The WNBA held their 2022 draft on Monday, April 11. The league returned to their first in-person draft since 2019. Heading into the draft, the New York Liberty had two picks: the fifth overall and a third rounder (29th overall). Here’s a recap and a roster breakdown of where they stand heading into training camp, which begins Sunday, April 17.
#5. Nyara Sabally, 6’5′ PF/C, Oregon
Nyara Sabally is a versatile post with a plethora of moves. She has a high basketball IQ. and she’s capable of both banging inside the paint and stepping out to hit a 15-foot jump shot. On the other end of the floor, Sabally is a strong defender that can disrupt opposing teams around the rim. Her history of injuries are a potential red flag, with multiple ACL tears already on record. However, when healthy, Sabally is an absolute force on the floor. This pick also reunites her with Oregon standout Sabrina Ionescu. Jonathan Kolb and Sandy Brondello took the best available player here and it could turn out to be a high-risk/high-reward gamble. Kolb noted that Sabally will not play this season and will join the team beginning in 2023.
#18. Lorela Cubaj, 6’4″ PF, Georgia Tech (acquired via trade with the Seattle Storm)
Kolb and Brondello were clearly looking to add as much depth to their frontcourt as possible. Acquiring the 18th pick in exchange for next year’s second-rounder enabled the Liberty to get Georgia Tech’s Lorela Cubaj, one of the best rebounders in the draft and another solid defender inside like Sabally. Adding both Cubaj and Sabally will allow Rebecca Allen and now Michaela Onyenwere to slide over to the wing more often. Cubaj’s struggles on the offensive end might limit her playing time.
#29. Sika Koné, 6’2″ PF, Mali
Following the completion of the 2022 draft, Kolb mentioned that Koné was not coming over this season. By using this pick to select Koné, the team retains her rights for future seasons. The 19-year-old projects out as a player worth waiting for. She can continue to develop her game overseas and, due to salary cap issues beginning in 2023, can be a bargain to have on their roster.
So, now that we’ve got the three new draftees accounted for, how does this affect New York’s current makeup? Following the draft, the Liberty’s roster currently stands at 16 players.
Sabrina Ionescu: Starting point guard and a lock to make the roster.
Didi Richards: Currently the team’s only lock for a guard off the bench. Can cover both positions, and provides both great energy and a defensive edge to the team’s second unit.
Sami Whitcomb: Starting shooting guard and a lock to make the roster. Whitcomb also serves as the back-up point guard. Sami averaged 11.8 points per game and 3.6 assist per game for the Perth Lynx in the WNBL this off-season.
Asia Durr: Her health, following two seasons missed because of long-COVID symptoms, is still in question, and the Liberty have been very quiet regarding her status. Durr has been working out this offseason and appears ready to return. With a shortage of guards on their roster, there is a path for Durr this season.
Paris Kea: Kea returns to the Liberty after missing last season due to injury. Despite playing only 11 games, she impressed in 2020. If Durr isn’t ready by the start of the season, Kea could fill in as the team’s fourth guard.
Marine Johannés: Currently not signed for the 2022 season. Johannés’ French league looks like they’ll be playing until the beginning of June.
Betnijah Laney: Locked in as their starting small forward. With their additions in the post this season, New York can go with a bigger line-up and slide Laney over to shooting guard for short periods.
Rebecca Allen: Locked in as the Liberty’s sixth woman. Capable of playing either forward position, Allen is one of New York’s best three-point options, and one of their top defenders.
Michaela Onyenwere: The reigning Rookie of the Year will likely see a smaller role due to a deeper roster. Like Allen, Onyenwere can play either forward position. Her minutes will be based on the development of both rookies.
Jocelyn Willoughby: Like Kea, she’s returning from injury after missing the 2021 season. The team loves Willoughby’s strength and defensive ability, so she could push for that final dozen.
Natasha Howard: Locked in as the team’s starting power forward. Not having to be the team’s starting center will enable Howard to work outside of the paint, where she can utilize her shot and athleticism with more frequency. As the team’s best defender, she’ll be often asked to guard to opposing team’s strongest post. With the draft’s added paint depth, Howard’s offensive production should increase while not being required to play as many minutes.
Stef Dolson: The Liberty’s big free agent acquisition is a lock as the team’s starting center. Her ability to bang inside the paint, float around the perimeter, and work the pick-and-roll with Ionescu should show immediate dividends for the Liberty’s offense.
Lorela Cubaj: The Liberty acquired Cubaj during draft night to increase the depth in the post. With both Sabally and Kone not available this season, Cubaj appears as a near lock. Her offensive struggles at Georgia Tech might be the only thing that prevents her addition onto the final roster. With Allen and Onyenwere capable of sliding into the post, the Liberty could look to stick with only four three “bigs” on their roster.
Kylee Shook: Shook took a big step forward last season in her overall production. With Natasha Howard missing games in the beginning, Shook stood out as the team’s most improved player early on. However, with Onyenwere’s strong rookie season, Allen’s offensive output and Howard’s return, Shook saw her playing time decrease towards the end of the season. In her last nine games, she would average just 2.8 points per game (PPG) and 1.4 rebounds per game (RPG) in just under 10 minutes per game. Shook should be a lock considering Sabally and Kone won’t be available this season.
Han Xu: Xu currently appears on the Liberty’s roster and has arrived to her first training camp since her rookie season in 2019. In China’s recent World Cup qualifiers, Han brought in 9.6 PPG and 3.0 RPG on 66.7 percent shooting. Han could work as the team’s fifth post now that Sabally will miss this season. She’ll face tough competition though, as the Liberty’s frontcourt is vastly different from the one she played on in 2019. Han was named the MVP in the Chinese Women’s Basketball League this offseason.
As of now, no preseason games have been scheduled for the Liberty. When training camps opens on Sunday, April 17, the Liberty can only have 15 players maximum. The team released its TC roster this afternoon. Final rosters must be down to a dozen by May 5. The Liberty begin the regular season at Barclays on Saturday, May 7 at 6:00pm against the Connecticut Sun.