Sabrina Ionescu floater is back in a big way for Liberty in 2024

For all intents and purposes and quantitative measurements that delineate a successful WNBA season, Sabrina Ionescu had one in 2023.

She was two years removed from the ankle injury that derailed her rookie season and impacted the start of her second year, too, and in a span of two months, she shattered the 3-point contest record — for both the NBA and WNBA — and then sank her 122nd 3-pointer to break Diana Taurasi’s single-season mark.

The year 2023 was all about Ionescu’s shot from beyond the arc, just as 2022 and 2021 were, too.

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu has impressed this season. Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

But there was a reason for that.

In just her third professional game, Ionescu tried to dribble around a defender near mid-court and twisted her left ankle, a Grade 3 sprain that ended her season and forced her to reconstruct her offensive instincts.

Her 3-point rhythm excelled.

Her floater, a strength dating back to her youth, was removed.

“You try and not jump off one foot,” Ionescu told The Post last month, “and so I think it kind of took that out of my game for the last two years.”

This season, the revival of that shot sits at the crux of Ionescu’s 17.2 points per game, which ranks second on the Liberty (7-2) entering their game Saturday against the Sun that doubles as a rematch of last year’s WNBA semifinals and a pivotal Commissioner’s Cup showdown.

Ionescu is attempting a higher share of shots (22.6 percent of her total attempts) from floater range — shots 3-10 feet from the basket — than she has since her abbreviated rookie season.

Ionescu is attempting more floaters this year. Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

And she is converting those shots at the highest clip (52.8 percent) since those three games in 2020.

Those numbers are up from 14.3 percent and 40.9 percent, respectively, in 2023.

“It’s tough trying to play and not being able to get into the things that help you succeed and that helped you be the player that you were before,” Ionescu said. “But to be able to have the last two seasons now where I’ve been able to get more comfortable and being healthy, it’s just helped me get back to what I’m comfortable doing.”

The Liberty coaches wanted Ionescu to rely on her floater more, too.

Assistant Olaf Lange stressed that at multiple film sessions last year.

She always possessed that ability — at Oregon, at Miramonte High School, when she played against boys growing up — but just didn’t use it enough.

So Ionescu’s coaches told her to speed up everything, to find a way to finish chances around the basket, and during the offseason, that’s exactly what she worked on in Los Angeles.

She didn’t have to alter her 3-point mechanics.

Ionescu’s 44.8 percent clip from beyond the arc reflected the best of her WNBA career.

Stephen Curry challenged her to a contest during the NBA’s All-Star Game festivities.

Stephen Curry challenged Ionescu to a 3-point challenge. Getty Images

There wasn’t anything to fix.

Instead, Ionescu cycled through 3-point attempts off the dribble, as well as with and without screens, and tried to extend her range — if that was possible.

But really, everything revolved around the floater.

A mid-range jumper takes longer to execute, Ionescu said, and she won’t always have time to drive to the block for an open layup before a forward tries to swat it.

She can rely on the floater off the dribble, and it has been effective in pick-and-roll scenarios.

“It’s something that’s really hard to teach,” Ionescu said, “but I think when you figure it out, it really helps.”

Growing up, Ionescu watched how Curry and Steve Nash implemented the floater.

Ionescu’s, at that stage, was fairly basic — the “right-hand, left-foot floater,” she said — but gradually grew into something with layers of complexity, from lifting off the wrong foot and clutching the ball with both hands to speeding up the process and “figuring out ways to just change the trajectory of it.”

The floater has turned Ionescu into a multi-dimensional player, Lange said.

It complicates defensive game plans for opponents, and when Ionescu becomes a threat to facilitate the Liberty’s offense, elevate for 3s or drive just enough to loft a floater, she can attract three defenders.

It’s the most comfortable, and effective, Ionescu has felt with the floater since her ankle twisted.

Early in the second half of the Liberty’s opener, she curled around a screen, took one dribble and rose for a shot that went in and drew a foul.

Similar instances helped shape her career, Ionescu said, even though they shifted out of the spotlight for a few seasons and took time before returning.

“But now,” Lange said, “it’s a perfect shot.”

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