19/04/2024

Sandy Brondello is set to be announced as the New York Liberty's next head coach. Photo: AP

With the expectation that Sandy Brondello is named New York Liberty's head coach, what are the challenges the Opals coach could face in the WNBA's biggest market?

Australian Opals Coach Sandy Brondello is expected to officially sign with New York Liberty after mutually parting ways with Phoenix Mercury in December, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

After eight years and a championship it was time for Brondello and the Mercury to look at other options. Brondello – who is no stranger to a challenge – is expected to head up a franchise who is yet to win a championship but has high expectations. 

The Liberty have stability in their roster with 12 players returning, the most of any WNBA team. They have one of the most talented young players in the league in Sabrina Ionescu who was the first pick in the 2020 WNBA draft. The roster also includes 2020 Most Improved Player, Betnijah Laney who finished top 10 in the league for scoring last year, Natasha Howard (one of the league’s best defenders) and Opal Sami Whitcomb.

The Liberty also have current Adelaide Lightning import Kylee Shook (6’4 forward from Colorado). Shook – who has had a strong start to the WNBL season averaging seven points and eight boards per game – would need to lift her production considerably to be a threat at WNBA level against the world’s best bigs. 

The criticism of New York’s 2021 season was they struggled offensively despite Sabrina being ranked top three in assists and Laney’s consistent offensive numbers. Brondello will need to bring in an offensive structure that enables Ionescu to get her team mates involved and allows Laney to continue on in her scoring form.

Brondello is accustomed to having a focal point in the Centre position both at Phoenix and with the Opals so it will be fascinating to see what changes she brings to her offensive philosophy.  Will she look to play a more up tempo style of game or slow it down and run a lot of screening/hand-off action for her shooters?  

Another key piece to Brondello’s success will be how she uses Pick 5 in the 2022 draft. Does she choose the best young talent or do they trade the pick to secure a player that is going to help them win now?

In some recent mock drafts, Elissa Cunane – a Centre out of NC State – has been identified as a potential target. She’s a low-block specialist averaging 54 per cent from the field in her college career and even has the ability to stretch the floor shooting a respectable 40.9 per cent from the 3-point line.

It’s the likely outcome for New York given their lack of size and Brondello’s previous experience coaching two of the world’s best bigs (in Cambage and Griner). 

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Although Brondello is one of the most highly-renowned WNBA coaches and has an impressive basketball resume, which includes playing at the highest level and representing her country as a player and coach, 2022 is a pivotal year in Brondello’s coaching career.

She takes over a franchise that has been starved of success in a market which demands greatness and she has two international campaigns with the Commonwealth Games and the FIBA World Cup, where the pressure is on for her to lead the Opals to the gold medal game. 

The New York Liberty ownership, who also owns the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Centre will no doubt be buoyed by their signing of such an experienced coach in Sandy Brondello. They’ll be hoping she can rise above all the pressure, juggle her two coaching roles successfully and bring a championship banner to Brooklyn; their first in WNBA history. 

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