else belongs to Joe Tsai now? Barclays Center, with word of the transaction going through getting announced today. All that remains is confirmation that Tsai will be treating this like a long-term growth play, and the WNBA will have its top pick paired with a megastar in Tina Charles and a talented group of supporting players, at the shiny new arena with easy public transportation in the five boroughs.
The level of exposure this would bring to the media capital of the world and, let’s be clear, to the league at large cannot be dismissed. It even allows for the reversal of that several-years-old talking point on WNBA attendance, a team finally moving to a bigger venue with an eye on creating a truly major league experience.
So Ionescu to New York matters, and in ways that extend far beyond what it will do for Tina Charles’ efficiency (though very much that, too). It was a big win in a macro sense for women’s basketball.
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This week in women’s basketball
Love to see Mike Prada writing WNBA, and this look at A’ja Wilson/Liz Cambage usage is a good example why.
Also Prada: why isn’t Jonquel Jones considered a star? (I sure think she is.)
Lindsay Gibbs takes you inside the Sparks-Shock brawl from 2008. It’s as good as I knew it would be.
Speaking of Lindsay, this, on Elena Delle Donne, explains her further rise really well.
Shea Serrano spent 57 minutes with Candace Parker.
A terrific deep dive on Jonquel Jones by… oh, Lindsay Gibbs again.
Tina Charles was on “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. Call me Peter Sagal, I have lots of other WNBA players you should book next. Oh, and hire Layshia Clarendon to host “Weekend Edition”.
Good explainer from Alexa Philippou on how the Sun got this way.
Doug Feinberg caught up with Maya Moore, who is doing wonderful things, just not on the basketball court.
Beautiful Ava Wallace meditation on Kristi Toliver and dealing with injury.
Fun Jenn Hatfield look at how the Mystics spent their double bye.
The Rookie of the Year, Napheesa Collier, visited Around the Rim.
Kurtis Zimmerman re-watched Game 2 of the 1999 WNBA Finals, and provided 20 years on insights.
I wrote about Courtney Williams’ singular midrange game.
Don’t miss Ben Hochman on Sophie Cunningham, a topic he visits often, and so well.
Loved this Ramona Shelburne look at Derek Fisher.
And Vicki L. Friedman has the great news: Joanne Boyle brought her daughter home.
Stat of the week
Did you know in the game Teresa Weatherspoon made “The Shot”, she made three field goals all day? You would if you looked at her 1999 gamelog, courtesy of Basketball Reference!
Five at The IX: Derek Fisher
(I thought Fisher had some interesting insights about his team, and what it’ll take to win this series, after Game 1. Smart money is on whoever wins Game 2 taking the best-of-five.)
Question: Hi Derek, I’m Molly Yanity with The Athletic, this was such a close game, I mean, and it could have gone any way. What was the break in your opinion that made the difference?
Derek: It’s always hard to pinpoint one kind of breaking point in the game but I felt the start of the third quarter for us, after fighting really hard to have a three point lead going into the half, we didn’t start the third quarter the right way and they scored nine points in a minute and 23 seconds, on things that weren’t difficult for us to cover.
We just didn’t start with the right type of sense of urgency and I thought the momentum turned a little bit at that point but again, it was still a back and forth game until the last couple minutes.
Question: Howard Megdal with High Post Hoops. When you’re defending Courtney Williams, just the fact that she’s not strictly speaking, a three point shooter, someone who goes to the rim, but she can pull up and does pull up anywhere on the court, how does that complicate a defensive game plan going up against her?
Derek: I don’t think it complicates the game plan it’s just, I think her speed, her ability to go left or right, and she’s, every possession she’s aggressive and looking to attack. So for a player defending her, you don’t really have a chance to rest. That’s hard to cover over the course of 40 minutes and so at different points during the game, you could be doing a good job, and then for a couple minutes, because of her ability to create her own shot, she can go on a little bit of a run and… she was great tonight. We were not surprised by that.
I’m actually comfortable with 17 field goal attempts with her 15 points. So I don’t think that that’s going to beat us over the course of the series if we can limit our unforced errors in terms of our turnovers, and then just do a better job in time of staying in front of her.
Question: Alexa Philippou with the Hartford Current. Alyssa Thomas came out and scored 13 first quarter points and although she able to be limited a little bit there on out, she still was a huge problem with rebounds, steals, and assists too. What made her so difficult to contain in all these different aspects of the game?
Derek: Well I mean, she played 40 minutes and she plays hard every minute that she’s on the court. So, I think that’s what makes her difficult to play against. Again, she doesn’t really take many possessions off and she’s always coming at you on the offensive end when she has the ball she’s pressing glass and then defensively she’s always a reaction rebounder, trapping pick and rolls, et cetera.
She deserves a lot of credit for her performance tonight as well. She played 40 minutes and she played all game and to play as hard as she did, you have to tip your cap.
Question: Derek, Bill Paxton, Los Angeles Times. Were you missing that third scorer tonight? I mean, you got a lot of points from two players, but did you need that third scorer to kind of, fight back with them?
Derek: Yeah I mean, we needed some additional scoring I’m sure. I mean, we have a third and fourth person that’s capable of scoring points but we couldn’t sustain it and particularly from our backcourt, you know, we need to figure out how to help them get more high efficient shots over the course of the game.
Ogwumike and Candace were impeccable in terms of scoring and rebounding but we for sure need some support in the backcourt and I thought that Syndey Wiese was better, way to come off and give us some good minutes and do some good things for us but, just in terms of our shooting in the backcourt, it wasn’t good. There wasn’t as much tonight.