One place the Liberty seem set is on the level guard place. Although Ionescu performed solely three video games earlier than an ankle harm ended her season, she shortly displayed the advanced offensive repertoire that turned her Oregon team right into a juggernaut, and her 33-point effort in opposition to the Dallas Wings served discover that her manufacturing interprets to the subsequent degree. When Ionescu went down, Layshia Clarendon, a former All-Star, took over level guard duties and offered veteran management. With Clarendon working the offense, the Liberty proved they may play on the velocity Coach Walt Hopkins preaches, ending second in the league in pace.
Ionescu’s return will give the Liberty much more choices. Her pick-and-roll abilities juiced the offense at Oregon, the place she collaborated with rolling bigs like Ruthy Hebard (now with the Chicago Sky) and Satou Sabally (now with Dallas).
It’s straightforward to image the crew round Ionescu taking type. Kia Nurse, whose season-long capturing droop in 2020 got here after her breakthrough All-Star 2019 season, appears more likely to return to type. The perimeter seems to be that Hopkins’s system generates must be extra fruitful with the sharpshooting of Rebecca Allen of Australia and Marine Johannes of France, each of whom opted out of the 2020 season over considerations about touring to america in the course of the pandemic.
Bigs: Natasha Howard or Nneka Ogwumike?
The crew’s major heart from final 12 months, Amanda Zahui B., is a free agent. Kiah Stokes, who lately signed an extension with the Liberty, is environment friendly across the rim however struggled from 3-point vary for a crew that gave everybody the inexperienced mild to shoot from deep.
The market forward affords a number of methods to deal with this deficiency, whereas probably pairing the youthful Ionescu with a veteran massive with championship expertise. Natasha Howard, who was a bench participant on Minnesota Lynx championship groups after which a significant a part of the Seattle Storm title winners in 2018 and 2020, is a free agent. She shot 35 p.c from 3-point vary final 12 months, whereas feasting on inside defenders worn down from making an attempt to cease Breanna Stewart. However Howard was the fourth offensive possibility in Seattle, after Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, and she or he might resolve to hitch the Liberty and develop into extra of a focus. She averaged solely 7.5 shot makes an attempt per recreation in 2020.
Then there’s Nneka Ogwumike, the longtime Los Angeles Sparks ahead. Like Howard, she is a free agent, and like Howard, she was comparatively low on the pecking order in Sparks Coach Derek Fisher’s offense final 12 months, averaging a career-low 9.3 shot makes an attempt per recreation. She’s additionally the president of the W.N.B.A. gamers’ union and, with a transfer to New York, would discover herself a subway trip away from its headquarters.
Whereas Seattle and Los Angeles have given Howard and Ogwumike core designations, that solely ensures compensation for the groups ought to the gamers pressure their method out. That was how Charles and Diggins-Smith landed with new groups final season. A lineup of Ionescu and both Howard or Ogwumike, with the opposite returning Liberty gamers like Nurse and Allen, can be the framework for a real contender.