Growth isn’t always linear. There are stops and starts and it often feels frustrating that you haven’t made it to your end goal yet. Even with that frustration, there are many good moments you can carry with you as you work.
The New York Liberty came into the 2022 WNBA season with some modest goals. They wanted to build upon the success they had in 2021, host a playoff game at Barclays Center, and continue reconnecting with the NYC fans after being away for so long. They managed to do all three and created plenty of memorable and measurable moments along the way.
Rebecca Allen is the longest tenured member of the franchise. She’s been with the team since the 2015 season and has developed into a valuable rotation player. She’s been through arena changes, city changes, coaching changes, and ownership changes. Now that the Liberty have a stable home in Brooklyn, we asked her about the importance of being in BK and where the franchise will go from here:
“It’s absolutely massive. The crowd we played in front of for that final game just showed and spoke volumes about how much this organization has taken a step in the right direction. I think you’ve just seen it develop every single year and I think having ownership that are so invested in the players, the people, the franchise. They wanna see Brooklyn basketball take steps forward and set the standard for the league in so many ways. It’s exciting and I’ve seen it from different stages so it’s something that I’m ultimately very proud of as well. I think that when you see the young people come and step into this franchise in particular, it’s their first franchise, I don’t think that they realize how lucky they are, you know? I think that “Wow! It’s special to be a part of this.” but also it’s real exciting to see what’s gonna happen next.”
As the team made their dash to the playoffs, the fans showed up every night and gave them the extra oomph they needed to power through.
The team grew the fanbase and grew on the court. Marine Johannes and Han Xu returned to the WNBA after being away for a few seasons, and they were instant fan favorites. Han struggled with physical play from opposing bigs, but was able to put together an excellent season overall. In her postgame, Han said she would like to return to the league next year and found New York to be her home in America. Stef Dolson spoke about Han’s season and said:
Stef Dolson on Han Xu "I think she learned how to do other things than score. For Han, that's really great. In China, she's the #1 player, as she should be. But here in the W, it matters to know how to play with people. Han learned how to do that really, really well." (Q @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 25, 2022
An offseason with some reps in international play will do Han plenty of good when she makes it back to the WNBA in 2023.
As for Johannes, we can be here all day, so I’m just gonna go with the latest and greatest display of magic
WHAT A DIME BY MARINE JOHANNES pic.twitter.com/APumqwzjU8— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 18, 2022
Johannes’ ability to heat up as soon as she stepped on the court provided many a great moment and plenty of victories. Sandy Brondello has consistently given her more responsibility, and it paid off handsomely for her and the team. It’s great to have a coach that sees your potential and empowers you to be the best version of yourself.
The players on the Liberty went through a lot this season. Injuries prevented Sandy Brondello from having her full complement of players for most of the season and everyone had to stretch themselves further to make due. Players had to take on new roles, but they met the challenge head on and did their best to make good things happen. One player who overcame a ton was Crystal Dangerfield.
The year 2022 was especially tough on Dangerfield. The former Rookie of the Year started off the season with the Minnesota Lynx, but was waived right before the start of the season. That was just the beginning of her journey, and she shared it with the media during her exit interview:
Crystal Dangerfield shared her journey: “You have a vision for yourself and how you want your career to play out. And it just, it hadn’t been like that for the last two years… I didn’t want to play. I wanted to basically save my career, but I didn’t want to play.” @Winsidr pic.twitter.com/w4U9GwWBFr— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) August 25, 2022
Hearing Dangerfield’s story was incredibly emotional and also emphasized the importance of the sisterhood the Liberty players have developed. In good times and bad, we saw a team that stayed together, supported each other, and pushed each other to be as good as they can be. The team talked a lot about culture and being there for each other in that way is something that’s bigger than basketball.
On the court, Dangerfield’s importance to the 2022 Liberty can’t be stated enough. When she was inserted into the starting five on June 1 against the Indiana Fever, she gave the team another ballhandler and someone that could initiate the offense. She and Allen took on the assignment of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter players each night, and helped turn the season around after a rough start. Her best game came against the Phoenix Mercury on July 31 as she helped slow down All Star and All WNBA candidate, Skylar Diggins-Smith. Dangerfield was crucial to their turnaround and deserves all the props in the world for finding her footing in New York and reminding folks as to why she won Rookie of the Year in 2020.
However, a nagging hamstring injury slowed her down from the start of the season and she was never able to have a solid spot in the rotation. Didi spoke on the challenge this season was, and said:
“This year was very, very, very hard for me honestly. I had [Michaela Onyenwere] with me all the time, but there were times where I felt that it was a burden to even talk to her so I would just be in my room. I would be in my room, looking at myself and trying to reflect. That’s when I learned never to let your highs get you too high and your lows get you too low because if I did, it would’ve been a problem. But I didn’t, and so now I feel like it has made me who I am now, which is somebody that’s really resilient. I feel like I can take on anything, and I feel like I’ve always been like that, but there are some times where you get tested, and I think this year was a test for me. But I’m super excited to get in the gym, get healthy, and get back on the court next year. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to most this offseason. Just perfecting what I feel like was the reasons why I wasn’t on the court this year.”
Richards also spoke on the sisterhood the team developed, and an offseason where she gets to do some training, build upon her skills, and work on some new stuff will come in handy. The Liberty had an issue with athleticism this year and if Richards is at 100 percent, she’ll help solve that problem. But more importantly, having the support system on the coaching staff and with her teammates allows players like Richards to succeed and create good vibes.
Room to grow
Injuries defined Sabrina Ionescu's first two seasons in the WNBA. The ankle injury she suffered in 2020 took her a long time to recover from and it had long term consequences for her. She was dealing with a small injury at the beginning of the season as she got acclimated to the new coaching staff.
Once she got in gear, everything took off. She set a bushel of records, was named to her first All Star team, got AP All WNBA nominations, and reestablished herself as one of the game’s great players. There’s a lot riding on Ionescu’s shoulders, and she’s stepped up to meet the challenge every step of the way.
“(Beating defenders off the dribble) is definitely something I’m capable of. I just haven’t been able to train at for the last two years. I’m definitely excited to bring that next season.
I think it should have in my pocket that I continue to use. This year, I faced a lot of teams trapping and hard hedging and bringing two on the ball. If I’m able to create offense without using a ballscreen, it helps that much more.”
At exit interviews, we asked her about how excited she is to not have to rehab this fall and winter, and she told us:
Sab’s looking ahead to next season and her preparation in the off-season. pic.twitter.com/z3yCAnOdmt— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) August 25, 2022
Ionescu is probably gonna finish top five in this year’s MVP vote, and to think she has the potential to get even better should excite the heck out of Liberty fans.
We didn’t get to see much of Betnijah Laney in 2022 as a knee injury kept her sidelined for most of this season. She returned late and helped power the team to the playoffs and she was their best player in game three against the Sky. At exit interviews, Bee reflected on this year and said
A reflection on the season from pic.twitter.com/LJwCYxC1eN— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) August 25, 2022
We didn’t really get a chance to see the full vision of the Liberty this season as injuries and late overseas arrivals made for an extra complicated season. Like Laney said, if the team was at full strength for most of the season, they would probably still be playing in the playoffs right now. If the Liberty have better injury luck in 2023, they have the chance to make even more noise and break into the upper echelon of the WNBA.
Bigger and better
The Liberty achieved their goal of hosting a playoff game. However, to a person, everyone wants more. There was mention of becoming a top four seed, which becomes even more important when you consider: a) you get two home games in the first round instead of one, and b) the top four all advanced in this year’s playoffs. The biggest goal is a championship, but another step forward would be more than welcome for the good folks of Brooklyn.
- Liberty Reflect on a Season of Changes - Shauntel Lowe - New York Times