WBNA free agency officially opened on Monday, and the New York Liberty didn’t take long to make a splash, signing former Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon. Clarendon — who was worked with new Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins in the past — played just nine games for the Sun last year due to an ankle injury, but she was an All-Star with Atlanta in 2017.
Let’s talk about what this signing means for the New York Liberty, and let’s do it by first agreeing to work under one large assumption: that the Liberty will use the first pick in the WNBA Draft on guard Sabrina Ionescu, because talking about what the Clarendon signing means without working under that assumption would lead to an incomplete picture of what’s going on here.
What Clarendon brings to the court
Let’s start with what a healthy Layshia Clarendon brings to the floor.
In nine games last season for the Sun, Clarendon averaged 6.2 points and 2.1 assists in 15.3 minutes per night.
Per Synergy — and take this with a grain of salt since the sample size is small — Clarendon ranked in the 92nd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler. New York was already the third-most efficient team on those looks last year, with the recently-retired Tanisha Wright doing a good job leading pick-and-rolls. So, Clarendon can pretty easily slide into a role like Wright’s for New York.
What she won’t do a lot of is shoot. Clarendon just isn’t a three-point shooter. She tried at one point, taking 61 threes in 2017, but she shot 18 percent from deep that year. Don’t expect her to do a lot of off-ball spotting up behind the arc.
Where we’ll likely see Clarendon make her biggest impact is with her passing. Per Basketball Reference, Clarendon is 10th among active players in assist rate, and in terms of her ability to hold onto the basketball, well:
With Hopkins wanting to run an offense that features more threes, having a good passer who can get the ball to those three-point shooters will be important, especially when the second unit is on the floor:
New York needed a veteran presence who could help Ionescu get comfortable in this league, and it’s fair to say that with Wright gone, tey didn’t have someone on this roster who they felt comfortable using in that role. Walt Hopkins appears to be employing one of the strategies that Katie Smith did last year, which is to highly value a veteran point guard who can steady the ship.
Clarendon won’t be someone you count on to make a bucket, but Wright wasn’t really either, and Brittany Boyd wasn’t, and the Liberty can put out some lineups where Clarendon will be playing with four shooters — think something like Tina Charles subbing out and Rebecca Allen coming in at the four — where her ball-handling and passing will be what matters.
She’ll be good in that role.
What does this mean for the New York Liberty?
So, what does this all mean from a practical standpoint?
First, there’s the question of New York’s guard rotation. Tanisha Wright is gone from last year’s team after she retired, but New York brings back some important guards. Top among them is Asia Durr, last year’s number-two overall pick. There’s also Marine Johannes, who Walt Hopkins has said is a key part of this team. Kia Nurse will mainly play the three, but can be used as a ball-handler. Brittany Boyd is under contract. Bria Hartley is a free agent but has provided some solid play for the team.
Add in Clarendon and Ionescu and you have…a lot of guards. This signing seems to indicate that someone — either Hartley through free agency or Boyd through trade or release — has to go to make room on the roster for these two. Boyd makes the most sense, as her value is pretty much tied directly to her ability to play point guard, whereas Hartley operates better off-ball than Boyd. But either way, expect some kind of change there, and don’t be surprised if both players wind up wearing different uniforms.
Then there’s the question of what exactly the Liberty’s lineup will look like and how Clarendon will fit in with it.
The best guess is that Clarendon will come off the bench, with New York running a starting lineup of Amanda Zahui B, Tina Charles, Kia Nurse, Asia Durr, and Sabrina Ionescu. Clarendon can be the backup point guard when other players sit, either directly subbing for Ionescu or coming in for Durr with Ionescu sliding to the two. I don’t think we see Clarendon starting unless there are injuries, though I suppose it wouldn’t be a shock to see the team start the year with Ionescu coming off the bench while she finds her professional footing.