It is just about unimaginable to discover a correct comparability for Han Xu, the 6-foot-10, 22-year-old heart for the New York Liberty. Not one particular person I interviewed might do it.
A giant who can shoot threes? Sure, however there’s huge after which there’s huge — Han is a number of inches taller than virtually everybody who guards her, that means even the facilities able to closing out on her can not block her shot. And the range of her sport has solely grown within the 2022 season, her second within the league, after she beforehand logged simply 143 minutes as a 19-year-old again in 2019. (COVID-19 protocols saved Han from coming to the US every of the previous two seasons.)
Although her head coach, Sandy Brondello, wasn’t fairly certain what she had when Han reported to camp this spring, the Liberty ended up getting a two-way menace able to reshaping what the league can count on from the middle place. Han’s numbers, and potential, make a compelling case for her as one of the worthwhile younger gamers within the sport — even when she is not simply similar to any star from the current or previous.
Already, Han is about as environment friendly as anybody within the sport on the offensive finish. Her 1.12 points-per-possession common ranks her fifth within the WNBA amongst gamers with at the least 5 video games performed, simply forward of WNBA royalty Sylvia Fowles and Nneka Ogwumike.
“Since I used to be younger, capturing is all the time what I’m good at,” Han stated by way of her translator, Cindy Chen, as we chatted courtside previous to a Liberty sport earlier this month. “And I need to present it on this stage as effectively. And when capturing, I really feel like once I do not suppose an excessive amount of, I do not overthink, no one can guard me.”
She’s proper, after all.
This season, Han has posted a 55.9 efficient field-goal share in 441 minutes, which locations her seventh all-time amongst gamers 22 or youthful. But even that checklist requires extra context, because it contains gamers who principally completed across the rim or did not function main offensive choices of their time on the ground. If we additionally set a minimal utilization fee at 20 p.c, the ensuing checklist is much more spectacular.
The solely gamers forward of Han — Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage — have mixed for a collective 11 All-Star Game appearances, an MVP and the single-game factors report since that 2013 season. And neither of them was proficient from past the arc at Han’s age, whereas Han has hit 14 of her 29 3-point makes an attempt this season, a 48.3 p.c clip. Brondello not too long ago joked that Han ought to have been within the 3-point contest, however frankly, in a world the place Jonquel Jones participated final season, it is an thought value contemplating.
Note that additionally on that checklist, among the many bigs, are gamers like Breanna Stewart and Candace Parker; Lauren Jackson simply missed the highest 10 as effectively. Han’s firm is the most effective of the most effective, in different phrases — though she’s taller than all of them.
For Brondello, her longtime Aussie teammate Jackson was the comparability that sprang to thoughts — though, like everybody else I talked to, she acknowledged it was an imperfect match.
“Lauren Jackson, I suppose you take a look at that from a younger age,” Brondello stated. “I imply, I’ve gotten to play along with her for a very long time. It was wonderful what she might do at such a younger age. But look, it is extra about [Han] feeling assured and comfy in her environment. And I feel we’re an excellent group and we embrace that she involves work [and] she desires to be higher.”
While scoring is clearly essentially the most eye-popping of Han’s instruments, it is from the one one at her disposal. Despite her youth, and the elevated defensive consideration she’s confronted as groups reckon along with her new degree of confidence, Han has a turnover fee of simply 8.4 p.c, good for fifth within the league. She is one in all 15 gamers with a block fee of at the least 3 p.c and a steal fee of 1 p.c or greater, on a listing with a few of the most impactful publish defenders within the WNBA, like Brianna Turner and Cambage.
“I knew offensively, we might put her in the correct positions there with the contact that she has inside and out of doors,” Brondello stated earlier this month. “But… to start with, it was extra about getting her on top of things defensively. It wasn’t offensive. And I feel that simply takes time for a younger participant who does not converse English. And so we simply had persistence along with her. … And it has been great to see her development.”
In a July 6 sport towards the Las Vegas Aces, the world obtained a glimpse of simply how harmful a fully-developed Han is perhaps. Han made 11 of her 12 shot makes an attempt, ending with 24 factors, eight rebounds and three assists in New York’s 116-107 win.
“She’s totally different,” Aces huge A’ja Wilson stated. She famous that New York can name performs for Han to obtain the ball “up the place solely she will be able to get it,” a method Wilson stated she has utilized as effectively. But Han has six inches on the 6-foot-4 Wilson, so on this case Wilson discovered herself on the opposite finish. “In her personal manner, you may inform that she’s coming into her personal. You can inform that New York’s doing issues that make her comfy. Bringing out issues in her sport, which is sweet.”
Not that Wilson had a comp for her, both.
“I am unable to even consider somebody [like her] on the NBA aspect of it,” Wilson stated. “It’s simply one thing that she is.”
One of the closest comparisons I’ve discovered is Emma Meesseman, who in her age-22 season posted an efficient field-goal share of 56.6 p.c, a stone’s throw from Han’s 56.0 mark, whereas hitting six of 13 3-point makes an attempt, an analogous fee of success (although not as prolific). Meesseman made an All-Star group that yr, her first of two, profitable WNBA Finals MVP in 2019. Now, she seems to be on the right track to assist take the Chicago Sky on one other deep playoff run in 2022.
Of course, Meesseman is 6-foot-4 — and Emma Meesseman plus six inches is a really totally different participant!
“I feel Emma is, in a manner, a very good comparability,” her Liberty teammate Stefanie Dolson, who additionally performed with Meesseman in DC “But I feel, such as you stated, there have not been any 6-10 gamers [like Han]. … I feel she’s completed an unbelievable job of simply taking what she has as a package deal and making it actually good.”
For her half, Han has no scarcity of function fashions. But she’s as conscious as anybody that the course she’s charted is her personal.
“There are so many [centers] within the league that I look as much as,” Han stated, clearly talking figuratively and never actually. “I need to play as sensible as Sylvia Fowles, as bodily as Jonquel Jones. But there’s not a single particular person I need to develop into — I simply need to develop into myself.”
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