The WNBA Playoffs are in full swing and on Tuesday night we’ll also find out how the 2020 WNBA Draft will look, as the four team Draft Lottery will take place. The New York Liberty have the best chance (44.2%) of landing the top spot in next year’s draft and are guaranteed to pick no later than third.
After the lottery, we’ll be turning some of our attention here at Nets Republic to the offseason and to the players New York might add to this current team. But before we get that far, let’s take a long look back at the 2019 New York Liberty season. After a season of covering this team, here are the 10 biggest takeaways I’m left with.
2019 New York Liberty: 10 Takeaways
Here, in no particular order, are some takeaways.
Tina Charles struggled, but the end of the season reminded us of how good she can be
There’s not really a way to sugarcoat this: For a good bit of the 2019 season, Tina Charles was bad. We can debate the reasons all day, but it was fair for a good part of the season to say that Charles was having some serious struggles on the basketball court. Her PIPM for the season was in the bottom 10 of the league for a good bit and her efficiency was just gone. It was becoming routine to see Charles shoot under 20 percent from the field.
But after the All-Star break, Charles seemed to right the ship. It was a subject I wrote about last month, and a lot of her improvement came down to two things: spacing and shot profile. The Liberty spread the floor out a little more late in the year, and Charles moved back away from the basket more, feasting on mid-range shots instead of trying to bang down low as much. As she continues to put mileage on her tires, Charles should be looking to focus on her jump shot and let someone else do the dirty work inside. That’s a path to keeping her around the league longer and to her remaining New York’s best player.
Amanda Zahui B continued to extend her range, and she’s a big part of New York’s future
I remember before the season started hearing a lot of people on Twitter who were mad about the Liberty starting Zahui B at the five. I hope they all realize they were wrong.
Zahui B missed two chunks of the season, first for EuroBasket and then later for a concussion. But when she was on the floor, she was impressive.
Her offensive ability will get most of the attention, which is fair. Zahui B continued to extend her range offensively, and using her as a stretch big moving forward will help open up the interior of the floor for drivers and for Tina Charles.
But she also emerged as a terror for opposing bigs on the other end. Zahui B’s WNBA career up to this point had been pretty light on the blocks, but that changed in 2019 as she finished ninth in the league in blocks per game with 1.4. Her defensive awareness is a severely underrated part of her play.
Asia Durr’s rookie year didn’t go as expected, but injuries happen
I know there are people out there who think the Liberty should have taken one of the Rookie of the Year finalists — Napheesa Collier and Arike Ogunbowale — or Fever center Teaira McCowan, but I’m not even close to ready to write off Asia Durr.
Limited to just 18 games because of a groin strain, Durr ended the year averaging 9.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.7 points per contest. She struggled from long distance, shooting under 30% on her three-point attempts.
But Durr flashed the potential that made her the number-two pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft. Here are a few videos I tweeted this year of Durr impressing me with her basketball ability:
I think a lack of touches hurt Durr. The team didn’t get her the ball in the half-court as much as I would have liked to see, but that’s something that can be worked on before next season. If the Liberty can add a strong point guard, Durr should be able to thrive as an off-guard who can also put the ball on the floor in transition and get some minutes as the lead ball-handler when that point guard sits.
Brittany Boyd’s time in New York is probably done
Boyd was taken out of the starting lineup during the season and was out of the rotation at times. She’s a serviceable point guard who plays some hard-nosed defense and makes smart passes, but New York needs something more dynamic from that spot in the lineup.
Boyd probably won’t be back next year, as the team will either get the first pick in the draft and pick Oregon point guard Sabrina Ionescu or, if they don’t win the lottery, will try to look elsewhere to bring in someone to start at the one. Tanisha Wright’s retirement could throw a small wrench into things — Boyd might be back out of necessity — but I imagine we see this team go into 2020 with a new face and Bria Hartley as the main point guards. Maybe Durr gets some run there, depending on how the roster looks.
Wow, Reshanda Gray sure can rebound!
Of players to play at least 10 minutes per game, Gray was third in offensive rebounding rate!
Kia Nurse still needs to work on consistency, but she made some big strides
Kia Nurse made the All-Star Game this year and took some clear steps forward, upping her scoring and assist numbers. Her shot wasn’t always there, though, as she ended the year under 40% from the floor despite improvements in her outside game.
Nurse is going to be hugely important to this team going forward. Moving her to small forward helps get more fire power on the floor, and her ability to handle the ball gives this team more versatility.
Still, there were plenty of games where Nurse just didn’t have it going. I think relying on her to be your number-two player is too much. She’d really thrive as a third or fourth option, which could definitely be what we see moving forward depending on Durr’s development and what this team does in the draft. Nurse is a very good player, and when the Liberty get the team around her set, she’s going to be a lot more efficient.
I hope the 2020 Olympics don’t lead to us not seeing Marine Johannès
The 2020 Olympics could disrupt some things. For example: Will Marine Johannès miss most of the season again while training with France? She did this year, so…probably. Will she return after the Olympics are over? Hopefully. It’s a real shame that the WNBA schedule overlaps with all these major international events, because you wind up with a weaker talent pool in the league because players just aren’t over here for long parts of the season.
Anyway, here’s some Johannès highlights:
Han Xu’s shown promise, but taking it slow with her playing time was the right call
A lot of people wanted to see a lot more of Han Xu during her rookie year, especially when it became clear that the Liberty weren’t going to be making a push for the postseason. Katie Smith did up Han’s minutes at times down the stretch, but her playing time was still pretty inconsistent.
And that’s okay! Han Xu is 19 years old and playing in a league where virtually every rookie enters the league with four years of college experience. Han has a ton of promise. Her ability to defend inside and shoot from deep could give the Liberty a lot of different options. Han Xu’s future outlook could basically be this year’s version of Amanda Zahui B but with all the extra advantages that being the league’s tallest player. That’s a scary possibility.
But it takes time. And while getting live game reps is an important part of that, Smith playing it safe with her was the right call. Han Xu doesn’t yet have the strength to play major minutes in competitive games. Again, it’s okay. She’s 19. She’ll get better. Hopefully it’s in a Liberty uniform, but we all knew that Han was a project. Someone her age doesn’t come into the WNBA and instantly become a starter.
Rebecca Allen should continue to see time as a stretch four
I wrote about this last month, but to sum it up real quick: While Amanda Zahui B was out with a concussion, the Liberty used Rebecca Allen more as a stretch four. It worked. She played some of the best basketball of her career during this time, and spreading the floor out also helped Tina Charles up her efficiency inside by drawing defenses away from the paint. It was a win-win scenario. While we’re seeing teams like the Sparks and Aces successfully doubling down on size up front, I think there’s room for a team like New York to go the opposite way and try to stretch the floor as much as possible with Zahui B, Han Xu, and Allen.
I’m going to miss Tanisha Wright
I really hope Katie Smith hires Tanisha Wright as an assistant coach now that Wright is retiring. When things were looking a little dicey in this backcourt during the season, Smith turned to the veteran Wright to help steady things. Her expertise and experience were important to this team and she’s going to make a really good coach at some point. It could help this team transition to their next point guard if Wright was there on the bench to help out with things.