July 5, 2023 

Locked on Women’s Basketball: Breanna Stewart and the New York Liberty are just fine 

Howard and Jackie talk all things New York Liberty — 11-4 record through 15 games

It’s time for another Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast episode. The hot takes burying the New York Liberty are coming so fast and furious you’d be forgiven for not knowing that Breanna Stewart is playing at expectations. The team is second in the league in net rating at a level most champions reach and sit with an 11-4 record through 15 games. Host Howard Megdal and The Next‘s Liberty beat reporter Jackie Powell sift through the data and Jackie’s excellent reporting to get a sense of both who the Liberty are and who they’re going to become.

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Jackie talks about the newcomers and how they performed in the Liberty’s first game against Vegas:

“I think what I learned, so when you say the newcomers to me, that means four people, I think and I hope I’m not forgetting about anyone, and I’m looking at the roster right now as we speak. Okay, I guess you could technically say five people. So who I’m talking about is Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones, Kayla Thornton and Nyara Sabally. That’s sort of who we’re talking about when we say newcomers. Breanna Stewart is putting up an MVP season. I mean, I do not think it can be more or less anything than that. If you look at what she’s doing this year, I do have the stats right here. So okay, 22 points per game. Oh, she’s almost at a double-double. Oh, man, she’s averaging 9.8 rebounds per game and 4.1 assists.

I think one of the things that really stood out to me is that this team is still learning how to play around Breanna Stewart because it’s very clear. And I would say this to almost everyone in that as someone who has covered this team since 2019. I am not used to a player like Breanna Stewart; I am not used to covering someone like her. But there’s not a lot that she can’t do on the basketball court. She does not have a lot of weaknesses on the basketball court. And it’s one thing to be covering the league more broadly, and you sort of understand who she is and what she does. It’s another thing to watch it with your own eyes in the arena.

And that’s something that has really opened my eyes. I think when it comes to the other newcomers, Courtney Vandersloot obviously, got an all-star nod. She’s leading the league in assists. She’s doing sort of, I don’t want to say exactly, but she’s doing a lot of what the Liberty thought she would do, which is okay; she’s going to be someone to organize the offense and make things a little bit easier for Sabrina Ionescu, which I think she has. Although if you look at the shooting splits, there may not be where you’d want them to be.”

Jackie talks about the Liberty’s one-on-one defense:

“I think that the game against the Las Vegas Aces really put that out on blast, and I will never forget this exchange. Sandy Brondello postgame, she was asked a previous question and she sort of said, Yeah, we were very much so exposed. And so then I took that one phrase, and I was like, Okay, well, I’m going to have her tell me exactly what she thought was exposed about the team. Have her put it in her own words. And so I asked, I said, so what was exposed exactly tonight? And she said you could tell me, Jackie, it’s not a question for Einstein. And then I said, no, but I want you to tell me. So then she calmed down and was like, Yeah, I mean, our one on one defense, they really expose that and how that’s something that isn’t one of our main strengths. And based on how this roster was constructed, we knew that.

Okay, there are players guard wing players on this team that are really good defenders that can fill in those gaps. And they have a post unit that also defends very well, when you think of Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart, and when you think about those two, sort of roaming the paint, and then being able to rotate and move to spots, to make sure that driving lanes are not as easy for Kelsey Plum, in the case of Sabrina Ionescu, who, for her defense is very much so a work in progress. But it seems very clear to me that she cares about this. It’s not like she does not care about it. It’s that it’s a little harder for her because of how her physique is and how she plays. And Sandy Brondello’s approach to that is they’re going to keep working on it. They’re going to keep giving her the tools that she needs to be successful.

And she’s going to be able to learn from someone like Courtney Vandersloot, who, over time, became a better defender. And for Courtney Vandersloot, sure, she’s quicker and comes off screens a bit quicker. But a lot of Courtney Vandersloot’s defense is just being able to read situations with how she thinks the game. And so if we know anything about Sabrina, that is also another one of her strengths, how she sees the floor.”

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