Strong competition in training camp will drive a successful 2017 campaign for the New York Liberty this season in the WNBA.
New York Liberty
Record last season: 21-13
Finished first in the Eastern Conference, knocked out in the second round of the 2016 Playoffs
Projected Starters/ Potential Subs:
Alternate guards: Brittney Boyd, Bria Hartley, Shavonte Zellous, Lindsay Allen
Alternate posts: Kiah Stokes, Amanda Zahui B., Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, Ivey Slaughter
The New York Liberty capped the 2016 season with a 21-13 record. With the new WNBA playoff format, the Liberty secured the third overall seed and earned a first round bye. In the second round, the Liberty hosted a one-game series with the Phoenix Mercury to advance in the playoffs. Unfortunately, New York dropped the match 101-94, putting an end to the season in front of a home crowd of 10,227 fans. Tina Charles was the undisputed leader on the court. Her league-leading performances led to 20 double-doubles throughout the season. Sugar Rodgers was another bright spot for the Liberty, she had a franchise-high 86 3-pointers last season. On September 13, she earned her 1,000th career point.
Retired, resting and relocated
The Liberty bade farewell to veteran Swin Cash. The former UConn Husky announced her retirement in the middle of the season. Cash has since been added to the front office staff of the organization. Cash is currently serving as the Director of Franchise Development. She has also announced that she and her husband are expecting their first child.
Bill Laimbeer and the Liberty will be without Tanisha Wright this season. The organization announced that Wright has opted to take the 2017 season to rest. Wright was also an important leader on and off the court, other returning players like Rodgers, Shavonte Zellous and Epiphany Price will look to fill that role in the coming season.
Another strong piece of the 2016 season that will not return is center Carolyn Swords. The Boston College alumna was part of a three team trade that sent her to the Seattle Storm, and brought Bria Hartley and Kia Vaughn to New York. Swords started all 34 games for the Liberty.
Another player missing – albeit in a more mysterious manner – is Shoni Schimmel. Schimmel was acquired by the Liberty from the Atlanta Dream last May. Fitness level and overall health were an issue for Schimmel, who was out for the season after suffering a concussion in August. It has been reported that she is taking some time away, but mums the word on when/if she will return. On Monday, head coach Bill Laimbeer stated, “I don’t know what is going to happen with Shoni right now.” Laimbeer reiterated that she has chosen to take time away, but also noted that training camp has been very competitive. “It’s a very competitive situation here and right now, she’s fallen a little behind.”
2017 Roster and projected starters
As Laimbeer mentioned, there is a lot of competition in camp, and that has the ability to make the Liberty a dangerous team to face this season. Excluding Schimmel, there are 19 players competing for 12 roster spots. As was the case last season, all things will run through Charles. She is hungry for another successful regular season, and ready to do what it takes to turn the corner in the playoffs. “We want to get back to the platform that [the Liberty team in the 90’s] were on. And, that starts with being in the top two and getting a bye, and working everyday on the little things,” said Charles.
Sugar Rodgers will be another important piece of the starting five for the Liberty. She has an outstanding shot from downtown. Additionally, her speed will allow her to penetrate to the lane and open up opportunities for Charles and Vaughn underneath, or players like Rebecca Allen and Hartley on the wing. Zellous and Rodgers will likely rotate in and out of the lineup. Hartley might also rotate in, as well as at the point guard position for the Liberty this season. A healthy Prince makes the shooting guard spot even more deep. She is coming off a successful campaign in Russia where she helped Dynamo Kursk to the first EuroLeague Women championship in program history.
Kia Vaughn will be an important addition to the New York Liberty. She is a veteran in the league, and familiar with the New York market. Vaughn has not been a starting center for the past two seasons, but her experience will likely win her the gig over Kiah Stokes (returning from injury). Amanda Zauhi B is returning from a very successful season abroad, she is a player to watch on this Liberty roster.
Recently, Lindsay Allen and Rebecca Allen got the starts at guard and forward, respectively. Lindsay Allen is someone Laimbeer has been impressed by in training camp, “I thought she’s picked it up very well. [She’s] smart.” She will have to prove she can score though, “We’re trying to encourage her to shoot more … this is the big time and you can’t have non-scorers out there.” Hartley is definitely a scorer and is excited to have a breakout season, “I’ve worked on improving my shot … and decision-making at the point guard spot,” said Hartley on Media Day. Brittany Boyd is another guard to watch for. She is a dynamic player who makes things difficult for the defense in the paint, despite her size.
At forward, Rebecca Allen is a proven scorer with the team last season. For me, the question with Allen is her defense. If she can contribute more in that respect, she will be an even stronger asset the New York. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is another rookie Laimbeer has been impressed with, “She’s fast, she’s strong, she can post up. She’s a solid player. She’s gonna compete for time also.” She also brings international experience from her time with Team Canada, as well as professionally in Switzerland and Germany. She is a player capable of double-double numbers and has an infectious positive attitude and work ethic.
— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) May 3, 2017
Liberty in Top Four
There has been a lot of movement in the WNBA since last season, and it’s too early to give side-by-side comparisons. With that said, I see this New York team finishing in the top four again this season. Despite being third overall last year, there were glaring inconsistencies that the team needs to address. With the preseason under their belt, it looks like turnovers are an early area for improvement, but the New York grit appears to be in tact.
Charles is the conduit again this year, but players like Rodgers are leaders in their own way. Apropos to her name, Sugar brings the sweet to Charles’ vocal and in-your-face leadership style, “I’m back there, patting [teammates] on the back saying,’it’s okay'” Rodgers joked on Media Day. Having a more active role in teammate development has also opened her game up. “I haven’t been vocal on the court in my WNBA career,” said Rodgers. Her coaches have made it clear that her voice is needed for the 2017 team to succeed, “I took that at the beginning of training camp and just talked … I think I’ve been talking too much!”
The team is more balanced overall going into the season, which should lead to a more consistent level of play. Last season, when players like Charles, Wright and Zellous were out with injury, the team struggled to maintain a consistent compete level. That won’t be the case this season. However, every other team has also gotten more competitive – especially in the east. Although the conferences don’t matter as much with the new format, teams like the Connecticut Sun and the Washington Mystics will be exponentially more competitive this season.
More WNBA: Washington Mystics 2017 Season Preview
If the Liberty can refine their style of play, as opposed to playing at the rate of their opponents, this is a team more than capable of being the best in the East again. However, that won’t be enough to claim a top two spot. Western Conference teams like the Minnesota Lynx, and the Los Angeles Sparks will continue to be competitive. The San Antonio Stars and Seattle are also teams New York will have to play well against to earn a top seed.
I predict the Liberty will go 23-11 this season and earn the third place spot again. The Liberty finish the preseason this Sunday as they host the Connecticut Sun. New York opens the regular season at home against the San Antonio Stars on May 13.