After starting the season 5-1, the New York Liberty was the toast of the league.
It looked like the all-in-off season moves of New York — the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA draft trade traded for the rights to Natasha Howard, 2019 defensive player, signed the most improved player of 2020, Betnijah Laney and signed two-time WNBA champion Sami Whitcomb – was exactly what the organization needed to elevate the team from the bottom of the WNBA position in the playoffs.
Since the calendar turned to June, things have not looked quite so ideal for the Liberty. Month by month, New York’s monthly victory total decreased. Five wins in May turned into three wins in June, which turned into two wins in July. In August, the Liberty won a single game. They are currently on a losing streak of six games.
For the season, New York is 11-18 and falls out of the playoffs after Thursday night’s defeat to the Seattle Storm.
So can the Liberty season be considered a success?
The decline from May to September indicates that the warm start was unsustainable, a product of incredibly hot shooting more than the team’s structural changes. However, it is important to remember that Liberty was 2-20 last season and struggled as a non-competitive basement dweller through the wobble season. Comparing 2020 to 2021, it indicates that the Liberty season is a clear success, even if it does not sneak into the playoffs.
Together – the progress of last season and the obstacles to a strong start this season – the overall condition of the Liberty is a bit of a mixed bag. They are successful, but considering the win-now moves they have made, are they successful enough? And, most importantly, are they meant for more success next season and in seasons thereafter?
How it started for the Liberty
Even though Natasha Howard only played two games in the early season due to a late arrival from abroad and a subsequent knee injury, the renewed, more experienced Liberty seemed ready to support the expected star-studded rise of second-year Sabrina Ionescu.
In May, Betnijah Laney showed that her 2020 most improved season was not her ceiling. She was an MVP candidate and scored 22.3 points per game as she drove out nearly 50 percent of her 3.6 three attempts per game. She also added four rebounds and five assists per game.
Laney, along with Ionescu, formed a dangerous, dynamic duo. In May, Ionescu looked like the player who showed spectacular flashes during her very short novelty season. After scoring the game-winner in the first game of the season, Ionescu averaged 16.1 points, 7.1 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game, highlighted by a 26-point, 12-assist and 10-rebound -triple-double in a win over the Minnesota Lynx. Like Laney, Ionescu was also on fire from the deep fire, shooting 45.5 percent behind the arc.
The opportunities of Laney and Ionescu were facilitated by Sami Whitcomb, who immediately announced herself as a certified 3-point sniper, as she served as a looming floor spacer through nearly 47 percent of her more than six 3-point attempts. per game to put. Whitcomb also fulfills her reputation as a scurvy defender, scoring more than a steal per game.
It went so well that the Liberty cut the leader of their 2020 team, Layshia Clarendon.
Closer analysis, however, indicates that this early success was not sustainable.
Not only did Laney, Ionescu and Whitcomb all shoot better than 45 percent from a three-point distance, but Liberty as a team also shot 43.2 percent from three, an absurdly good percentage. At the same time, their opponents shot less than 30 percent from deep in May. Thus, while they scored almost 12 tries per game, their opponents scored an average of 6.3 times per game.
The success of the Liberty in the early season was an illustration of the power of the three-player. Their subsequent steady swimming, on the other hand, emphasized the danger of dependence on 3 points.
How about the Liberty
As indicated by their staff, the Liberty was designed to be a high-octane offense that did enough to defend. With the WNBA defense in tenth place, they must strike at all cylinders against the attack to find the winning column consistent.
Since June 1, New York has shot 34.3 percent from the deep end, while their opponents have shot 33.5 percent, nullifying the extreme shooting advantage of 3 points that Liberty enjoyed in the beginning.
While Sami Whitcomb continued his streak, with 70.8 tries at 43.8 percent, Laney and Ionescu’s long-range shooting was not a success. For the season, Laney shoots 31 percent and Ionescu 32 percent from three. Outside of Whitcomb, Rebecca Allen is the only above-average three-point threat from the Liberty.
Turnover also undermined Liberty. They own the league’s largest turnover percentage at 20.6 percent, as they give up the rock 16.9 times per game.
A potentially bigger problem for Liberty was the struggle of Ionescu. She is expected to be the center of Liberty’s attacking universe, and she did not play like the future face of the league.
Since June 1, Ionescu has averaged 9.4 points per game, with 26.4 percent from three and 35.8 percent from the field. Although her assistant and setback numbers were solid, Ionescu’s shooting efficiency must improve if she wants to become the star she proposed.
It is noteworthy that Ionescu adjusted her ankle in early June, an injury that missed her three games and may have contributed to her shooting since her return. Similarly, Natasha Howard has struggled with her effectiveness since returning from a longer absence.
Thursday night was a positive sign for Ionescu. Although Liberty lost to the Storm, she had one of her most effective games of the season, scoring 20 points for the first time since May when she shot 8-of-16 from the field. She also had seven assists for only two turnovers.
What’s next for the Liberty?
Although the course of their season was disappointing, the overall outlook is still up for the Liberty.
With a Howard ready to play a full season and improvement by Ionescu, combined with continued excellence from Laney and Whitcomb, New York has a core four of playoff quality. A sturdy support roller further raises their ceiling.
While Jocelyn Willoughby was out all year with an Achilles injury and nagging injuries delayed the seasons of second-year players Jazmine Jones and Leaonna Odom, the New York newcomers made an impression. Michaela Onyenwere was not only the frontrunner for the rookie of the year, but DiDi Richards also looks like a goalkeeper, rounding off her defensive potential on a pro level with an interesting improvement on the attacking side.