The dust has settled on the WNBA Draft, and the New York Liberty look a lot different than they did before the draft. That’ll happen when you have five of the first 15 picks.
Because of time constraints, I don’t have a ton of time right now to write full-length articles on all the Liberty draft-related things I’d want to write about, though we’ll definitely do more video breakdowns in the near-ish future.
So, I thought we could do a mailbag. I asked Twitter for some questions. Here are my thoughts on those questions.
Note: The Liberty have reportedly released Brittany Boyd, which changes how some of these answers would have gone had the release happened before this article was written.
@RobCenta: Would love to hear your thoughts on what the best defensive line up might look like and what kind of scheme makes sense.
I’ll admit that I have a much better understanding of basketball defense than basketball offense, but let’s crunch some numbers from last season plus some college numbers from the new rookies to figure this out.
Let’s start with last year’s lineups. Among the five five-player lineups that played at least 50 minutes, only one had a defensive rating under 100, and that was the lineup of Amanda Zahui B. Tina Charles, Kia Nurse, Asia Durr, and Tanisha Wright. Obviously, two of those players are gone this year.
If we extend that to lineups that played 20 minutes or more, we see a few trends emerge. Yes, the sample size is tiny, but the two best lineups by defensive rating of that sample featured all four of Rebecca Allen, Brittany Boyd, Marine Johannes, and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. Three of those players should be on the team this year — though I’ve seen speculation about Boyd’s role.
Anyway, my initial gut instinct is that the Liberty want a defensive lineup that can switch and that has a good shot-blocking center. So let’s pencil Amanda Zahui B.in as one of those players, and based on on/off data, let’s put Rebecca Allen in there as well.
Beyond that, it’s hard to know who would be in the team’s best defensive lineup. Probably Layshia Clarendon has to be involved as the point guard, as she’s been a fairly good defender during her career, though Boyd could also play the point in these lineups. I don’t think you’d want to play both together, though.
After that, you’re looking for another guard and a wing. I think Megan Walker might have sense as the wing, as she was a good pick-and-roll defender in college and has the ability to switch if needed. For the guard spot, I think you have to play either Sabrina Ionescu or Kia Nurse for the offense they’d provide and basically hide them on the fifth-worst offensive player the other team has.
The other idea is against teams that rely on two posts, you can probably swap Walker out for Reshanda Gray or Kylee Shook — assuming one or both make the team — and have Allen slide back to the three.
Of course, with the college players there are a lot of new variables in terms of how quickly they can become plus-defenders at the professional level. So if you want to have only veterans in this lineup, maybe something like Zahui B/Allen/Nurse/Johannes/Clarendon would work defensively?
@johnwdavis: What would the team / rotation look like with 6 rookies, if they all made the 12 woman roster.
This is the kind of weird question that I love. Six rookies aren’t making any WNBA unless there’s some kind of very, very unexpected issue — like COVID-19 preventing all of New York’s international players from showing up for the 2020 season — happens.
But let’s all assume that all six rookies did make the team. What would the team look like?
I’m going to run with the “no international players” scenario in setting up this fake version of the team, because that’s the easiest path to figuring this out. So, we have all six rookies (Sabrina Ionescu, Megan Walker, Jocelyn Willoughby, Jazmine Jones, Kylee Shook, and Leaonna Odom), which leaves us with six other roster spots to fill.
Those spots will go to Asia Durr, Layshia Clarendon, Brittany Boyd, Reshanda Gray, Tayler Hill, and Kiah Stokes. That leaves a lot of New York’s best players — Kia Nurse, Amanda Zahui B. Rebecca Allen, Marine Johannes — on the suspended list for the season before returning in 2021.
In this scenario, figuring out the starting lineup becomes tough. I’d say Kiah Stokes, Asia Durr, and Sabrina Ionescu would be looks to start. Beyond that, we know the Liberty are planning to play smaller lineups, so maybe we’d see Megan Walker start at the four and Jocelyn Willoughby at the three?
I don’t know. Let’s hope this pretend scenario never happens.
@MylesEhrlich: What can we expect from Kia Nurse in year 3 — the same jump we saw last season?
Kia Nurse took huge leaps last year, and she’ll be expected to play an even larger role now that Tina Charles is gone.
I know a lot of people think Sabrina Ionescu is going to show up in Brooklyn and instantly be the team’s best player, but the transition from college to the pros isn’t easy, and it’s especially not easy when you’re playing point guard and having to control an offense.
My expectation is that in the short term, Kia Nurse is the most important member of the Liberty, and she’ll be the team’s top scoring option this year. Last year, her usage rate rose from 17.8% to 20.3%, and that should rise a little more in 2020.
She also benefits from Ionescu’s passing skill. Last year, 89.3% of her shots from beyond 24 feet were assisted; Nurse will be asked to drive and score, but she’ll also get plenty of chances to do the catch-and-shoot thing that she does pretty well.