March 5, 2023
How signing Marine Johannès helps the Liberty aim even higher
Johannès is expected to report to New York following the French League playoffs
When the New York Liberty were in the process of taking every action they could this offseason to assemble the best team possible, Marine Johannès was always a part of the equation. Between the pitch to Jonquel Jones when New York reminded Jones of how prolific of a passer the French national is, to Courtney Vandersloot calling out “how special” the Liberty’s assortment of “young talent” is, Johannès has served as a selling point to help bring together the roster that the Liberty will have in 2023.
And late Thursday afternoon, the Liberty’s team account tweeted a bunch of emojis Breanna Stewart style, to try to tease the transaction that General Manager Jonathan Kolb and his team had made. The ultimate giveaway was the baguette bread emoji.
After speculation and even public comments from Johannès herself, the 28-year-old human highlight reel and modern-day Statue of Liberty officially signed on to return to New York. The league’s transaction page identified the signing as a training camp contract, which Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats clarified is what happens when a reserved qualified offer is signed. Johannès, like Han Xu, will earn $62,285 in 2023, the minimum for a player with two years of WNBA service.
Johannès’ arrival in New York on June 8 last season helped transform the Liberty from a team struggling to get into the playoff picture to a playoff team that took the defending champions at the time to a third game. With Betnijah Laney out for over two months during the 2022 regular season, New York didn’t have a three-level shot creator that wasn’t reliant upon screening and pick-and-roll actions. New York didn’t have a dynamic playmaker who could take pressure off Sabrina Ionescu and could get the Liberty’s homegrown guard off the ball. Enter Johannès.
|Three-point %||Assists per game||Points per game||Net Rating||Assist %||Assist to turnover ratio||True Shooting %|
|Before her arrival||30%||17.9||74.1||-9.1||67.8%||1.06||51.3%|
|After her arrival||37.6%||22.1||82.4||0||73.7%||1.49||55.7%|
Would the Liberty have even had the opportunity to host their first playoff game at Barclays Center last August if Johannès wasn’t on the roster? It was her jaw-dropping pass to Natasha Howard on August 17 that gave the Liberty the momentum to beat the Chicago Sky on the road. That is a moment that new Liberty guard Vandersloot probably still remembers.
Call it the MJ effect. She made multiple impressions on her future teammates throughout the 2022 regular season and playoffs.
Stewart probably also still remembers when Johannès scored 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting including 5-for-8 from three during Sue Bird’s final WNBA game in New York. And Jones ought to still remember how well Johannès reads and reacts in a two-player game.
On June 22 during a game at Mohegan Sun when Johannès scored 11 points and dished out five assists, New York’s highlight-churning-guard came off a Stefanie Dolson screen in the first quarter and was able to pinpoint a no-look pass to Dolson while Jones was hovering over Johannès. Dolson picked up the ball and spun on a pirouette around Alyssa Thomas to score. Jones takes up space as a defender and the French guard found a way to bounce the ball parallel to where Jones’ right leg was stationed.
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Having Johannès not only on the roster but on the floor will allow New York to have a supercharged version of that three-guard lineup that head coach Sandy Brondello implemented last season which included Johannès at the wing, Ionescu off the ball, and Crystal Dangerfield serving as the primary ball handler. Imagine that but with Vandersloot instead of Dangerfield who isn’t only a little bit taller at 5’9, but is the All-Time leading passer in the WNBA among all active players and third behind Sue Bird and Ticha Penicheiro.
But amid all of the European flare and statistical improvement that her presence led to, the issue with the 21st century’s edition of the Statue of Liberty has always been her availability. Johannès was signed to a two-year deal before a global pandemic took hold of the world and delayed her return to New York for almost three years due to multiple French league and French National team commitments. She arrived in June last season because that’s when she could. And the Liberty had to trade a player so she could sign her contract and be activated.
There was some speculation that her availability would be an issue once again this season due to not only a French league season but also the EuroBasket championships (June 15-June 25), which the French national team has historically required its players to stay in France to train for. I wrote previously that there are two options: one situation where Johannès misses around seven games and another when that number doubles to 14.
A league source told The Next that the Liberty expect Johannès to report to New York following the French League playoffs which could end by May 22 at the latest. She will skip the national team’s preparation prior to EuroBasket and will play with the Liberty for two weeks before meeting the National team in Slovenia and Israel. New York isn’t still sure if they will go with 11 or 12 players on the roster, but that shouldn’t impact Johannès. The Liberty have the option to temporarily suspend her contract prior to her arrival and during EuroBasket, and she will still count toward their minimum of 11 rostered players.
Johannès’ value to the New York Liberty organization was communicated quite loudly and clearly when head coach Brondello was spotted in France on Feb. 4 for LDLC ASVEL’s game against French league opponent Villeneuve d’Ascq. While even before the visit, the Liberty were pretty confident in her desire to return to New York for 2023. But, some face time with Brondello solidified how much the organization also cares for Johannès the person rather than just the highlight reel. Those discussions and quality time opened up opportunities for the Liberty to work with Johannès and begin to engage with her on how she can be in on the team’s plan for the future. This includes finding ways for her to not be impacted by prioritization come 2024 and play on an overseas team that gets her to New York on time.
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But Johannès doesn’t just have value to the Liberty. By virtue of being on the Liberty and being on the New York stage, her presence also matters a great deal to the league and its growth. “The pass” in Chicago accrued over 782,000 views on a video posted by the league on Twitter. And this doesn’t include the number of views that came from different reposts on other social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
In addition to this new era of New York Liberty and WNBA basketball being defined by the imminent rivalry with the Las Vegas Aces, New York also hopes that this new era reinforces the WNBA as a global brand.
“We’re trying to elevate the level,” Brondello said during Stewart and Vandersloot’s intro presser. “We’re trying to promote our game and create those rivalries. I think that’s great for the WNBA you know, it hopefully more fans can come and watch us and we’re like selling it. We’re going global.”
In that moment on the podium, Stewart turned to the press in the audience and she muttered that word to herself out loud and to Vandersloot: “global.” She smiled and so did Vandersloot next to her. “We’re not just thinking about just America,” Brondello continued. “I think about going global and getting the best players.”
That’s what Johannès represents as well. She’s a vehicle for intercontinental exposure and is another one of the best in the world.
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.