Hi, everyone! Here at Nets Republic, we’re devoted to expanding our coverage of the New York Liberty to even greater heights in our second season writing about the team, which is why we’ll be doing Liberty roundtable discussions this season featuring our three Liberty writers: Justin Carter, Myles Ehrlich, and Geoff Magliocchetti.
Instead of doing a traditional post-game recap for the team’s first game, we’ve decided to talk about the game roundtable style.
What’s the peak/best-case scenario for the 2020 Liberty?
Geoff: Even before the bubble was inflated, this was going to be a puzzling year for the New York Liberty. As Dylan once wrote, when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose, and the Liberty have no experience, or at least not much of it with seven rookies on the roster. Saturday was perhaps an interesting sign of things to come: relatively consequence-free basketball that serves almost as a sneak preview for the future.
As long as they don’t get reckless…and Saturday’s outside shooting could certainly fit the description…it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Liberty swipe a playoff spot away, especially with so much youth and stamina in a 22-game season. Taking the ultimate souvenir home from Florida in the form of a WNBA title will likely be a bit too much to ask for. But as long as we see Amanda Zahui B-approved “fearless” performances, they can reach a winning record, which, for now, appears to be the ultimate end game.
Myles: Well, as 2020 has shown us, anything is possible. Realistically, this is a year of development, an opportunity to see which rookies can stick once the team returns all its talent in 2021. For now, the team is using ESPN’s last place prediction as motivation.
Today’s pace was promising, even if their shots were not falling. This team has the athleticism to speed up a game and the shooters to hang with anyone. A back-end playoff spot would offer the whole roster some much needed big game experience — only Layshia Clarendon (227 minutes), Kiah Stokes (183 minutes), and Zahui B (19 minutes) have ever played in the WNBA postseason.
Also, the play of the vets today was encouraging! Clarendon scored a game-high 20 on an extremely efficient 5/9 shooting (and 10/12 from the stripe); Stokes pulled down nine boards and hit a triple; AZB made the most of her 23-plus minutes for a near double-double. They will need to be as steadying on the court as they have been off it, and today’s performances showed promise.
Justin: I think my answer for this is about what it was before this game. The Liberty could sneak into the playoffs because their style of play creates a lot of variance.
Saturday really showed the best and worst scenarios for this team. They were competitive for three quarters against the league’s best team and could have led if more threes had gone down. And in the fourth quarter, they lost their shot at the win because you need some consistency to win basketball games, and Seattle had that consistency, and had that extra gear they could go into.
New York can win some games. We can see a lot of growth from their young players. That’s probably the best-case scenario.
Which rookie impressed you most?
Justin: Hopefully someone else on this roundtable talks about Sabrina Ionescu, because I’m not going to talk about Sabrina.
Instead, I want to focus on what Leaonna Odom did.
If you remember the talk back in May, before opt outs happened, there were a lot of people who wondered if Odom would even make this roster. She was the last rookie that New York drafted. She was the biggest project of the picks, someone who’d flashed a lot of potential while at Duke but still seemed like there was something that wasn’t quite fully developed yet with her game.
But oh my. Odom wound up being third on the team in minutes behind Ionescu and Clarendon, and she did a lot with those minutes. Nine points on 4-for-6 shooting. A made three. Three rebounds, including two offensive boards.
And maybe the most important thing: Odom looked comfortable when she was on the floor. For a team full of rookies, it’s going to be vital that players figure out how to be WNBA players quickly. It was one game, but Odom looked like she was well on her way to figuring it out.
Myles: All eyes were on Ionescu, and she did not disappoint.
Sure, the shooting numbers were not pretty (4/17 from the floor, 0/8 from distance), but she spent much of the game hounded by heavy off-ball pressure, some double teaming, and a lot of All-WNBA First Team Jordin Canada. The assists will come, too — the Liberty shot south of 35% on the afternoon, and failed to convert some absolute dimes from Ionescu.
“I’ll live with 12 [points], six [rebounds], and four [assists] in my first game against the best team in the league,” Ionescu said during New York’s postgame presser. “I’m used to being more of a facilitator, but I definitely have to be more of a scorer, especially with so many of our players injured or out.”
Geoff: Each of the rookies had their moments; Ionescu entered double figures in style. Kylee Shook had to deal with Breanna Stewart in the interior. We saw some of Jocelyn Willoughby’s trademark physicality in the second half. But perhaps most impressive was Odom, who wound up getting the nod after Kia Nurse went down with an injury. She would go on to play a well-earned 28 minutes and nearly reached double figures on 4-of-6 shooting. How many second-round picks can say that about their WNBA debut?
What was the biggest factor in the Liberty losing?
Justin: Missed threes.
Look, we all know that this style of play is going to produce mixed results at times because three-pointer variance is high. Some nights the shots will drop and New York will surprise someone. Other nights, the shots won’t drop. Today was an example of the latter.
Turnovers hurt, too. This style of play is going to produce a lot of turnovers. There were 20 in this game. If you could cut that down by 25%, you’d be in much better shape.
Geoff: Outside shooting on both sides. Keeping things under 10…and even briefly holding a pair of leads…against Seattle is enough of a moral victory for the developing Liberty, but, alas, those don’t count in the Wubble win column. Impressive as it was to see Stokes sink her first career triple, it was a rare conversion in a brutal day from deep (6-of-28). Ionescu’s otherwise solid debut may have marred by trying to do too much on the perimeter and the Storm were able to build their lead as the New York desperation mounted. Walt Hopkins has made it clear from the get-go that he would like to see more triples (which makes Rebecca Allen’s opt-out all the more painful) and seem at least content that players were stepping out of their comfort zones. How long it’ll take to master is another question entirely, but this is another instance where the Liberty can take advantage of a season relatively free of consequences.
Myles: Yep, turnovers and missed threes. The final quarter ballooned the deficit, but New York was right there with Seattle for much of the afternoon. The game plan had to change on the fly after Nurse’s early exit, but the statistics in those two categories just won’t get it done. Nineteen turnovers, 21% from deep. Luckily, much like ESPN’s preseason polling, there’s nowhere for New York to go but up.