On Wednesday, the New York Liberty — coming off their best win of the season, a 98-92 victory over the Los Angles Sparks — fell to the Chicago Sky 91-83. The Liberty fall to 3-6 on the year and sit ninth in the league standings.
A matchup of two of the league’s three worst defenses was bound to be a high-scoring affair, and Wednesday’s game didn’t disappoint. Both teams allowed more points than their season averages and scored more points than their season averages, but the Liberty were just a little worse defensively and a good deal less efficient offensively.
In her final game before leaving for EuroBasket, Liberty center Amanda Zahui B finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, going 5-for-10 from the field and 2-for-4 from three while adding in a pair of blocks. It was another solid game from a player that the Liberty will sorely miss over the next few weeks.
All of New York’s starters finished in double figures, with Asia Durr scoring a team-high 19. It was also another night of struggles from the Liberty bench, which combined for just six points on 3-for-8 shooting. I’ll have more below on the bench and what to expect from it over the next few weeks.
On the Sky side, Chicago got 25 points from Courtney Vandersloot to lead the way while also getting 13 off the bench from Cheyenne Parker.
Seven Chicago players had effective field goal percentages of at least 50%, while only two players from the Liberty — Reshanda Gray and Tiffany Bias, who played just five minutes — did. New York hung around because of their three-point shooting, going 10-for-22 from deep. Overall, the Liberty shot 39.5% from the field while the Sky 50.7%, so maybe that final score isn’t the best indicator of how this game went. New York didn’t lead after the first quarter, while Chicago led by as many as 13 in the second half.
Let’s look at a few takeaways and questions from this game.
It’s Time To Be Without Zahui B
Well, it’s here. Amanda Zahui B leaves for EuroBasket on Thursday. She stuck around longer than pretty much anyone else in the league, but New York will be without her for the next six or seven games. What will they do?
Well, this quote from head coach Katie Smith is interesting:
My best guess is that Reshanda Gray enters the starting lineup. Gray’s had a strong season, especially on the offensive glass, as she’s tied for seventh in the league in offensive rebounds per game despite averaging just 15.7 minutes per game. Her offensive rebounding rate is third among players who’ve played at least 10 minutes per game, behind Monique Billings and Teaira McCowan.
But Gray has also not attempted a three-pointer all year, while Zahui B was taking 3.9 per game, so things will change a lot in terms of spacing. Lineups with Charles and Gray playing together have actually done fairly well this season, as the Liberty have a better net rating when that duo shares the floor vs. when Charles and Zahui B or Gray and Zahui B share the floor, but I’m not sold on that being sustainable with more minutes for the two together. Maybe Charles spends more time on the perimeter, which would help this work better, but if both players are used close to the basket, New York’s guards won’t have the same driving lanes they’ve had lately. That’ll make it tougher for Kia Nurse, Brittany Boyd, and Durr to score.
Playing Han Xu as the bench big alleviates some of those issues, as she’s shown some ability to step out away from the basket. Six of her 11 shot attempts this year have been in the midrange, while she hasn’t attempted a shot in the restricted area. She can bring some spacing, though her rawness inside might be too much of a negative.
Otherwise, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe would be the other big. She’s probably not doing much more than being an interior presence, though, and I’m not sure playing her helps the offense run as effective as it could.
More Inefficiency From Tina Charles
I wrote after the Sparks game that I wasn’t ready to worry about Tina Charles and her shooting yet, but…things are not going in the right direction:
Charles is shooting 10% worse than last year. She’s hitting 15.8% of her threes after hitting 32.6% last year. And while it’s hard to pin it all on her, Charles is sporting a negative net rating for the second year in a row.
Charles is just 30, so it’s too early to blame age for these struggles, though it might not be a stretch to attribute some of it to the year-round play that the WNBA’s players have to endure. Charles plays in China during the WNBA offseason, and that kind of workload is bound to impact a player at some point. Maybe it’s not the reason for Charles’ slump, but having to carry the load for the Liberty all Summer and for international clubs the rest of the year is a lot for a player to handle.
New York’s lack of front court depth doesn’t help matters either. Rebecca Allen is injured. Zahui B is heading to Europe until July. Right now, the team isn’t playing a fourth big in the games where they’re in contention for the win.
Hopefully, we continue to see the balance of shot making shifted around. On a lower volume, I’d expect Charles’ efficiency to come back.
Coach Katie Smith’s opening statement:
“Tough one, battled, good energy, just too many easy opportunities on both ends that we didn’t take advantage of both defensively and offensively, and getting a couple of more shots to fall.”
Coach Katie on the team trending in the right direction:
“I think our energy from start to finish is great. I think our tempo is better but on a consistent basis, it’s the little stuff. We know this team was a good scoring team, they had people scoring all over the floor, but the little opportunities, easy buckets in transition, the duck-ins, little stuff like that, that stuff has to be taken away to get a win like this against a team that can score pretty easily. And on our end, making a couple of extra buckets would be helpful. I think our team has been locked in, we had five people in double figures, there’s a lot of positives that we’re building on and I just want us to keep doing that.”
Coach Katie on the defense having trouble guarding open layups underneath and the adjustment for Minnesota:
“A lot of it’s one-on-one, duck-ins, you have to anticipate, you can’t let people put their bodies and numbers in front of you. You can’t sag off of their shooters, but it’s a one-on-one battle, and you can’t allow them to have easy touches, you have to put your body on them, the same as they do for us.”
Coach Katie on how concerned she is about turnovers and missed layups:
“Turnovers in bad spots, but nine turnovers in the game isn’t bad for us but of course, layups we have to finish, especially easy opportunities. Concerned, sure, but the opportunities were there we just need to finish them.”
Tina Charles on positives from this game:
“I want to say we just kept fighting hard. It was slow at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Asia Durr made big shots towards the end to try to keep us in the game, Zahui B started coming alive, but that would be about it.”
Charles on Asia Durr:
“That’s her relationship with Katie (Smith), the way she approaches her, telling her to be aggressive, she’s been responding, so her relationship with Katie and Katie encouraging her to be aggressive.”
Charles on the key for the next stretch of games:
“Just staying together, everybody just doing their roles, everybody just being confident in what they bring to the team, and knowing if they bring that, we should be alright and come out with wins in those games.”
Asia Durr on the team’s improvements:
“Just closing out the games and playing hard for our four quarters. We have had some good starts, but we have to do it each quarter, each play, we had some good looks out there, we had a few breakdowns, but we are just trying to build.”
Durr on improving:
“Just trying to be a sponge, trying to learn. I push myself everyday just trying to be great, but at the same time it’s been very challenging mentally as well. I am just trying to learn.”