New York Liberty: 3 stars from Saturday’s win vs. Washington

In an utterly symbolic showing, the New York Liberty erased a deficit as high as 20 to earn a big win over Tina Charles and the Mystics.

Independence Day weekend featured the red, white, and blue and some early fireworks at Barclays Center.

The hosting New York Liberty came out clean on the other side, erasing a 20-point deficit to earn an 82-79 victory over the Washington Mystics on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. The game marked the return of Queens native and all-time Liberty leading scorer Tina Charles. She earned 31 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to topple her former squadron. It was an emotional victory for New York, who lost rookie DiDi Richards to a neck sprain injury in the third quarter.

ESM has three game balls to distribute for the victorious Liberty (9-9), who return to action on Monday night against the Dallas Wings (7 p.m. ET, YES)…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

11 points, 6 rebounds

On her fifth New York term…her third this season alone…Gray came up big in her first game back with the team. She provided a strong defensive prescience, hindering Charles and providing strong double-teams when she good, and came up with some crucial rebounds. Gary’s late baskets, off assists from Sabrina Ionescu, showcased her cutting abilities in the paint, a vital skill in the Walt Hopkins system. Looking at the way she played on Saturday, it was as if she never left.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

15 points (6-7 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists

Slowly but surely, Ionescu (somewhat stifled by a 25-minute ceiling/pitch count) was starting to look like her old self after missing two games due to what was described as an “overuse” injury. The one thing that was missing, however, was her shooting touch. Though she found other ways to contribute (averaging 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists over her last four games), there’s no doubt the Liberty missed her scoring prowess. After Saturday’s nearly flawless showing, New York is 4-0 when she shoots at least 50 percent from the field.

1st Star: Jazmine Jones

17 points, 5 rebounds

The departure of Richards was particularly tough on Jones, who has taken the second-round pick under her wing. She has likewise united with Richards to create a lively bench atmosphere, making a difference even when she’s out of the ball game. Jones did what she could to make her fallen teammate proud, as immediately after Richards’ departure, she fulfilled her promises of energy with a somersault dive into the Washington bench to go after a loose ball. She then went on to sink a three-pointer and two more at the foul line in the first minute after. Adding to the timeliness of the afternoon…the Liberty acquired Jones with the 12th overall pick of the 2020 WNBA Draft. That pick was obtained through none other than the Tina Charles deal with the Mystics.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Tuesday’s loss vs. Chicago

The New York Liberty’s return to Brooklyn didn’t go as planned, as they ended up on the wrong end of a blowout against the Chicago Sky.

Candace Parker fell just short of Barclays Center’s second WNBA triple-double, putting up 23 points and 12 rebounds to go with six assists. She was one of four Chicago Sky representatives who reached double-figures as they rolled to an 92-72 victory over the New York Liberty. The game was the first of a two-game set between New York (7-7) and Chicago, with the latter scheduled for Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, YES/Twitter). With the win, the Sky (8-7) have now won six in a row.

ESM has game balls for the New York silver linings…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu 

6 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds

Ionescu slowly started to resemble her dominant self on Tuesday night, looking as fast and athletic as she has been since missing two games with an “overuse” injury. Though New York was drastically outplayed by the resurgent Sky, they were undoubtedly a better team with her on the court. Time will tell if she’s able to resume her starting lineup duties, though Bec Allen has filled in quite efficiently in her place, so there’s no need to rush.

2nd Star: Jazmine Jones

11 points (5-8 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks

Jones did what she did best in an effort to stem the bleeding: providing energy, even if it came in the form of expressing PG-13-displeasure at the officials (who awarded the Liberty only 11 free throws on Tuesday night). The All-Rookie nominee has reached double-figures in three of her last five games after doing so only once in the first nine contests. She also did a solid job of crashing the boards, hauling in five on the defensive end.

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

18 points (7-12 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists

Laney fell short of her traditional 20 but rediscovered her shooting touch after the recent four-game road trip brought her back down to earth a little bit. With the WNBA having announced a unique All-Star Game format in Las Vegas (pitting the United States’ womens’ Olympic basketball against a dozen WNBA All-Stars), Laney continues to make her case for a nomination, having missed on last year’s edition with the season confined to the Bradenton bubble.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Tuesday’s loss at Las Vegas

The New York York Liberty’s strong start in Las Vegas couldn’t be sustained, as they fell to the Aces on the road.

A visit to Las Vegas came up snake eyes for the New York Liberty, who were victimized by 32 points off the bench by Kelsey Plum. A stellar performance from Sin City’s reserves, as Dearica Hamby added 16 more en route to the hometown Aces’ 100-78 victory at Michelob Ultra Arena. The Liberty (6-5) got off to a strong start, leading by as much as 11 in the first half, but the Vegas onslaught proved to be too much to handle. New York had one of their own reserves stand out, as Jazmine Jones led the team with 17 points. This was the first part of a two-game set in Las Vegas, with the rematch coming on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET, CBSSN).

ESM has a trio of silver linings from Tuesday’s loss…

3rd Star: Betnijah Laney

15 points, 6 assists 

It was a bit of a frustrating night for Laney, who sank only one of five free throw attempts and also picked up a technical in the second half. But much like the injured Sabrina Ionescu, Laney managed to make a positive impact on the Liberty statsheet. Despite some stingy Vegas defense, Laney sank 7-of-12 from the field and also led the team with six assists.

2nd Star: Jazmine Jones

17 points (6-of 8 FG), 3 assists 

The most frustrating thing about the Twitter confrontation between Jones and Sunday opponent Skylar Diggins-Smith is that most mainstream outlets covering the dispute shrunk the New York’s sophomore’s WNBA impact down to the social media barbs. Jones, however, responded with some immediate energy off the bench, sinking her first four attempts from the field and reached double figures for the second straight contest.

1st Star: Kylee Shook

12 points, 9 rebounds 

If the Liberty emerge from this road trip from one thing, it’s the valuable souvenir of Shook emerging into a reliable shooter and all-around talent. The Shook that has emerged over the last two games looks different from even the one that began the year, as her confidence is apparent all over the court. Tuesday’s proceedings saw Shook put up career-bests in scoring, rebounds, and field goal attempts (11). If Shook keeps building this kind of confidence, the Liberty could well own the most dangerous opening five in the league once Ionescu makes her return.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty: Three stars from Sunday’s win at Phoenix

The New York Liberty earned a huge win sans Sabrina Ionescu, topping the Phoenix Mercury in a gutsy road performance.

The New York Liberty earned a gutsy win without the services of Sabrina Ionescu on Sunday night.

Betnijah Laney took over in a performance that left her three rebounds away from a triple-double, while Jazmine Jones came through big in the fourth quarter to steal an 85-83 win over the Phoenix Mercury at Phoenix Suns Arena. The Liberty (6-4) ended a three-game losing streak and overcame a combined 50-point effort from Brittney Griner (27) and Skylar Diggins-Smith. New York jumped out to a 17-point lead despite losing Ionescu to an ankle injury, though head coach Walt Hopkins claimed the top pick of the 2020 draft “just needed a rest”.

ESM awards the game balls from Sunday’s big win…

3rd Star: Kylee Shook

10 points, 5 rebounds

Shook’s trial by fire in the defensive paint, as she was tasked with posting up on Griner. She was praised for making things difficult for the fearsome interior threat and Shook also started to capitalize on her open three-point looks. A pair of early triples allowed her to come one point short of her infantile career-best.

“There’s no question in my mind Kylee can knock down threes at a really high rate,” Hopkins said of Shook. “She’s one of our best shooters, every day in practice. She’s been like that since the preseason, but for her to get a couple to go down and get that confidence was great. I think that the growth for her is continuing to understand how to be physical without fouling, and how to use her strength and her size.”

2nd Star: Jazmine Jones

16 points, 7 rebounds

Sunday was deja vu all over again for Jones, who previously rose to the occasion for an Ionescu-less Liberty in the Bradenton bubble last season. Having earned extra minutes, Jones overcame a first half where she struggled to cash in on open looks (shooting 1-of-7 from the field) to come up huge in the final frame, tallying all but two of her points in the last ten minutes, hitting five of her six attempts. The biggest bucket came in the game’s penultimate minute, when a triple gave the Liberty a two-possession lead that made things that more difficult for the Mercury on their final possessions.

“Jaz really put us on her back in the fourth quarter,” Hopkins said of Jones. “She kept the offense going, played some great defense. The spark that she is is really remarkable.”

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

23 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds

After a one-game pause, Laney’s 20-point endeavors carried on in the desert on Sunday. With the Liberty citing their starts as a major area of concern, Laney made sure that wasn’t an issue, earning 17 points in the first half to help New York build its lead. While the Mercury mostly held her in check in the latter frames, Laney came up with some clutch baskets in the dying stages, including the de facto game-winning jumper with 34 seconds to go.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three Stars from Saturday’s loss at Connecticut

The New York Liberty were dealt their third straight defeat in Connecticut, as they were unable to stop All-Star Jonquel Jones.

Jonquel Jones tallied a career-best 31 points for the Connecticut Sun, who rolled to an 85-64 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Rebecca Allen tallied 14 points to lead the Liberty (5-4) who have now lost three in a row heading into a week-long break. The sour New York feelings further manifested with Betnijah Laney being held to eight points, ending her streak of 20-point game to open the season at eight (tied for second-longest in WNBA history).

ESM has three stars to highlight from another tough New York effort…

Third  Star: Rebecca Allen

14 pts. (5-10 FG), 2 steals, 2 rebs.

Fresh off a season-best 16 against Las Vegas on Thursday, Allen was the only New Yorker who reached double figures in scoring. Between her rediscovered shooting prowess (Saturday was the third time she reached double-figures this season) and tenacious defense that ha assisted a defense sorely missing Natasha Howard, it may be time to put Allen on the Sixth Woman of the Year Award’s shortlist.

Second Star: Michaela Onyenwere

7 pts. (3-4 FG), 4 rebs. 1 blk.

The trial by fire continues for Onyenwere, who has been forced to deal with the powerful interiors of Las Vegas and Connecticut in her first contests after winning the league’s Rookie of the Month Award. Early foul trouble presented an issue in the early going, but Onyenwere still managed to earn some respectable numbers before things got out of hand.

First Star: Jazmine Jones

8 pts, 3 assists, 3 rebs. 

The second-year pro was, alas for New York, overshadowed by Connecticut’s representative of the same surname, but Saturday was a remarkable showcase for the last pick of the 2020 draft’s first-round.

Jones had a starring role in the Bradenton bubble but the spotlight has moved with the return of Sabrina Ionescu and several newcomers. She has kept the energy rolling through energetic bench celebrations and introductions, however, and she finally got to share the power on the court in an extended showing. Contributions all over the court allowed the Liberty to stage a late run on the lead in the first half and even hold a brief lead.

The Liberty return to action on Sunday, June 13 against the Phoenix Mercury (6 p.m. ET, YES). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Sunday’s win at Indiana

The New York Liberty led from start to finish on Sunday in Indianapolis, sweeping an early-season pair from the Fever.

Behind 20 points from Betnijah Laney, the New York Liberty swept an early-season pair from the Indiana Fever, emerging from Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a 73-65 victory. Sabrina Ionescu, Michaela Onyenwere, and Jazmine Jones all reached double figures, as the Liberty led by as much as 19 and never trailed in their visit to Indianapolis

ESM has three stars to highlight…

3rd Star: Kylee Shook

6 points, 7 rebounds

Though some assistance emerged from the return of Bec Allen, Shook once again faced a literally tall task in guarding Teaira McCowan in the interior. Though Shook missed some putbacks that could’ve expanded the lead, she held her own against rebounding machines McCowan and Jantel Lavender, hauling in a team-best and career-high seven boards. As a team, the Liberty strongly improved their rebounding efforts. They allowed Indiana only nine second chances (as opposed to 22 on Friday) and only lost the rebounding battle 40-38.

2nd Star: Jazmine Jones

10 points, 2 steals

The hockey playoffs are in full swing, so maybe now’s a good time to focus on some plus/minus rankings. Jones was quiet on Friday, but rose up in major opportunities off the bench. Her prescience provided a game-best 12-point swing, as she re-entered double-figures on 4-of-7 shooting. Her prowess came up big on a day where Ionescu was mostly neutralized by Danielle Robinson, who kept Indiana in the game through four charges taken and forcing Ionescu into eight turnovers.

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

20 points, 4 assists

The shooting numbers weren’t as pretty for Laney this time around (6-of-17), but she hit some clutch baskets and wasn’t afraid to counter Indiana’s physicality. When it became clear that the Fever were going to stay in the game through taking charges and dominating the paint, Laney took care of the issue through her outside and mid-range game. She currently leads the team by averaging 25 points over the first two games.

The Liberty (2-0) return to action at home on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m. ET, YES App/ESPN3).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

A complete roster breakdown of the 2021 New York Liberty

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

As the New York Liberty prepare to make their Brooklyn debut, ESM has everything you need to know about their opening day lineup.

New York City-branded basketball being played in New York City…groundbreaking concept, isn’t it?

Following two years of Westchester County exile and a pandemic-induced trip to Florida to compete in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble, the New York Liberty return to action within city limits on Friday night against the Indiana Fever (7 p.m. ET, YES/NBA TV). With the WNBA celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Liberty likewise celebrate theirs as one of three original franchises that remain in the markets in which they began. Aligned with the Brooklyn Nets ownership group, the Liberty will now call Barclays Center their full-home after two previous decades at Madison Square Garden.

Though the Liberty have yet to capture an elusive WNBA title, they remain one of the league’s most storied franchises, with Tina Charles, Teresa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, and Rebecca Lobo being among the legendary faces of basketball to traverse the New York hardwood. The team entered a period of rebuilding, its most recent edition in Florida coming under first-year head coach Walt Hopkins Jr.

The rebuild cratered last season to the tune of a Floridian ledger of 2-20, but New York management was enthused by the moral victories they took with them. Hopkins has established a new order focused on defense and fearless shooting, with the proceedings set to center around 2020’s top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. The touted Oregon Duck was limited to only three games due to an ankle injury, but positives emerged through other rookies like Jazmine Jones and Leanna Odom.

This offseason, the Liberty made several moves that are set to add to the team’s win total. They signed 2020’s Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney from Atlanta and acquired Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb, and their five championship rings among them from Seattle. Such moves caused nearly half of the WNBA’s dozen general manager to label the Liberty as the most improved team heading into Friday’s tip-off events.

The preseason accolades, however, mean little, if anything, to Hopkins:

“How can we be the most improved team when we haven’t played a game?” Hopkins rhetorically asked on Thursday. “We still have a lot to prove to ourselves in terms of our capacity now to apply what we’ve been working on the last couple of weeks…“You’re going to hear me as a broken record all year talk about focusing on our day to day and our controllable. You won’t hear me too often acknowledge expectations as being something that we’re focused on here.”

Meet the 2021 New York Liberty below…

(*-Unavailable until further notice)

F Rebecca Allen*

College: Australia
Experience: 6th season
2019 Stats: 7.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG

Allen seems tailor-made to play in Walt Hopkins’ system: she’s a tenacious defender with a sense of fearless shooting, a trait well on display in her most recent campaign in New York. Prior to opting out of the 2020 season, Allen set a record by putting up 20 points in a single quarter en route to a career-best in scoring. She kept up the good work through overseas action in Spain, where she averaged a team-best 11.5 points for Valencia BC.

Hopkins will have to be a little patient for Allen to make her debut, as her extended international endeavors made her a late arrival to the prep for an American title. With the departure of close friend Amanda Zahui B, Allen is now the longest-tenured member of the Liberty, having arrived as a free agent in 2015.

G Layshia Clarendon

College: Cal-Berkeley
Experience: 9th season (2nd in New York)
2020 Stats: 11.5 PPG, 3.9 APG

One of the WNBA’s most outspoken players in off-court issues (sitting on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council), Clarendon was a rarity on last year’s Liberty roster as a player with at least a half-decade of professional experience. Their services in the Bradenton bubble went far beyond simple veteran mentorship, as they put up a career-best in scoring and played a major role in the New York offense when Sabrina Ionescu went down with an injury. It marked a strong return to the court for Clarendon, who was limited to nine games in 2019 due to an ankle injury of their own.

With several new veterans in two, Clarendon will likely serve as a spark and de facto fifth coach off the bench.

F Natasha Howard*

College: Florida State
Experience: 8th season (1st in New York)
2020 Stats: 9.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG

With the Liberty eager to clog up their porous defense (allowing over 85 points per game over the last two seasons), there was perhaps no one better to call than Howard, one of the most fearsome defenders in the Association since her 2014 entry. It cost a hefty price…the Liberty shipped off the top overall pick of April’s WNBA Draft and All-Star Kia Nurse in the three-team deal to obtain her…but Howard, a Hopkins protege during a championship trek in 2017 with the Minnesota Lynx, promises to be well worth it.

Among the accolades in Howard’s packed trophy closet are three championship rings (including one from the bubble as a member of the Seattle Storm), the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year title, and a pair of All-Defensive First Team nods. She’s been a part of three of the last four WNBA championship efforts. It might take a little longer to get back to those levels in New York, but the Liberty’s investments make it clear they want her to play a huge part in that.

G Sabrina Ionescu

College: Oregon
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG

It’s a little early to crown Ionescu the face of the WNBA…after all, she only has three games under her belt, having suffered an ankle injury in only her third professional excursion. But the walking college basketball record book is back for what basically amounts to a second rookie season and is dangerously motivated.

While Ionescu’s impact on a national level can’t be fully assessed just yet, there were plenty of tantalizing glimpses of her hardwood heroics on display in her brevity. Notably, she put 33 points in just her second career contest against Dallas (squaring up against fellow Eugene standout Satou Sabally). Time will tell how long it takes for her to regain her elite form, but there’s no doubt that the journey will be watched by anyone with a passing interest in what lies ahead for a league celebrating its silver anniversary.

G Jazmine Jones

College: Louisville
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 10.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG

Last season, a New York Liberty rookie, chosen at one of the bookends of the all-virtual draft made a major difference in one of the guard roles. She saw her efforts rewarded with a spot on the league’s official All-Rookie team. Unpredictably, however, the player in question was not Ionescu but Jones, the 12th and final pick of 2020’s opening round.

Jones was another player who filled Ionescu’s sneakers, taking over a point guard role she hadn’t played since her high school days at Florida A&M Developmental. She wound up leading all rookies in steals (1.4 a game) and was one of six to earn double figures in scoring. Her energy, constantly captured through the team’s social media accounts, would likely top charts if there was a number able to be attached to it.

F Betnijah Laney

College: Rutgers
Experience: 6th season (1st with New York)
2020 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG

Laney knows a thing or two about making an impact through basketball in the tri-state area. She previously a hoops heroine in Piscataway, where she played under the legendary C. Vivian Stringer, setting Scarlet Knight records in the process.

“Character” has been one of the most prominent buzzwords during the training camp process. Laney more than fulfills that trait through her work in the bubble. Having survived transfers to three different WNBA squads over her first four seasons, Laney broke out as a member of the Atlanta Dream in Bradenton, more than tripling her previous career-best output in scoring. The Liberty would certainly know about her breakout: Laney’s trek toward Most Improved Player honors began when she earned her first career 30-point game in a July win against New York.

F Leaonna Odom

College: Duke
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG

Time will tell, but Odom could wind up becoming one of the most valuable diamonds in the rough to emerge from the bubble. The Liberty’s latest draft pick from last year’s sizable haul (15th overall) developed a notorious reputation as a strong defender, frustrating some of the league’s most notable names, including Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner.

Alas for the Liberty, they’ll have to wait a little bit to see Odom resume her defensive prowess. The team announced on Thursday that she’ll miss tonight’s opener with an Achilles injury.

F Michaela Onyenwere

College: UCLA
Experience: Rookie
2020 Stats: 19.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG

The Liberty’s 2021 draft class isn’t as plentiful as last year’s group, but talent was certainly not sacrificed in the smaller settings. Their first pick was the former Bruin Onyenwere (pronounced On-yen-way-day) with the sixth overall choice.

Onyenwere has a prime opportunity to contribute immediately to Liberty’s hopeful surge. She fulfills the team’s requirement for fearless shooting, as she departed UCLA as the fourth-leading scorer in program history and tried nearly 200 three-pointers over her final three seasons. But with Howard and Stokes’ debuts unscheduled, Onyenwere could be called upon to make a difference in the interior, as she put up over eight rebounds a game during her sophomore and junior seasons.

G/F DiDi Richards

College: Baylor
Experience: Rookie
2020 Stats: 6.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG

By every stretch of the basketball imagination, Richards shouldn’t be suiting up for her WNBA debut in Brooklyn. A freak accident in an early practice at Baylor nearly left her paralyzed and she was medically advised to realistically start thinking of career options beyond the hardwood.

However, Richards went to check off another box on the Liberty’s shopping list for character, working her way back and resuming her role as a strong defender. She brings a national championship ring from her sophomore season and three Defensive Player of the Year titles from 2020. Richards more than made up for lost time once the season began, finishing second in the nation with 189 total assists.

F Kylee Shook

College: Louisville
Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats: 4.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG

Immediately after picking Jones (as well as COVID-sidelined second overall choice Asia Durr in 2019), the Liberty continued to treat UL as a de facto farm team by taking Shook with the first pick of the second round.

Shook deal with a late injury, but has taken on a larger role in her second season. Several of the younger players, and even some veteran newcomers, have praised Shook for helping them get used to the system. With Stokes and Howard’s debut in question and Amanda Zahui B off to Los Angeles, Shook is expected to take on a major role in the interior.

C Kiah Stokes*

College: Connecticut
Experience: 6th season
2020 Stats: 6.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG

The only leftover from the Liberty’s “baby vet” dwelling in Bradenton (Zahui and Kia Nurse being the others), Stokes’ status will fluctuate throughout the season, as she’s finishing her international duties while also preparing to partake in Turkey’s EuroBasket plans. However, it’s clear that the Liberty have high hopes for her, signing the long-tenured interior prescience to a new contract before last season ended.

Though Stokes’ should return to being a strong paint presicence with Zahui B now out west, the New York coaching staff was very enthused by her newfound liking for outside shooting. No one embraced the Liberty’s new tenet of fearless shooting like Stokes, who did not partake in any 2019 action for personal reasons. She put up 85 attempts from deep last year after trying only three in the four years prior.

G Sami Whitcomb

College: Washington
Experience: 5th season (1st in New York)
2020 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG

It’s almost somewhat easy for Whitcomb to get lost in the Liberty’s stellar transaction log, but she provides accomplished veteran intangibles through both American and Australian endeavors. Whitcomb was another member of the defending champion Storm (though she did not partake in the championship round due to the birth of her first child) and came over with Howard, with whom she likewise collaborated on a 2018 triumph in the Finals.

Whitcomb is on the shortlist of WNBA stars that already know how to make a difference at Barclays Center: she sank a career-best seven field when Seattle came to visit in the building lone regular season game in 2019.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

WNBA: New York Liberty unveil 2021 season schedule

Jazmine Jones, New York Liberty

Just over a month remains before the New York Liberty make their full-time Brooklyn debut, as they’ll battle the Indiana Fever.

The New York Liberty received their schedule for the 2021 WNBA season, which will begin with four games on May 14. New York will battle the Indiana Fever in a Friday night showdown, tipping off at 7 p.m. ET. TV information will be released at a latter date.

This season marks the Liberty’s first campaign as full-time tenants at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which they share with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. It also marks the 25th anniversary for the Liberty, one of the three charter franchises remaining in the league that likewise celebrates its silver season (the others being the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury).

After a tough two-win season in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble, the Liberty made several offseason moves that have positioned them as one of the more intriguing teams in the Association. A trade involving the top overall pick in Thursday’s WNBA Draft (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) saw them net former WNBA champions Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb, additions that followed the signing of former Rutgers star and reigning Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney. New York will also welcome back several rookie-turned-sophomores from their Floridian endeavor, including 2020’s top overall choice Sabrina Ionescu and WNBA All-Rookie team nominee Jazmine Jones.

The 2021 WNBA regular season will run through Sunday, September 19. A break for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo will commence on July 15 and run through August 11. Each of the league’s dozen teams will play 32 games and partake in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup, an in-season tournament that will conclude with a championship game immediately after the Olympic pause, setting up the final push to the playoffs. Further details about the Commissioner’s Cup and a planned 2021 All-Star Game will be released at a further date.

Among the notable matchups on the Liberty ledger…

  • The Liberty will open their season with a home-and-home series against the Indiana Fever. New York undoubtedly will be seeking revenge for the 2019 opener, when Teaira McCowan’s buzzer-beater allowed the Fever to escape Westchester Counter Center with an 81-80 triumph. The teams will then meet at Bankers Life Field house for a 2 p.m. matinee matchup two days later.

 

  • Youth in revolt will be on full display on May 25, as the Liberty welcome the Dallas Wings to Brooklyn for a battle between the league’s two youngest squads. It will likely feature the first matchup between Oregon standouts Ionescu and Satou Sabally, a get-together delayed by Ionescu’s injury sustained in the early stages of last season.

 

  • The Liberty’s visit to Los Angeles is the only game scheduled for June 20 and it will likely pay tribute to the 25th anniversary of the WNBA’s first game, a 67-57 New York triumph at the Great Western Forum. It will also mark the Liberty’s first meeting with former fan favorite Amanda Zahui B, who signed with the Sparks after five metropolitan seasons.

 

  • Howard and Whitcomb will have to wait to weather the Storm, as the defending champions will visit Brooklyn for a two-part series on August 18 and 20.

 

  • In another happy return, Kia Nurse will return to New York on August 25 in the new colors of the Phoenix Mercury. Nurse, a first-round pick and All-Star in seafoam, was part of the three-team deal that sent Howard and Whitcomb out east.

 

  • The Liberty will conclude the 2021 regular season with a four-game road trip through Minnesota, Seattle, Dallas, and Connecticut before returning home to Brooklyn for their finale on September 17.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery staged for Friday

The New York Liberty will have the top odds in the 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery, which will be held on Friday night.

‘Twas three weeks before Christmas, but the New York Liberty could gain a special early gift later this week.

The WNBA has announced that the 2021 Draft Lottery will be staged on Friday night during halftime of the anticipated college basketball matchup between No. 20 DePaul and No. 5 Louisville. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, which will carry lottery proceedings for the ninth consecutive season. LaChina Robinson will host the reveal, which will be overseen by WNBA Head of League Operations Bethany Donaphin.

New York will have the best odds entering Friday’s drawing, which takes into account cumulative records over the past two seasons for the four non-playoff teams. Weighed down in a rebuilding effort, the Liberty went 12-44 over the past two showings, including a 2-20 mark in the WNBA’s abbreviated bubble season in Bradenton, Florida.

This gives them a 44.2 percent chance of securing the top overall pick for the second straight season. Last time around, the Liberty leaped from the second-best odds to essentially “win” the Draft Lottery for the first time in team history. New York used that selection to take college basketball sensation Sabrina Ionescu out of Oregon in the most recent selections last April. Ionescu partook in three games in the Bradenton bubble before an ankle injury prematurely ended her debut season.

Behind the Liberty, the Atlanta Dream (15-41) have the second-best odds at 27.6 percent, followed by the Dallas Wings (18-38, 17.8) and Indiana Fever (19-37, 10.4). The remaining picks in the first round, consisting of 2020 playoff teams, have already been sorted through the inversion of regular season records, which will likewise determine the full order for the second and third rounds as well.

Staging the Draft Lottery during a Louisville basketball holds a sense of irony for the Liberty. Three former Cardinals currently reside on the Liberty roster, including 2019’s second overall pick Asia Durr. While Durr opted out of the bubble endeavor, the team was nonetheless represented through Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook, who were respectively taken with 12th and 13th picks during last spring’s draft. Jones was later named to the WNBA’s All-Rookie team, becoming the first New Yorker to do so since Brittany Boyd and current teammate Kiah Stokes earned the honor in 2015. Modern Louisville senior Dana Evans (18.0 points, 4.2 assists per game in 2019-20) is expected to be a first-round choice next spring.

Other big name prospects at the top of the 2021 draft board will include Rennia Davis (Tennessee), Destiny Slocum (Oregon State), and Didi Richards (Baylor). Texas junior Charli Collier has been pegged as a potential early entrant.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Happy Birthday Jazmine Jones; Four fun facts about the New York Liberty rookie

Jazmine Jones, New York Liberty

Having turned 24 on Thursday, the New York Liberty rookie recently wrapped up a strong freshman campaign in the Bradenton bubble.

If the 2020 season was any indication, the New York Liberty might’ve found lasting franchise contributors at both the top and bottom of the first round of the most recent WNBA Draft.

Eleven picks after the highly publicized selection of Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu with the top overall pick, the Liberty closed things out by acquiring Jazmine Jones with the 12th and final choice of the opening proceedings. That pick was obtained in the historic trade that sent franchise face Tina Charles to Washington in a multi-team deal.

A rebuilding campaign for the Liberty inside the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble was pacified by the performance of Jones. The newly-minted 24-year-old, who celebrated her birthday on Thursday, wound up becoming one of the Liberty’s most consistent silver linings, appearing toward the top of almost every major rookie stat, including the freshman league-lead in steals (1.4 per game). Her efforts led to a nomination for the WNBA’s official All-Rookie team, the first New York representative since Brittany Boyd and teammate Kiah Stokes made it in 2015.

“Jazmine works extremely hard. She really wants this,” veteran forward Amanda Zahui B has said of Jones. “She really wants to be great. She goes hard at practice and she’s very vocal. She’s a great leader.”

“The main thing about Jaz is her energy,” head coach Walt Hopkins added. “When she brings her energy, no matter what, she brings us a lot. It’s defensive, it’s toughness, swagger. Jaz has been huge for us.”

In honor of Jones’ special day, ESM has four facts about the former Louisville Cardinal…

She’s a Criminal Justice Major

Jones’ off-the-court accolades as a Cardinal were just as illustrious as the ones she earned on the hardwood. In addition to countless courted conference honors, Jones was named to the ACC’s All-Academic team twice, including her senior campaign. She majored in criminal justice, and, upon choosing Louisville over Floridian rivals Florida State (the Tallahassee native was offered a Seminoles scholarship in eighth grade) and Miami, revealed to the Courier Journal’s Jonathan Lintner that she wanted to take up a different kind of defense through a job in the FBI. 

2020 Was a Throwback to Her High School Days

Jones was the first player with the “SG” initials (shooting guard) attached to her name chosen in April’s draft. However, the early injury to the touted point guard Ionescu forced her into territory unchartered since her high school days at Florida A&M’s Developmental Research School.

When Ionescu was lost for what was eventually the year in just her third WNBA game, Jones was called upon to take her spot. She responded with six consecutive games in reach double-figures and some tenacious defense that got the attention of her veteran WNBA peers.

“She really wants to be great,” Zahui B said. “She goes hard in practice and she’s very vocal. She is a great leader, so for her stepping up and playing the one, which is not really her position.”

Jones wound up averaging 10.8 points per game, one of only four full-season rookies to do so.

No One Has Played More Games as Louisville Cardinal

Louisville has produced some strong players from its women’s basketball program. The Liberty have recently taken to painting their new Brooklyn borough maroon, as Jones is one of three former Cardinals chosen over the past two drafts. Asia Durr, the second overall pick from 2019, missed the bubble endeavor after testing positive for COVID-19, but Jones was joined by Kylee Shook, who chosen immediately after her as the first pick of the second round.

Jones joined an illustrious list of Cardinals chosen in the first round, joining Durr, Angel McCoughtry, and Shoni Schimmel. The ongoing health crisis cut things short, but Jones also became the program’s all-time leader in games played, passing Schimmel and Myisha Hines-Allen.

It’s Hard to Keep Up With the Joneses

It feels like Jones was destined to make some sort of difference in the athletic world from the very start, as sports runs through her blood. Her father Reginald is a former Florida A&M Rattler, while one of her sisters, Gigi Thomas, foreshadowed her success on the hardwood at both Appalachian State and Jacksonville. Her brother, Reginald Jr., earning 60 tackles over four seasons on the defensive line for Florida International’s Golden Panthers.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags