This is a basketball writer’s dream, mostly because it never happens! On August 13th, I wrote that the New York Liberty were approaching do-or-die territory with Marine Johannès.
because Marine Johannès is playing well, though. In fact, it’s been the opposite for much of this season, her third in the WNBA and with the New York Liberty, but especially so over the last 15 games. In that timeframe, the Frenchwoman is scoring 5.1 points a game and taking 5.5 shots a game. The shooting splits are as you’d expect with a statistic like that, at 33/31/75, only made worse an assist-to-turnover ratio under one.
Rather, earlier in August, the Liberty’s historically dominant starting five was supported by a non-garbage-time bench rotation of the solid, yet defensive-minded Kayla Thornton, a situational big returning from injury in Stefanie Dolson returning from injury, and the aforementioned Johannès.
The former two are who they are. For Thornton, that means being a steady presence who will occasionally hit a three but always play tough defense, rebound the ball, and give a hard foul. Excellent!
Johannès, however, has already proven herself as a high-level offensive talent in the W, if not a perfect one. Which is why her season up to August 13th was so frustrating for a New York squad that would eventually need some of her offensive firepower off the bench.
Two days later, Johannès led all scorers in the Liberty’s Commissioner’s Cup victory with 17 points. Later that week, she carried the sea foam for stretches of a victory against the Phoenix Mercury, hitting four triples en route to 18 points.
Finally, in another Liberty victory against the Las Vegas Aces on Monday, one that officially turned the race for the WNBA’s one-seed into just that, Johannès delivered the highlight of the night:
Aside from being a typically hysterical MJ highlight, it was confirmation that her confidence is back, her conscience gone.
It was also, frankly, a poor offensive possession for the Liberty, and a misuse of Johannès’ skills. She’s creating from a standstill in the middle of the floor, with little ball movement around her, pounding the rock for five seconds. Now that Johannès is once again feeling herself, she and her Libs can get away with these possessions more frequently, but they are not why she’s balling again.
“I think it’s just continuing to have, like, a 0.5 mentality. You know, if you don’t have it, you move it.” That’s what Breanna Stewart (referencing the offensive principle of making a decision within 0.5 seconds) said when asked about the most important improvement the team has made over the season.
It’s also been the most important improvement that Marine Johannès has made over the last two weeks, and the Liberty have helped her do it. An object in motion stays in motion, right? Well, New York has been springing Johannès into advantage situations off of screens and handoffs lately, allowing her to catch the ball while already on the move, and it’s paid major dividends:
Speaking of motion, it’s what’s really popped for Johannès in recent play. She’s been making fantastic cuts without the ball, and it’s allowed her to fit into any Liberty lineup, whether next to Courtney Vandersloot or Sabrina Ionescu, who’s come out of the All-Star break handling the ball much more, and even in a funky, three-guard lineup that made a surprise appearance in the Commissioner’s Cup.
Ionescu and Vandersloot both possess staggering court vision, and each are more than capable of making a French connection when Johannés gives them the opportunity:
That last bucket in particular, a result of a flare-out to the arc in transition, is just cruel offense.
“I think I’m just more comfortable on the court with my teammates,” said Johannès of this development. “It was not really easy for me at the beginning, but now I think I know my teammates better...I’m just trying to figure out a way to be efficient on the court and help my team as much as I can.”
And comfortable she is. How can we tell? (Besides shooting a ridiculous 14-22 from deep, including the Cup game, since August 13th?) MJ is avoiding the big pitfall she repeatedly fell into earlier this season, picking up the ball far too early on drives:
Aside from passing up open threes, the biggest problem for Marine Johannés right now is that she's picking up her dribble *way* too early. Providing minimal rim pressure right now: pic.twitter.com/GjqYIirqEN— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) August 7, 2023
Compare the above to what looks like a completely different player below, one that plants ten toes in the lane and then makes a decision:
Marine Johannès isn’t playing more thanks to her newfound success. She’s still rocking a steady 18 minutes a game in the second half of August, just as she was previously. Her usage rate remains largely unchanged.
But the New York Liberty’s ultra-motion, ultra-ball-sharing offense has finally extended to their third guard. Johannès is getting into the paint with the ball, moving without it, and all the while making quick decisions. Many of which are shots. When you can shoot it like she can, well, those are good decisions.
“There’s not a lot of room for error against this team,” said Las Vegas Head Coach Becky Hammon her squad’s loss to the Liberty on Monday. “Too much firepower. And Johannès comes in, hits us again for eight quick [points]. She does her work dirty; she’s like a little assassin, a sniper that comes in, ‘bang, bang.’ And she’s out before you even see her.”