One of my favorite developments to watch this season has been New York Liberty center Amanda Zahui B continuing to stretch her range out to the three-point line. It’s a development that’s had me excited on Twitter:
It takes a lot for me to tweet the exact same thing twice, but Zahui B’s brought another dimension to her game this year. Sure, she was taking long-range shots before — she averaged 2.1 attempts per game last season and is currently taking 3.0 per game this year — but with her minutes increasing to a career-high 23.7 per contest, Zahui B’s three-point shooting has become more noticeable.
This isn’t going to be an article that’s only about three-pointers. We’ve seen tangible developments from Zahui B in a variety of ways as she has career best averages in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals, and I want to touch on those things as well.
But, let’s start off with the Zahui 3.
Zahui B’s Offensive Prowess
It’s been documented on this site that I’m a big fan of stretching out the floor with four players who can score from the perimeter. It opens up driving lanes and makes life easier for the player who’s playing inside. For the Liberty, that theoretically means that Tina Charles winds up dealing with fewer double teams and that Kia Nurse is able to drive to the bucket, getting easy shots at the rim or drawing fouls.
Zahui B developing her outside game more has helped the team do things like that, and it’s made her someone whose versatility keeps her on the floor more.
What we can see is that Zahui B is taking the vast majority of her shots in the paint — or at least near the paint, like the little cluster just outside the left post — or from the top of the arc/the wing. That’s a shot profile that I really like to see, as she’s eschewing the mid-range shot for attempts that usually yield a higher expected points per shot.
It helps that Zahui B has been really efficient underneath the basket, shooting 75.7% so far this year on 37 attempts in the restricted area. She’s getting better as an outside shooter at the same time that she’s becoming a serious threat on the interior, and those two developments track nicely with the evolution of basketball. Simply put: Zahui B’s shot profile is something analytics people love.
Now, Zahui B is shooting just 33% from three, a number that needs to rise for her to be an effective as possible.
She’s making the right kinds of moves, though, to ensure she has the best chance possible to make these shots:
Positioning is an important part of getting and making shots, and Zahui B does a good job here rotating out to the arc so that the ball can be kicked back to her on the drive. It’s a smart call by Zahui B, whose game is really predicated on making smart calls. She’s been very good at knowing where to be on the floor, when to be there, and how to make the most of those chances.
The Defensive End
Where Zahui B has made a bigger impact is on defense. Despite her offensive player impact plus/minus being negative, Zahui B has the highest overall PIPM on the Liberty thanks to her strong showing defensively.
A big part of that has been Zahui B’s increased rim defense. To put it plainly: wow, she’s been blocking a lot of shots.
Zahui B is fifth in the WNBA in blocks per game. If you’d told me that at the beginning of the year, I’d have just assumed you were making it up, because Zahui B’s best season average before this season was 0.7 per game. Last year, in 15.9 minutes per game, she had 0.4 per game. This year, she’s collecting 1.6, so she’s quadrupled her per game block numbers while not even doubling her minutes.
Zahui B does a good job moving her feet, staying in front of the driver, and getting her hands up at the right moment. She’s got some really good quickness for a player playing the five, so she’s able to cover a lot of ground pretty quickly. On this play, Zahui B comes across the paint to contest the shot, while on this play…
…she uses that quickness and her size to get outside of the paint and contest the midrange jumper.
Like with her shooting, awareness is a big thing here. Zahui B seems to always be uber-aware of where she is on the floor, where the ball is, and what her role is. Defensively, that’s manifested this year in this huge increase in blocks and, if the WNBA’s tracking stats are right, players Zahui B is guarding shooting a good bit worse this year when she’s on them than they did last year.
So, what’s the future hold for Zahui B and the Liberty?
It seems abundantly clear that her first season as the full-time starting five has gone in a mostly positive direction for her. Yeah, there were some struggles, especially after her return from EuroBasket, but Zahui B has earned a spot in the starting lineup next year. Advanced stats suggest that she could be even better than a lot of people think.
Of course, Zahui B will miss time again next year as Sweden competes in the Olympics, so things won’t exactly be smooth. But as long as she’s in New York for part of the season, this team has found a starter. If Kiah Stokes returns, they’ll have a pretty formidable front court between those two and veteran All-Star Tina Charles.