New York Liberty: Three stars from Tuesday’s loss at Minnesota

The Minnesota Lynx shut down the New York Liberty’s illustrious outside attack, dooming them to their eighth loss in the last nine games.

Kayla McBride and Napheesa Collier united for 46 points for the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night, with the former’s 25 leading the way in a 74-66 victory over the New York Liberty.

The reeling New Yorkers (11-17) have now lost eight of their last nine as they enter the homestretch of the 2021 WNBA season. Minnesota (16-9) shut down the Liberty’s renowned outside game, holding them to a 21 percent success rate (5-of-24). It was part of a brutal night from the field overall, as the Liberty shot 32 percent (23-of-71) on the evening, their third-worst output of the season.

The Liberty nonetheless leave Target Center as the owners of the WNBA’s eighth and final playoff spot thanks to a Los Angeles loss to Indiana and Washington’s defeat at the hands of Connecticut. New York returns to action on Thursday night against the Seattle Storm (10 p.m. ET, YES/Amazon Prime)

ESM bestows three game balls from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Kylee Shook

6 points (3-3 FG), 2 rebounds

Shook was the only New Yorker to shoot in the black, hitting some big doubles under the basket to help the Liberty keep pace. The sophomore’s development has remained a priority for the Liberty, even with Natasha Howard coming back and the team trying to wrap up an elusive playoff berth. She capitalized in her 11 minutes of action on Tuesday.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney 

17 points, 3 rebounds

Obviously, no one in New York would say no to a playoff berth, but a postseason appearance would mean a little bit more to Laney. The Rutgers alumna and the Liberty’s leading scorer has accomplished much over the last two seasons, but the accomplishment of appearing amongst the league’s final eight has remained elusive. She believes that the team will be well-equipped for the final run if they focus on the immediate future.

“I think right now the most important thing for us is really just focusing on taking a game by game, step by step, to not get too far ahead of ourselves, not thinking big picture right now,” Laney has said of the Liberty regaining their focus during the losing streak at the worst possible time. “I think that we really need to just focus on what’s in front of us.”

1st Star: Michaela Onyenwere

11 points, 10 rebounds

Though the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year frontrunner was not immune to the Liberty’s shooting struggles (3-of-12, 2-of-7 from three-point range), she made personal and team history through her first professional double-double. With her performance on the boards, Onyenwere became the ninth rookie in team history to reach double-figures in rebounds in a single game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Sunday’s loss vs. Connecticut

A one-sided third quarter doomed the New York Liberty in their last showing before the WNBA’s month-long All-Star/Olympic break.

The Connecticut Sun shined a little too bright for the New York Liberty on Sunday afternoon, particularly in the third quarter.

Paced by 17 points and 17 rebounds from Jonquel Jones, the Sun held off the pesky Liberty to the tune of an 18-9 advantage in the third quarter, allowing them to roll to a 71-54 victory at Barclays Center. Despite the loss, the Liberty (10-11) are among the league’s eight playoff teams as the WNBA embarks on a month-long hiatus to allow its players to partake in both the WNBA All-Star Game and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Thus ends a New York odyssey that featured several changed commercials flights and hours of delays due to heavy rains brought about by Tropical Storm Elsa. Liberty owner Joe Tsai has vowed to fight the travel problems.

New York’s Betnijah Laney will appear alongside the rest of the Association’s All-Stars as they battle the United States Olympic unit on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) while Sami Whitcomb will partake in the three-point contest on that same night. In Tokyo, Rebecca Alen will represent Australia while overseas holdover Han Xu is set to appear on China’s squad. The Liberty return to action on August 15 at Minnesota (7 p.m. ET, YES/Facebook).

ESM has three game balls to send the Liberty into the break…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

8 points, 5 rebounds

Adding Gray for the remainder of the season could be huge for the Liberty, who have come to adore her physicality in the paint. Though Gray posted  relatively pedestrian numbers in her final pre-break showing, she set some personal history by sinking each of her two attempts from three-point range after sinking only 1-of-8 over her first four WNBA seasons.

2nd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

12 points, 4 rebounds

As one of only two New Yorkers in double figures, Onyenwere did her best to keep the Liberty in the game by getting to the foul line, hitting five of her six visits. At the break, Onyenwere is the runaway favroite for the league’s Rookie of the Year, leading all first-years in scoring (9.8 per game entering Sunday) and posting a runner-up finish in rebounding (2.9).

1st Star: Kylee Shook

16 points, 2 assists, 1 block

Shook set a new career-best in scoring for the second straight game. Thrust into the starting lineup for all but one game this season thanks to Natasha Howard’s injury, Shook’s development has been one of the most promising storylines of the first half. Alas, her development was the brightest…and perhaps only…the Liberty could’ve taken from Sunday. Taking away Shook’s 6-of-8 showing, the Liberty shot 11-of-48 (23 percent) from the field.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Friday’s loss at Indiana

A hard-luck travel saga brought about by inclement weather gave way to a tough loss for the New York Liberty on Friday in Indianapolis.

Facing an Indiana Fever squad whose jerseys resembled the aesthetic from the Netflix series Stranger Things, the New York Liberty got trapped in the Upside Down before they made it to Hawkins.

Behind 18 points each from Kelsey Mitchell and Danielle Robinson, the Fever (3-16) earned consecutive wins for the first time this season, topping the Liberty by an 82-69 final at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Friday night. New York (10-10) only arrived in Indianapolis hours before game time, as their Thursday flight out was canceled due to heavy rains. The Liberty scored 28 points in the first quarter in building a five-point lead but struggled from there on out, dropping back to .500 and ending a brief two-game winning streak.

Despite the loss, the Liberty did take two of three meetings from the Fever this season. New York will wrap up its pre-Olympic break slate on Sunday afternoon at home against Connecticut (2 p.m. ET, YES/ESPN3)

ESM has three silver linings in defeat…

3rd Star: Sami Whitcomb

10 points, 5 rebounds

Though it was a tough shooting day for Whitcomb (4-of-11 from the field), she did receive some good news in the midst of the Liberty odyssey. She is set to join Betnijah Laney in Las Vegas for the All-Star Game festivities, competing against former Seattle teammate Jewell Loyd, as well as Jonquel Jones and Allie Quigley, in the exhibition’s three-point competition. Whitcomb leads the league with 55 successful triples.

2nd Star: Kylee Shook

13 points, 6 rebounds

Teaming up with Reshanda Gray to hold notable Liberty killer Teaira McCowan in relative check (6-of-13 FG), Shook earned a new career-best in scoring. If anything, the Liberty’s rebounding efforts against Indiana can be commended. After getting outgained 45-28 on the glass in their first meeting, the Liberty won Friday’s battle by a 38-32 tally. Alas, turnovers proved to be the difference, as New York lost the ball 20 times.

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

23 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists

Laney reached her customary 20 points under less than ideal circumstances, but she did provide a quantum of revenge to one of her many former employers. Though Indiana cracked down on her for the remainder of the game (a task made all the more difficult by the loss of Bec Allen to Australia’s Olympic prep), the Liberty’s early surge was fueled by 13 early points from their All-Star representative. New York is 7-5 when Laney reaches at least 20 points.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

Courtney Williams’ late teardrop allowed the Atlanta Dream to the season series from the New York Liberty.

Courtney Williams had one more nightmare for the New York Liberty.

Another last-minute shot, a floater with 58 seconds to go, gave the Atlanta Dream the necessary points to escape with a 73-69 victory over New York (8-9) on Tuesday night at Gateway Center Arena.

Williams previously had an overtime triple that gave Atlanta a win in Brooklyn on May 29. She led the Dream (6-9) with 18 points, assisted by 14 from Crystal Bradford off the bench. Atlanta wins the season series 2-1 after splitting a back-to-back set with New York on their home court, coming back from a 23-point loss on Saturday.

3rd Star: Kylee Shook

8 points. 8 rebounds

The Liberty were befallen by a tough offensive rebounding margin, as Atlanta took advantage of second chances in the 12-7 victory. That didn’t stop Shook from continuing her fruitful tallies, as she is now averaging 10 a game over her last three.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

16 points, 7 assists, 1 steal

Though her former compatriots in the Peach State had the last laugh, Laney still managed to lead the Liberty in scoring once again, falling just three helpers short of a double-double.

1st Star: Michaela Onyenwere

13 points, 3 rebounds

If anyone’s going to miss playing the Atlanta Dream, it’s probably Onyenwere. She ends her first trio against Atlanta with an average of 20 points, including an infantile career-best 29 back in May. It was her early onslaught from the outside in the third quarter’s opening stages that allowed the Liberty back in the ball game. New York had hit only two from the field in the second quarter but managed to fight back thanks to Onyenwere’s offense. She and Shook likewise united to hold Elizabeth Williams to only a single point, as the Atlanta center missed all six of her attempts from the field. 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Thursday’s loss vs. Chicago

A second onslaught from the Chicago Sky doomed the New York Liberty to their fourth loss in their last six.

A garish second quarter led to the New York Liberty’s downfall on Thursday night, as a four-point deficit ballooned to 28. The Chicago Sky were paced by 18 points from Diamond DeShields and Kahleah Copper while Candace Parker earned another double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds in what became a 91-68 victory over New York (7-8). Chicago has now won seven in a row, the latter two coming at Barclays Center in a back-to-back, the first segment coming on Tuesday.

ESM has three silver linings from Thursday’s loss…

3rd Star: DiDi Richards

3 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal (11 minutes)

As things became ridiculously dire for the Liberty…down a whopping 28 points after a brutal second quarter…Richards played the role of beautifier, invading the interior to generate some strong opportunities. Chalk it up to the lingering hockey season, but Richards’ impact was best demonstrated in her plus/minus. New York was a jaw-dropping +12 when she was on the floor.

2nd Star: Kylee Shook 

6 points, 11 rebounds

It was easy for Shook’s interior antics to get lost in another defeat, especially with Candace Parker making yet another MVP case in relatively stifled minutes. But Shook hauled in an infantile career-best in rebounds and held Parker and Stefanie Dolson to relatively manageable numbers. The Liberty’s true sin on Thursday was letting Chicago’s deadly outside game get going, as DeShields and Allie Quigley sank three triples each.

1st Star: Michaela Onyenwere

16 points, 6 rebounds

Onyenwere made a valiant effort to penetrate the Chicago paint in the early stages of the game, but her efforts were rewarded with futility. She shot 1-of-10 in the first half, though she managed to clean things up by (along with Bec Allen) forcing Chicago into five quick fouls over the first four minutes of the second quarter, all of which produced free throws. Onyenwere found redemption in the second half, contributing to a relative surge (New York won the second half 41-36) by shooting 4-of-7 from the field.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Sunday’s win at Los Angeles

The New York Liberty commemorated their 25th birthday in familiar fashion through a win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

A quarter-century later, some things never change.

The New York Liberty earned a big win to celebrate their 25th birthday, escaping from Los Angeles with a 76-73 victory over the local Sparks at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Sunday’s game was a rematch of the inaugural tilt in WNBA history held on June 21, 1997, which was also won by the Liberty. The Liberty earned their win despite getting charged for 29 turnovers, the second-worst mark in franchise history.

Through their triumph, New York (7-6) is able to come back home with a split of a four-game road trip after dropping consecutive contests in Las Vegas.

ESM distributes the game balls after a big win…

3rd Star: Kylee Shook 

14 points, 7 rebounds

Shook once again took some big steps forward as a second-year pro in the final stage of this road trip. The Louisville alumna admitted that her open looks from deep weren’t going down, so she created her own chances through cuts into the interior. She shot 5-of-7 from the field on Sunday and has reached double figures in three of her last four contests.

“The team learned that we can push through whatever we put our minds to, as long as we stay focused and give it our all,” Shook said of what the team learned on this road trip. “My shots haven’t been falling lately, and I haven’t really had time to practice it, but I just want to make a greater impact than just standing there, whether it’s getting a teammate open, getting a cut, pulling in defense, I can do so much.”

2nd Star: Sami Whitcomb 

17 points, 9 rebounds

The Liberty made the most of second chances, outscoring the Sparks 19-0 off offensive boards. Overall, New York outrebounded Los Angeles (5-7) by a 38-27 margin, with Whitcomb leading the way with a career-best nine. Only one was of the offensive variety, but it was a big one. Whitcomb hauled in a Bec Allen misfire with under three minutes to go in the final frame, then drove to the basket where she met a Karlie Samuelson foul. Two free throws allowed the Liberty to regain the lead.

“This is a massive win today,” Whitcomb noted. “This was really a character-revealing game for us. We knew it was going to be a battle of wills, we knew LA was going to be tough, that they were going to fight and they were going to make it really difficult for us…At the end of a really tough road trip, I’m really proud of this group because we stand together.”

1st Star: Rebecca Allen

19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals, 3 assists

If it was a category on Sunday’s statsheet, Bec Allen probably did it.

The Australian native began the trip by learning she’d officially be representing a Land Down Under this August in Tokyo and ended it by being a woman of many talents in America. Allen helped the Liberty build an early lead through a season-high in scoring before capping things off with her signature defensive flair. Kristi Toliver’s would-be go-ahead triple was swatted away by Allen, who would then sink a pair of free throws to create the eventual final margin. Granted one last chance to avenge Lisa Leslie’s 1997 group, Los Angeles was again thwarted by Allen.

In another case of serendipitous bookending, the similarly named Rebecca Lobo led the Liberty in scoring on that fateful date in the mid-90s. Allen also helped the Liberty secure the first victory on this road trip, earning a steal on the final possession of a three-point win in Phoenix.

“I was really grateful that I have my length in that moment,” Allen said of Sunday’s final stands. Head coach Walt Hopkins referred to her as “a special player on both ends”. After Sunday’s display, the idea of Allen, a New York bench staple since 2016 that has filled in for the injured Sabrina Ionescu, etching her name onto Sixth Woman of the Year shortlist seems more realistic than ever.

Geoff Magliocchett 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 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

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