That the New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu is a sharp shooter is not a revelation.
A career 37 percent 3-point shooter, she having a career year from beyond the arc shooting 44 percent. She also won the 3-point contest at All-Star weekend with a record 37 points in the final round.
In August, Ionescu went above and beyond her generational 3-point shooting ability. She went 38-for-81 from 3 in the month, good for 46.9 percent. She also shot above 50 percent from deep in matchups against the Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky.
So what makes Ionescu such a threat from downtown? How can you slow her down and disrupt her effectiveness as a shooter? Let’s take a closer look.
How Ionescu attacks
When in rhythm, Ionescu is an unstoppable force of nature. She is unafraid to pull up from 35-plus feet and is more than capable of hitting that shot, uncontested or not. And if you allow her to take a corner 3 or an open jumper with her feet set? You might as well just set up your offense, because it’s going in.
Ionescu works best off the ball, running to her spots during a fastbreak, receiving a dribble hand-off and coming off screens. It’s her constant movement, her ability to reposition herself and her quick release that together make her difficult to guard. It takes a team effort to stay with her and not lose track of her location on the floor.
So, with Ionescu shooting 44 percent from the field, the green light to pull up from anywhere and teammates who know how to get her open, how do you stop her?
With a player as polished and mechanical as Ionescu, you have to find a way to disrupt those mechanics. You need to rush her shot, force her to redirect her original intent and crowd her space. In the examples above, the Aces’ Kelsey Plum did just that. Coming from behind and disrupting Ionescu’s follow through enough to force her into an awkward release and cause her feet to land too wide. Plum also did the savvy veteran move of keeping her hands up while she moved forward, deterring the refs from calling a foul on the play.
Ionescu can’t kill you from the 3-point line if she doesn’t get a shot off. While the New York Liberty are looking for ways to create space for Ionescu, defenses are looking to prevent her from getting the ball in the first place. Even in a month where Ionescu appeared unstoppable, there were games where she was contained; 2-for-6 against Phoenix, 2-for-7 against Connecticut and 2-for-5 against Indiana from downtown. The four times she shot 10 or more threes in August? She shot 50 percent or better. The more attempts Ionescu gets, the more likely she is to get hot. It’s best to minimize her 3-point attempts altogether.
Even if you do your best to disrupt Ionescu, she’s a great tough shot maker. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do. Time and time again, she hits contested jumpers, scores with defenders rushing her and finds ways to create just enough separation to get a shot off. You do the best you can, but there’s no stopping Ionescu; you just try to contain and hope it’s an off day.
With Ionescu shooting at a burning rate and the Liberty winning nine of their last 10 games, things have never looked better in New York. They are the No. 2 seed and have more than proven they can compete against the juggernaut that is Las Vegas. If Ionescu keeps shooting the way she has, New York will be one of the toughest teams to beat—if not the team to beat. Let’s see if Ionescu can keep this success from deep going throughout September and beyond.