New York Liberty: 3 stars from Wednesday’s win vs. Seattle

The Bank of New York was open late on Wednesday night, as Betnijah Laney’s jumper won it for the New York Liberty.

Betnijah Laney cashed a valuable check at the Bank of New York on Wednesday night.

The 2021 WNBA All-Star’s fourth quarter jumper banked home with 17.6 seconds left, breaking the New York Liberty’s tie with the defending champion Seattle Storm. It was the last of Laney’s 17 team-high points on the night, an honor she shared with Bec Allen off the bench, and the Liberty earned an 83-79 victory at Barclays Center. The Liberty (11-12) overcame a diamond performance from Seattle Jewell Loyd, who tallied a career-best 35 points over the first three quarters. Wednesday was a comeback effort for the Liberty, who trailed by as many as 15 and wiped out a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

New York and Seattle (16-7) will meet again in Brooklyn on Friday night (7 p.m. ET, YES).

ESM has three game balls to bestow from a crucial win for the Liberty…

Allen struggled in her first go-around since coming back from representing Australia in the Tokyo Olympics but showed off an electrifying souvenir on Wednesday. Leading the way off the bench for an eight-woman rotation for New York, Allen sank three huge triples in the fourth carter, breaking double figures for the first time since June 20. Allen shot 5-of-9 from the field, including 5-of-6 from a Land Down Under alone…OK, they weren’t that far, but they still paved the for the Liberty’s win.

3rd Star: Bec Allen

17 points, 6 rebounds

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

17 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds

Laney didn’t reach her customary 20 points but emerged with something far more valuable: a win. The Liberty’s All-Star was a woman of many talents on Wednesday night, falling respectfully short of a triple-double. If the Liberty are able to clinch a playoff spot…and, perhaps more importantly, host their first playoff game since 2017…Laney’s shot will go down as one of the symbolic turning points in the team’s ongoing “hybrid rebuild”. The win loses a quantum of luster knowing that league legends Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart didn’t play, but a win over the defending champs in spite of one of the better shooters having a career night…all while the team’s face of the future provides the heroics…could be long remembered in Liberty land.

1st Star: DiDi Richards

9 points, 2 assists

Richards’ numbers were relatively pedestrian but Wednesday set the stage for an incredible showcase. Having been held scoreless since June 24, the Liberty’s second-round pick sank all three of her attempts to set an infantile career-high. Richards, known for her defense at Baylor, also came huge on the other end, holding Loyd scoreless over the final ten minutes. Her most notable contributions to the team, the endless energy seen through her infectious smile and unrelenting tenacity, will probably never be measured by any box score metric. But Richards’ activities…diving for loose balls, attacking the paint, and a new sense of fearless shooting…could help make her case to stick around for the Liberty’s long run.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Laney, Whitcomb rep New York Liberty at the WNBA All-Star Game

The New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas, which saw the league’s brightest stars take down Team USA.

The resurgent New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA’s All-Star proceedings at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

Betnijah Laney partook in the winning efforts for the league’s victorious All-Star group, who earned a 93-85 win over the United States Olympic team bound for Tokyo. Laney, the Liberty’s leading scorer at the halfway mark, put up four points, two assists, and a rebound toward the triumph. Meanwhile, Sami Whitcomb put forth a very respectable effort in the WNBA MTN DEW 3-Point contest, earning 26 points through cashing in on the “money” balls worth extra points. It was Whitcomb’s first appearance in the contest, which was won by Allie Quigley of Chicago.

This marked the third time that the league staged a “Team USA vs. WNBA” format, though the first two were not officially considered All-Star Games. New York City hosted the original matchup in 2004 at Radio City Music Hall prior to the Summer Games in Athens, while Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena got the latter in 2010, a non-Olympic year. This marked the WNBA squad’s first win, as they were paced by 26 points in an MVP effort from Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas.

Laney mostly played the backup point guard role behind Courtney Vandersloot, earning nearly 17 minutes of game action. Wednesday marked Laney’s first career appearance in the WNBA All-Star Game. She’s working through her first season in New York after winning the Most Improved Player honor in last year’s bubbled season in Bradenton as a member of the Atlanta Dream.

The well-traveled Laney was particularly enthused by the chemistry she had with the rest of the WNBA squad, as she had worked with several of them in prior professional stops.

“I kind of knew everybody, considering I’ve bounced around quite a bit, so I’ve had experience playing alongside a lot of the people that I was playing with today,” Laney said with a smile. “It just felt like home, it felt it was it was really fun and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to play with them all again. I’m really glad that we came together and got the win tonight.

Laney was far from alone in representing the New York resurgence; teammates Reshanda Gray Michaela Onyenwere sat courtside with assistant coach Jacki Gemelos, whie Sabrina Ionescu watched with Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa and her mentor’s surviving daughters. Meanwhile, Rebecca Lobo called the game alongside Ryan Rocco for ESPN. Lobo, an original member of the Liberty, was also honored alongside other members of the 1996 United States women’s basketball contingent, whose gold medal trek from the Atlanta Games celebrates its 25th anniversary.

“I found (the experience) amazing, just for myself to just be here in this moment, you know, after everything,” Laney said after the game. “Then to have the support that I had from the team, from my family, and friends, it was just a really good experience.”

The Rutgers alumna was particularly happy to work with former collegiate and AAU teammate Kahleah Copper.

“It was really fun because this was the only level that we haven’t played on together,” Laney said of the Chicago representative. “To be able to have that opportunity out there today, you know, it was fun. I really enjoyed playing alongside her.”

Whitcomb had her time to shine at halftime, partaking in her first three-point competition. The WNBA’s leader in successful three-point attempts (56) was representing Mary’s Place, a Seattle-based non-profit that “provide(s) safe inclusive shelter and services that support women, children and families on their journey out of homelessness”. The winning shooter would receive $10,000 toward a charity of her choice.

Whitcomb’s work was immediately cut out of for her, as Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones immediately tallied 27 points in the opening round. But Whitcomb came tantalizingly close to passing her, giving a whole new definition to “Moneyball”. Whitcomb sank the money ball shot worth two points toward her tally, as well as one of the “Dew Zone” attempts worth three. With the top half of the four competitors set to advance to a final round, Whitcomb seemed well on her way, soundly beating former Seattle Storm teammate Jewell Loyd (18).

Alas, she was done in on the literal last shot, as Quigley sank her final money ball to tie Jones before winning the contest by a 28-24 margin, appropriately earning her third three-point trophy.

Team USA was paced by 17 points from Brittney Griner of Phoenix. They’ll remain in Las Vegas for further training, which includes exhibitions against Australia and Nigeria, before opening Olympic play on July 27 against the latter (12:40 a.m. ET/tape delay: 4:15 p.m. ET, USA). USA has been paired in a group with Nigeria, France, and host nation Japan.

Other Liberty representation in the Tokyo Games includes Rebecca Allen of Australia and international holdovers Marine Johannes (France) and Han Xu (China).

The Liberty return to action on August 15 against the Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m. ET, YES/Facebook).

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: Three stars from Thursday’s loss at Las Vegas

The return of Sabrina Ionescu wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to avoid another one-sided defeat in Las Vegas.

The best news emerging from Thursday night’s New York Liberty game is likely the fact they probably won’t have to return to Michelob Ultra Arena this season.

Sabrina Ionescu made her return as a reserve, but it wasn’t enough to reverse New York’s fortunes. Six Las Vegas Aces reached double-figures in scoring, paced by 18 from Kelsey Plum in a 103-76 victory. The Liberty (6-6) have now dropped five of their last six games after a 5-1 start. They’re 0-5 all-time in Sin City (since 2018), which hosts one of the WNBA’s original franchises in their third incarnation (previously based in Salt Lake City and San Antonio). Las Vegas (10-3) has swept the three-game season set, also winning by 22 on Tuesday.

ESM has three silver linings from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Rebecca Allen

14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals

Allen has been filling Ionescu’s role in the starting five and but she continued to make her case for inclusion on the shortlist for Sixth Woman of the Year. Similar to her ten-minute takeover in the teams’ long meeting in Brooklyn earlier this month (14 points in the second quarter), Allen kept the Liberty’s fight going in the fourth quarter, picking up a dozen points to keep things semi-respectable.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

20 points, 4 assists

It came in yet another disheartening defeat, but Laney once again earned 20 after missing the mark in Tuesday’s matchup. The return to 20 points comes just in time for the start of All-Star Game voting for a game set to be held in…Las Vegas.

New York is 6-4 when Laney hits her magic 20.

1st Star: Reshanda Gray

17 rebounds, 4 rebounds 

Gray is in the midst of her fourth term in New York, added on a hardship contract with Kiah Stokes competing overseas. As Stokes was not on Turkey’s EuroBasket roster for the upcoming tournament, it stands to reason that Gray’s metropolitan endeavors may be coming to an end.

But after Thursday’s display, it’s hard to justify sending her off into the WNBA wilderness. Not only is Gray a bona fide WNBA veteran that shouldn’t be reduced to hardship contracts for domestic work, but her ability to infiltrate the paint and work with the roll can’t be denied. Gray also became a thorn in the side of Liz Cambage, who voiced her frustrations to the officials to no avail. If anything, Gray continues to build her reputation as a walking, breathing, flesh-and-blood case for WNBA expansion, whether it’s through roster spots or cities.

The Liberty return to action on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Sparks (4 p.m. ET, ESPN). 

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: 3 stars from Thursday’s loss vs. Las Vegas

The New York Liberty fought valiantly but a comeback effort fell short against the Aces.

Defending WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson put in 30 points on Thursday night at Barclays Center, as the Las Vegas Aces used a dominant first quarter to earn a 94-82 victory over the New York Liberty. Betnijah Laney reached 20 points for the eighth straight game, leading the Liberty (5-3) with 23 points, while Rebecca Allen (16) and Sami Whitcomb (14) also reached double figures.

Las Vegas (6-4) jumped out to a 30-16 lead at the end of the first quarter and inflated their lead by as much as 19 before the Liberty mounted a comeback that came as close as one. It was another tough from the field for Sabrina Ionescu (2-13 FG), who was limited to five points. She did earn nine assists and rebounds each, but it wasn’t enough to withstand the Vegas storm.

ESM has three stars for the Liberty in their second straight defeat…

3rd Star: Leaonna Odom

7 pts. (3-3 FG)

Odom, sidelined with an Achilles injury over the first eight games of the season, made her 2021 debut on Thursday. One of the Bradenton bubble’s best-kept secrets immediately made her prescience felt with a block on a driving Chelsea Gray to open the second quarter. Odom sank all three of her attempts from the field and several tipped balls ended Vegas possessions. With Natasha Howard’s return still undated, the return of a defensive stud like Odom could help the Liberty tread water in the meantime, helping them regain their defensive swagger.

2nd Star: Betnjiah Laney

23 pts., 5 rebs.

With every tally of at least 20, Laney edges closer to WNBA history. She became the first player since Lauren Jackson (2009) to open a season by reaching the precipice in each of her first eight games. Laney, Jackson, and Sheryl Swoopes are the only players to reach eight, while Cynthia Cooper (9 in 1999) holds the record. With Ionescu in a bit of a rut (which Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins attributed to potential soreness) Bradenton’s Most Improved Player continues to serve as both a reliable scorer and floor general, often working with exclusively second-unit players in the early stages of games. Such endeavors are only adding to her MVP candidacy.

1st Star: Rebecca Allen

16 pts. 2 rebs., 2 stls. 

Blessed with a sense of fearless shooting and tenacious defense, it feels like Allen was tailor-made to play in the system that Hopkins and his assistants have developed. The union was fully realized and on display on Thursday, as she helped the Liberty back into the game with a dominant stretch of 11 consecutive points in the second quarter, an effort reminiscent of her team-record 22-point showing against Minnesota back in White Plains during her last WNBA season in 2019. As the Liberty continue to work through undermanned times on the roster, Allen’s efforts showcase the depth that has built a winning record in the early going. She’ll likely be relied upon further as she regains her shooting touch and Kiah Stokes goes off to compete in Turkey’s international endeavors later this month.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty got back on the right track with a thrilling, sharp-shooting victory over the Chicago Sky.

Six metropolitan reached double figures, paced by 20 from Betnijah Laney, as the New York Liberty (4-1) recovered from their first loss of the season through a 93-85 victory over the Chicago Sky on Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena.

Sabrina Ionescu earned another double-double while Natasha Howard earned 12 points and seven rebounds in her New York debut. Courtney Vandersloot had 15 assists for the Sky (2-1) in defeat.

ESM has the game ball from Sunday’s victory…

3rd Star: Rebecca Allen

13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals

Allen was a latecomer to the Liberty’s proceedings after finishing up her international duties in Spain. She has worked herself into a strong rhythm and contributed a little bit of everything on Sunday, finding a late shooting stroke and stifling Chicago’s comeback effort with strong defense.

The Liberty nearly endured disaster when Allen appeared to be shaken up after a late possession under the basket. Encouraged by teammate Betnijah Laney, Allen remained on the floor and recovered a missed free throw to pick one final and-one basket, delivering the dagger and the final points of the victory.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists

The Most Improved Player is turning the Liberty into a most improved team, as Laney once again reached 20 points, no having done so in each of her first five games in seafoam. She was pleased with the Liberty’s physicality in their Sunday victory as well as their resilience in overcoming Friday’s brutal loss in Washington.

“For us to know that we can play their style of basketball and be successful, I think it really is really good for us and it shows our strength,” Laney said. “We knew what we had to do and we just came out with the same energy (over the first three contests), approaching the games, the same way that we do every time.”

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

19 points, 12 assists 

Sunday was a familiar battle for Ionescu, as she went up against former Oregon teammate Ruthy Hebard and their fellow Kelly Graves disciple Vandersloot (who worked with the current Ducks coach at Gonzaga). Ionescu responded with another double-double and got herself involved in several scrums under the basket. She was pleased that the team was able to win a physical battle, especially while embroiled in a three games-in-four days swing that ends tomorrow in Brooklyn against the Dallas Wings (7 p.m. ET, YES).

“It was a dogfight. But we came up and we were ready to play,” Ionescu said. “They’re tough, they’re a physical team, that’s kind of their MO. We knew that going in, and we definitely punched first and continued to punch. You know they were going through some runs, but I think defense is what really stepped up for us in this game and ultimately helped us.”

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

ESM’s New York Liberty free agency preview 2021

Determined to finally rise from the ashes of the WNBA cellar, the New York Liberty now face a most interesting free agency period.

The New York Liberty have sowed their post-Madison Square Garden rebuild for three years now. But after three years at or near the bottom of the WNBA standings, they’re really to start reaping.

Three months after the Bradenton bubble was deflated for the last time, the Association’s free agency period unofficially opened on Friday, with its twelve teams now permitted to negotiate with their own free agents, as well as Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents. Deals and offer sheets can officially be signed on February 1.

Trapped in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history, the Liberty have picked some strong-long term contributors during their stay in hardwood purgatory. These additions go far beyond the high-profile arrival of Sabrina Ionescu, as the team has also welcomed in All-Star Kia Nurse and 2020 All-Rookie team representative Jazmine Jones through the draft, while veteran leader Layshia Clarendon arrived through free agency last season. More recently, the Liberty hit the jackpot at the WNBA Draft Lottery for the second straight season, as they earned an early Christmas gift in the form of the top overall pick at this spring’s upcoming draft. Additionally, the Liberty gained franchise stability through new management. Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai purchased the team in 2019 and was ready to move the team into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before current events enforced a delay.

These decisions and steps forward have done little to atone for the fact that the Liberty have endured some brutal seasons in recent years, with things more or less plummeting in a 2-20 record inside the bubble. The Liberty went through most of last season without Ionescu and veteran contributors like Rebecca Allen, Asia Durr, and Marine Johannes, using seven rookies over the course of the enclosed season. With the veterans set to return, the Liberty will have some major decisions to make when it comes to these young players.

In the lottery aftermath, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb made it clear that the 2021 season would be one that could at least begin to right the ship while developing some of their younger talents. Kolb labeled this modern endeavor a “hybrid rebuild”.

“We have a really exciting opportunity to kind of have a hybrid rebuild if you will,” Kolb said. “We can be super competitive right now while bringing along the future of the Liberty down the road. So that’s what we’re going to try to do. We have a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. Time will tell.”

“I think the most exciting thing is, we’re in position to do something. We’re positioned cap-wise, flexibility-wise, that if they’re interested in coming to New York, we’re in a position to capitalize on it.”

Based on numbers from Spotrac, the Liberty have just over $467,000 to spend through free agency.

ESM has you covered with what you need to know about the Liberty’s transactional future as the process gets underway…

Resolved

The Liberty have re-upped with one of their free agents thus far.

C/F Kiah Stokes 

Stokes was set to become a free agent but inked a one-year contract extension just before the Liberty’s season finale in September. After sitting out the entire 2019 WNBA season due to personal issues, Stokes returned to America with a newfound propensity for shooting the three, putting up 85 attempts after only three in her first four seasons. She sank only 20, but her newfound confidence from beyond the arc was inspiring to head coach Walt Hopkins.

“Stokes has been a rock for this group in a lot of ways,” Hopkins said in September. “In spite of her going through what has to have been the most difficult mental season in terms of being uncomfortable, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re able to grow.”

“As this season went on, it was quite clear Kiah Stokes needed to be a part of what we’re doing,” Kolb said after her re-upping. “She enables us what we want to be and helps us be what we want to be.”

As a first-round pick from 2015, Stokes also presents a rare form of experience on the current New York roster.

Core/Unrestricted

The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.

Reserved

Reserved players are those that have three years or less of WNBA service. Their current teams have exclusive negotiation rights.

F Joyner Holmes

After the Liberty endured their veteran opt-outs, they brought in Holmes, a 2020 second-round pick from Seattle. Holmes averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19 games off the bench but left her mark on New York history by tying a Liberty rookie record with 13 rebounds in a September tilt against Phoenix.

G Paris Kea 

A former draft pick in Indiana, Kea was signed midseason once it became clear that Ionescu was out with a long-term issue. She made the most of her opportunity, averaging 6.9 points over 11 contests (five of which she started). The Liberty recently announced that Kea underwent knee surgery for an injury she sustained while playing overseas in Israel. Her 2021 status is uncertain, but she is expected to make a full recovery.

Unrestricted

Unrestricted free agents are permitted to sign with any team, except if they been bestowed core status

C Amanda Zahui B

Another New York veteran, coming over in a 2016 trade with the defunct Tulsa Shock, Zahui B emerged as a leader on and off the court last season. The rookie surplus looked up to her as an inspiration, while she used her platform to bring attention to social causes away from the hardwood.

Zahui B set career highs in nearly every major category this season, including averages of 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, but with Stokes’ return confirmed and collegiate interior threat Charli Collier potentially up for the top pick, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Stockholm native’s future.

Suspended/Expired

Players with expired contracts but opted out of the 2020 season can negotiate exclusively with their current team 

F/G Rebecca Allen

Allen opted out of the 2020 season in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, but was routinely mentioned by Liberty representatives over the season. Hopkins, for example, never hesitated to mention just how much he missed having Allen in his debut lineup.

“She’s got a tremendous skill set and she’s got a rare mix of characteristics in that she’s about 6’2 and she’s really long and she’s deceptively athletic to go with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get fouled and shoot the three at such a high level,” Hopkins said earlier last spring. “That’s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and we’ve got one built-in already. On top of that, she’s a phenomenal person.”

F Stephanie Talbot 

Talbot has yet to make her New York debut, having arrived through a draft night trade with Minnesota. Allen’s fellow Opal (a member of Australia’s national squad) likewise opted out but kept busy in her homeland’s top women’s league, earning first-team all-WNBL honors alongside WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage. Talbot previously worked with Hopkins when the latter was an assistant with the Lynx in 2019.

Outside Names to Watch

F Natasha Howard, Seattle

In her brief WNBA time, Ionescu found her shooting prowess rather quickly, scoring 33 points in only her second contest. If the Liberty were able to get another experienced interior threat, similar to what Ionescu had at Oregon with fellow 2020 draftees Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, it could help her get even more comfortable with the WNBA game.

Howard has had her experience working with game-changing point guards in Seattle, namely Sue Bird. With a pair of All-Defensive First Team nominations, she would also give the Liberty some much needed defensive pointers, as New York has finished no better than ninth in points allowed in each of the past three seasons (including a league-worst 84.3 per game in 2019). Hopkins (as well as assistant Shelley Patterson) has also worked with Howard in the past, as the two previously collaborated on the Lynx’s 2017 run to the WNBA Finals.

F Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles

Both Kolb and Hopkins have preached about the value of high-character players representing New York, and it’s hard to find anyone more accomplished on and off the court than Ogwumike. The current Spark and future Space Jam: A New Legacy star is current in the midst of her second term as the WNBA Players Association president, with Clarendon serving as the second-in-command. WIth WNBPA headquarters situated on Sixth Ave., New York could be an attractive option to Ogwumike from both a basketball and business standpoint.

Both Howard and Ogwumike have core designations, but something can still be accomplished through a sign-and-trade deal.

F Emma Meeseman, Washington

Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep perhaps best personified Hopkins’ vision of playing positionless basketball where participants are confident from any area of the floor.

That more or less has been the story of Meeseman over the past few seasons, as she has fulfilled a variety of roles under Mike Thibault. She played it to her advantage during the 2019 WNBA Finals, coming off the bench to swipe series MVP honors after skipping the previous 2018 season to represent her native Belgium in the FIBA World Cup. Though Washington struggled without Elena Delle Donne last season, Meeseman set a new career-best with 4.5 assists per game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Liberty: Rebecca Allen opts out of 2020 season

The Australian-born Allen, the longest-tenured member of the New York Liberty, has chosen not to take part in the upcoming WNBA season.

The New York Liberty will be missing another veteran if and when they take the court for the 2020 WNBA season.

Guard/forward Rebecca Allen announced on Thursday that she will not partake in the league’s potential 22-game season, set to held in a “bubble” setting at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The WNBA previously announced that it is aiming for a July 24 start to its 24th season of play.

“This has absolutely been one of the toughest decisions, but after much thought and discussions, I have decided to opt out of the 2020 season in Florida,” Allen said in a team statement. “The uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis and the logistical health risks related to travel have led me to conclude that it’s best if I not play in the WNBA this year.”

Thursday marked the deadline for WNBA players to inform their squads about their potential participation in the Bradenton bubble. Other opt-outs include defending rebound champion Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun and LaToya Sanders of the defending champion Washington Mystics. Others, including Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream, have opted to take the year off to focus on social advocacy.

“I would like to thank the Liberty for their support and understanding,” Allen added. “I’ll certainly miss all my teammates, staff and fans this year. I’ll be cheering loud from Australia and I look forward to getting back on the court in 2021.”

New Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins had been looking forward to working with Allen, having constantly sung her praises since taking the job in January.

“She’s got a tremendous skill set and she’s got a rare mix of characteristics in that she’s about 6’2 and she’s really long and she’s deceptively athletic to go with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get fouled and shoot the three at such a high level,” Hopkins said earlier this spring. “That’s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and we’ve got one built-in already. On top of that, she’s a phenomenal person.”

Allen, 27, was set to be the longest-tenured member of the Liberty, having been with the team since coming on as a free agent in 2015. She developed a reputation as a strong defender off the bench, as her wingspan earned her the nickname “Spida” in her native Australia. Allen enjoyed a bit of a breakout season in 2019, posting career-best averages in points (7.2) and minutes (17.2). She also finished seventh in the WNBA in three-point percentage (42.6 percent). Last August, Allen set a Liberty record with 20 points in the second quarter in a home tilt against Minnesota. Such a tally was two points behind the league’s best single-period scoring output (set by Diana Taurasi of Phoenix in 2006).

This offseason, Allen earned MVP honors in Poland’s Basket Liga Kobiet, partaking in Arka Gdynia’s perfect season prior to the league’s coronavirus-induced shutdown in March. Allen also made a name for herself in Australia’s national basketball endeavors. Part of the women’s team known as the “Opals”, Allen averaged 14 points in a trio of Olympic qualifiers. The Opals punched their ticket with wins over Chinese Taipei and India. Additionally, Allen was named to All-Star Five of the 2019 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Bangalore. She appeared alongside Liberty teammate Han Xu and led the Opals with 20 points in their bronze medal game victory over South Korea.

Allen is one of four New Yorkers sitting out the 2020 season. Fellow international representatives Han and Marine Johannes announced their intentions to stay in their respective homelands of China and France in May, while Liberty newcomer and Allen’s Opals teammate Stephanie Talbot chose to likewise remain in Australia.

With Allen’s temporary defection, Amanda Zahui B is slated to be the longest-tenured New Yorker on the hardwood, having joined the team in a 2016 trade with the Tulsa Shock. Zahui B penned an emotional tribute to her close friend Allen on Twitter.

She was far from the only New Yorker to publicly support Allen’s decision.

“Rebecca is a consummate professional and a key factor to the team’s new style of play,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said. “We understand that these decisions are never easy and, while she will certainly be missed this season, we fully support her decision to do what is best for her and her family.”

The Liberty were set to play their first full-time season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn prior to the WNBA’s postponement of the 2020 season. Their current roster features six rookie, headlined by top overall WNBA Draft pick Sabrina Ionescu from Oregon.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags