The great thing about growth is that when you improve, everyone gets better around you as well. You’re making gains, your peers are making gains, and the results start to appear. Even though you’re not at your very best, you’re on the road there and can take a moment to appreciate the steps you’ve taken to get here.
In June, Sabrina Ionescu was named to the first All Star Game of her career. And on Tuesday afternoon, she was awarded the WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for June. In 11 games, Ionescu averaged 19.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.3 steals on a .431/.341/.977 shooting split in 34 minutes a night. Ionescu’s great month helped the Liberty dig out of their 1-7 May as the team went 7-4 in June and are solidly back in the playoff chase.
Ionescu is the fourth player in Liberty history to win Player of the Month, joining Tina Charles, Cappie Pondexter, and Epiphany Prince.
Ionescu has faced a lot of pressure since the 2020 Draft when she was drafted first overall, and as Heaven Hill of Her Hoop Stats explained:
After having a storied career at Oregon and being drafted to the media capital of the world, she’s had to deal with nonstop pressure. Once you tack on the criticism that comes with the constant centering she’s had to deal with, you get a recipe that can lead to players reaching their breaking point. With Sabrina, though, she’s just rolled with the punches and continues to get better and better.
The pressure on franchise players is always present, and Ionescu has held it down even amidst the injuries that slowed her down in 2020 and 2021. Having a franchise player that’s locked in and committed to getting better will give fans in Barclays Center a team and star player to be proud of.
There are a lot of excellent Ionescu plays and moments this month, so let’s focus on four plays
That Ionescu pass to Crystal Dangerfield in particular spoke to the improved chemistry the team has developed in June. CD is a good cutter and one of Sandy Brondello’s big keys to the team is getting to the basket and taking paint shots. Having that extra ballhandler has lessened the workload on her shoulders, given the team another option to orchestrate the offense (which was even more important due to Didi Richards’ hamstring injury) and allowed Ionescu to focus more on scoring. Ionescu is a good finisher at the rim and excellent free throw shooter, so the more downhill pressure she can create, the more the offense will continue to percolate.
With teams focusing more attention on the Liberty star, she’s had to make adjustments to stay ahead of the competition. After her outstanding game against the Minnesota Lynx on June 7th, we asked Ionescu about facing the various defenses thrown at her, and she said:
“I think just the experience of actually facing these defenses and having to figure out ways to continue to exploit whatever they’re doing and not really letting the defense dictate what I wanna do and getting people involved and attacking. It’s more using it to my advantage. If they wanna trap, alright, we’re gonna exploit the fact that there’s two on the ball. If they wanna hard hedge, whatever it is, I think it’s just taking it one by one and really processing that, slowing the game down, and not letting myself get sped up, and I think the whole team has really helped me with that. Whether it’s Crystal at the one or people flashing and getting open. It’s been a team effort, but it’s been really nice to have actually gone through so many defenses because I feel like I’m getting better and being able to exploit them as an individual.”
Liberty fans have a lot to be excited for, and if Ionescu continues playing at this level, the team has a chance to make some noise in the playoffs for many seasons to come.