New York City, NY — It’s been said that defense wins championships. But, that could not be further from the truth for the New York Liberty.
“Our goal is to win the championship,’’ Liberty president Isiah Thomas said on media day. “We’ve gotten pretty close. This year we hope to finish it.’’
For the last two seasons, the Liberty have dominated the Eastern Conference finishing with a combined 44 wins. A team that focuses strictly on defense, the Liberty have fallen short in the post season. One reason for the lack of championships is the Liberty’s offense. Last season, New York had the second-worst offense in the league.
With only two players who averaged double-figures last season, it was clear going into the off season that New York needed to add more support around leading scorers Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers.
The addition of Bria Hartley should help the Liberty take the pressure off of Charles and Rodgers. A dynamic player, Hartley will give New York another go-to shooter. In her three seasons with the WNBA, she has averaged 7.1 points per game. Hartley, a New York native, gave birth to her first son earlier this year and has worked hard to get back in playing shape. That’s real New York grit.
The Liberty also picked up a fantastic point guard in the WNBA Draft with Lindsay Allen. Allen, who played for Notre Dame, led the ACC in assists and placed second in the nation for the same category.
Allen was a crucial part of the Irish’s offense, tallying 8.8 points in her college tenure to go along with 3.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. Her ability to orchestrate an offense at the collegiate level was impeccable. If her athleticism translates to the WNBA, Allen could be a top player as she continues to grow in Coach Laimbeer’s system.
While the Liberty will still focus primarily on defense, the additions of players, such as Hartley and Allen, will boost New York’s abysmal offense.
“Now we have three guards who can shoot, who can get up and down and can attack, and that's going to be a little bit of a change in style we have this year," Head coach Bill Laimbeer said at the Liberty’s media day.
However, the most important asset for New York is center, Tina Charles. In 2016, Charles became only the third WNBA player to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding in the same season.
"Tina is the show right now, make no mistake about that," Laimbeer said.
It’s no surprise that the Liberty’s offense will run through Charles, who averaged 21.5 points and 9.9 rebounds last season.
New York returns much of the team from the 2016 season that led the Liberty to a 21-13 record, including a heartbreaking second round exit.
Aside from Charles, New York brings back second leading scorer, Sugar Rodgers. In her breakout 2016 campaign she connected on 86 triples, good enough to land her at second in the WNBA for three-point shooting. But, Rodgers is not a high-volume shooter. Quite the opposite, actually. Rodgers ranked fifth in the league shooting 41.3% from 3-point range.
The Liberty will also return Epiphanny Prince, who was sidelined for the 2016 season after tearing her ACL in November of 2015 while playing overseas. Entering her seventh season in the league, Prince has racked up a career average of 13.9 points per game. The addition of another double-figure shooter is crucial for New York if it wants to hang a banner in Madison Square Garden.
Another key comeback is Brittany Boyd, who showcased her abilities in the last half of the 2016 season. In the final 10 games of the season, Boyd averaged 9.2 points, 6.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game, scoring in double-figures in four of the games.
The elevation of the offense for New York should fare well in both the regular season and post season.
Coach Laimbeer and New York have high expectations for the 2017 season. But, with high expectations comes change. This season New York looks to push the pace more than it has in previous years. The Liberty also hope to shoot at a higher percentage from beyond the arc.
"I think we're going to bring it to the next level," Coach Laimbeer said. "Hopefully."
However, the off-season has not been drama free in the Big Apple. Earlier this month, Coach Laimbeer reported that guard Shoni Schimmel was absent from training camp. On May 6th, it was announced that Schimmel would take the season off to deal with personal issues. Schimmel’s presence on the court will certainly be missed by the Liberty.
New York’s additions, along with the returning players, make a clear statement to the rest of league... The Liberty are here to win. The pieces are coming together in 2017 more so than previous years. If the season goes as planned, New York could raise a banner in the Garden.
The New York Liberty finished at the top of the Eastern Conference in the 2016 regular season. With the new setup of the WNBA Playoffs, the Liberty earned a first round bye. Unfortunately, New York faced a hot Phoenix Mercury team that ended the Liberty's championship dreams in just the second round.
The New York Liberty start their march towards a championship on Saturday, May 13th at 3 PM. The team will suit up and face off against the San Antonio Stars.