Shop for WNBA gear at Fanatics

Welcome to Episode 2 of my offseason series, Liberty 365, which aims to keep you informed about what’s happening while the New York Liberty organization recesses for the winter. The first article caught you up on players overseas; this one takes you to the digital playground.

This past week, the latest next generation of gaming consoles hit the shelves (well, warehouses to be shipped out via online orders or stacked in curbside pick-up lines, but that’s 2020 for you). Tuesday marked the release of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, Thursday did the same for Sony’s PlayStation 5. Though many struck out on securing a console (myself included), there’s a lot of hype, especially as it relates to women’s hoops. With the systems’ launch came a massive upgrade to the latest basketball simulation game, NBA 2K21

Just last year, the franchise introduced the WNBA into its basketball universe, though the women’s component felt much more like an add-on than a fully fleshed out avenue worthy of replay value. On its face, it was fine. Just very limited. The W game mode allowed just single season play (meaning no online competition or franchise mode) and lots of questionable player ratings (though that’s a 2K staple). Taking the court and controlling some of my favorite W superstars felt like a dream, but… much like a dream, things got wonky if you examined them with any level of scrutiny, such as audio commentary beyond the basics and randomized generic men taking the place of female coaches on the sideline. 

This year, however, there’s reason for optimism. Both a franchise mode and online play have been added, plus there’s a create-your-own MyPlayer mode that allows you to make your own rookie and build her into a legend. Coupled with the big graphics boost, I’ve locked down my pivot foot and swung a full 180, to the point where I’m going out to buy a new console to try this game. 

Will it have flaws? Absolutely. For example, I doubt most players were able to get the fancy face scan treatment, but that would likely be due to the pandemic more than it would 2K oversight. Matt Ellentuck’s latest post over at Here’s Basketball goes into more holistic detail on the game itself, but I’m going to shift our focus. I want to turn the spotlight to the New York Liberty, and take a look at something more concrete: the player ratings.

Big shoutout here to 2kratings.com, who posted the breakdowns for each player in the league, and it’s through their database that I’ve extracted information for this piece. It’s a fun rabbit hole to dive into if you, too, have looked around the world recently and decided there aren’t enough stressors already.

First thing’s first, New York’s roster is 16 players deep (and that doesn’t include Stephanie Talbot, who shows up on the free agency list). With its struggles in recent years, the team rating of 78 comes in at last in the league, two points behind both the Atlanta Dream and Dallas Wings. Fair. Inside scoring (53), defense (64), and rebounding (49) are all significant struggle areas, and that tracks. The team’s best stat category is athleticism (82), which also makes sense. So far, no complaints. Let’s see how 2K did in capturing the essence of several key players.

Sabrina Ionescu, 84 Overall

Despite only playing nine-and-a-half quarters, Sabrina Ionescu and her tantalizing gamebreaking potential earned her the top score on the team. Her 84 is the second-lowest rating for a team’s best player, topping Atlanta’s Benijah Laney by a point. It also tops the 2020 draft class, outpacing some players that have, to this point, proven themselves more on WNBA film (e.g., Satou Sabally [79], Chennedy Carter [81], and Crystal Dangerfield [81]).

Ionescu looks like she’ll be lots of fun to play with offensively, scoring highly in speed, playmaking, and scoring. She’s also got a hall-of-fame level badge for trapping, a shoutout to Kelly Graves’ smothering double-team harassment at Oregon. This is the player New York is looking forward to seeing for years to come: an energetic, hard-nosed, lead-by-example, no-plays-off kind of talent who inspires with her effort and playmaking as much as she does her scorecard. 2K has put her digital counterpart firmly onto that path, as well.

Kia Nurse, 81 Overall

Kia Nurse struggled during the 2020 season, rarely looking right after an ankle sprain suffered in the opening day loss to the Seattle Storm. Nurse’s counting stats suffered, as her percentages saw a precipitous drop: her field goal percentage dropped from 39.3% in 2019 to 27.3% in 2020, and her three-point percentage dropped from 35.3% to 23.8%. 

Without Tina Charles’ league-leading usage rate, Nurse took on more responsibility offensively, seeing her own usage climb from 20.3% to 25.4%. It looks like the 2K team factored all this into her new rating, a regression from the previous edition of the game, where Nurse was coming off an All-Star campaign en route to an 84. Her three-point shooting dipped a couple of points, from 78 to 76, which might still be generous. Hopefully, this year was an outlier.

Layshia Clarendon, 79 overall

For much of 2020, Layshia Clarendon was the most consistent player in the Liberty huddle. This rings true in 2K’s breakdown: some of his top attributes are Shot IQ (91), Offensive Consistency (90), and Intangibles (98) (Full disclosure, I’ve never known what “intangibles” were in the context of this video game, or in real life I suppose—it’s always very arbitrary.) Lay’s shooting all ranks in the 70s, but hopefully their role as a whistle-to-whistle gamer is what comes to fruition, based on this breakdown.

The Sabbaticals

Four players on the 2019 roster did not suit up for the Liberty this past summer: Asia Durr (79), Rebecca Allen (76, +2 from 2K20), Marine Johannès (73), and Han Xu (73, +1 from 2K20). While these overall ratings didn’t adjust too much, there were some adjustments. 

Durr’s shooting profile changed a lot: her close/mid/3pt splits changed from a consistent 84/79/79 to a questionable 74/71/82. Last year, Durr played fast, and she maintained the same 84 speed and acceleration. 

Allen saw some improvement to her three-point game, though her defensive stats (59) are severely underestimating her actual ability on that side of the floor. Her shot from deep climbed from 80 to 86, and she’s got two gold shooting badges for “Catch & Shoot” and “Corner Specialist.” In terms of league-wide rankings Allen’s 86 Three-Point-Shot puts her into a four-way tie at 11th place (Allie Quigley, of course, leads the field with a 95).

Johannès is a bit of an enigma, especially because we still haven’t seen her play too much in the W. That seems especially true for the 2K raters, because she stayed exactly the same. Hopefully she’ll have a major leap next season and in 2K22.

And, finally, Han Xu. Again, the raters seemed to be at a loss here, so it looks like Han just added a point to many categories across the board. Can’t really fault them for not knowing what to make of a young player at the end of the bench. Han’s size made her a fun play last season, as she was able to make a defensive impact even without strong point ratings.

Why the slight increase for these players? Well, this boost might be due to the fact that 2K is super hesitant to rate rookies well, even after a full season, and the Liberty had a bunch of first-years (not named Sabrina) already living in that 71-74 range. Without further ado…

The Rookies

There are lots of rookies, so I put together a table:

I added the three-point category for two reasons: one, the Liberty LOVED to shoot threes, so it seemed important to their identity; and two, these numbers seem to be have been added at random. Obviously, lots of these rankings are problematic—Jaz Jones was named to the All-Rookie team and can’t even make it to 75—but it makes sense that the raters struggled to place the players with the least amount of WNBA tread on their tires. Poor Neah Odom didn’t start 16 of 22 games for this disrespect! 

There are some other rating quirks: Amanda Zahui B is somehow the ninth-best perimeter shooter on the team and only an 84 in defensive rebounding, despite grabbing a league-record 21 defensive boards in a game earlier this season (list courtesy of Across the Timeline); Kylee Shook, arguably one of the top post defenders on the team, is just a 73 on defense; Kiah Stokes who, granted, only shot 23.5% from deep, but made just short of one three per game has the lowest possible shot from outside at a 25.

There’s a lot to complain about, for sure—including the fact that there hasn’t yet been a Liberty player screengrab to pull for this article. Still, though, I’m excited to take the court with this young team, see those slick black and seafoam jerseys, and attempt to secure a few more wins than they did down in Bradenton.