The New York Liberty have a lot going for them as a franchise. They’re one of the league’s few original teams that haven’t relocated across the country. They play in the biggest market in the US. They call the Barclays center home, one of the premier arenas in the WNBA. They have an owner that’s so committed to his players that the league had to come down on them this off-season for providing accommodations outside of what’s allowed by the CBA.
Despite all of these selling points, they have yet to achieve the ultimate goal: a WNBA championship. This roster may not be ready to compete on that stage quite yet, but the Liberty fanbase is eager to see clear steps in that direction.
Coming off an abysmal bubble season in which they won just two games, New York was able to crack into the playoffs last season. Their overall net rating was eleventh in the league and their record was a pedestrian 12-20, but progress is progress.
Even with this undeniable year-over-year improvement, their season felt underwhelming to many New York fans. After a 5-1 start, expectations became unfair for this group and their realistic trajectory.
With Howard and Ionescu reportedly healthy to start this season, the fanbase will be looking for another step forward, and a tangible one at that. Whether or not the current roster is capable of such remains to be seen.
Let’s take a look at some of the Liberty’s important offseason transactions and potential outcomes for the season.
This section is short and sweet. The Liberty brought back their entire core group from 2021.
- Stefanie Dolson (C)
- Han Xu (C)
- Coach Sandy Brondello
The sweet-stroking, hard pick-setting Stefanie Dolson was added to the roster as an unrestricted free agent. Dolson won a championship with Chicago last year and was a key cog in their rotation. She’s limited on defense, but certainly can help you spread the floor and run off-ball movement sets.
The now 6’10” center from China, Han Xu, is getting a lot of buzz out of training camp. Her shot blocking ability and intriguing offensive game are exciting. The last time we saw Xu crack into the WNBA she wasn’t terribly effective, but was just 19 years old at the time.
Coach Walt Hopkins was let go the same day that Sandy Brondello was. Coincidence? Probably not. The Liberty decided to move on from Hopkins after his squad didn’t meet expectations of the fanbase and organization in 2021. Critics of Walt would point to the team’s incredibly high turnover rate and massive struggles on the defensive end.
Brondello has high familiarity with resident Aussies Sami Whitcomb and Rebecca Allen and has proven herself in a first-year, team-takeover situation before. Reports from training camp indicate that she’s preaching a run-and-gun style featuring a high level of transition play. This team’s deep rotation of athletic wing players and shooters is a great fit for it.
- 5th: Nyara Sabally, Oregon (F)
- 18th: Lorela Cubaj, Georgia Tech (F)
- 29th: Sika Kone, Mali (F)
Sabally opted to forgo her final season at Oregon and entered the draft. At 6’5″, Nyara has a WNBA-ready body, but a raw skill set. Her issues with injuries have carried over into the pros, and news recently broke that she’d miss the entire 2022 campaign.
The Liberty traded up to get Cubaj in the second round, an indication that they may have been aware of Sabally’s injury at the time of the draft. Lorela is a defensive-minded, 6’4″ forward that has a very limited offensive game. It’s not a guarantee that she’ll make the roster, but the Liberty do have a need for interior defense.
Sika Kone was one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire draft this year. We haven’t seen her play against elite competition, but the grainy bits of film we have seen are impressive. A rebounding machine at just 19 years old, Kone was nabbed late in the draft and will be stashed this season while she rehabs a knee injury and continues to develop.
Projected Starting Lineup
- G: Sabrina Ionescu
- G: Betnijah Laney
- F: Sami Whitcomb
- F: Natasha Howard
- C: Stefanie Dolson
The trio of Ionesco, Laney, and Howard are the most likely locks to start and close games for New York this year. From there, coach Brondello has several options depending on the matchups.
Rebecca Allen can be plugged in at either wing position or power forward. Defending rookie of the year winner Michaela Onyenwere showed some promise as a floor spacer in her first campaign. DiDi Richards and Jocelyn Willoughby round out what may just be the deepest wing rotation in the WNBA.
If Asia Durr is back and ready to contribute, she’ll be featured heavily in the guard rotation. She’s missed the last two seasons with a horrendous bout of COVID and complications thereafter, but reports out of training camp are quite optimistic.
The center rotation on this team is also a big question-mark. Han Xu could certainly see some minutes. Natasha Howard may even start and/or close games at the five. Dolson is not known to play more than 20-25 minutes per game, and against quicker and more mobile fives such as Jonquel Jones, she’s not a great fit defensively. The last spot in this big rotation will be a choice between Kylee Shook and Lorela Cubaj.
There is a scenario that I could foresee in which everything clicks: Onyenwere and Ionescu make significant strides as sophomore (and effectively, redshirt sophomore) players. Howard bounces back as a DPOY-level player. Dolson fits perfectly. Allen and Whitcomb continue spraying in threes at a high clip. Laney rids herself of the turnover bug and returns to her former reputation as a tough perimeter defender.
That all sounds great, but it includes a lot of ‘if’s. The most likely outcome for this team is slow, steady improvement. If they can post an overall net rating in the middle of the pack and compete in a first-round series, I think Liberty fans should be pleased with this group.
The Liberty may not be a favorite to contend for a title this year, but they’ve got a puncher’s chance.