All things considered, the New York Liberty can only get better from here.
After finishing the 2018 season on a 13-game losing streak — which very nearly put them in a last-place tie with the Indiana Fever, who began the season 0-10 — the improvements had to begin right away.
Enter Asia Durr. The Liberty’s No. 2 overall draft pick out of Louisville could easily have gone No. 1 if not for the strength of this draft class, if not for No. 1 overall pick Jackie Young declaring a year early.
Now, with the Liberty, Durr will have a chance to reinvigorate a stalling franchise.
New York’s other picks, Han Xu of China and Megan Huff of Utah, each also have a real opportunity to change the face of the team. Head coach Katie Smith said this draft was all about “[filling] some holes,” and with that accomplished, the Liberty can begin to ascend once more.
The Durr effect
Not every team is lucky enough to have an A’ja Wilson or Maya Moore, a bona fide face of the franchise, a leader on and off the court. In spite of their struggles, the Liberty have been lucky enough to have such a player in six-time All-Star Tina Charles, who was traded to the team in 2014.
But the Liberty now have that type of dynamic player from the jump in Durr, a talent they can develop on their own terms. Like Charles, Durr was a force in college, garnering multiple All-America honors, the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award for best shooting guard and became the first player in Louisville history to be named conference player of the year more than once.
Her scoring ability was a big draw for the Liberty, and it’s not hard to see why. Durr finished her college career as Louisville’s second-leading scorer all-time and averaged 21.2 points per game her senior season — not to mention 17.8 points per game for her career. She has two 47-point games on her résumé, a school record. All of this also has to do with the volume of her shooting: She had nearly 2,000 field goal attempts in her four years at Louisville, and her 585 attempts last season put her at 12th in the nation.
As the second-lowest-scoring team in the league last season, the Liberty need all the help they can get in this area, and Durr is exactly the player they can use to address this weakness.
Durr can have an effect immediately by helping Tina Charles out with some of the scoring. Charles was the only player on the Liberty last season to average double digits, and while there were contributors up and down the roster, they were often hard-pressed to find a consistent second scorer. A high-volume shooter like Durr, especially one with a 3-point percentage that would fit right in with the team’s best, is thus an excellent addition.
A tale of two frontcourt players
The Liberty’s second-round pick, Han Xu, is a 6-foot-9 center who spent the last few months conditioning in Los Angeles in preparation for the draft. At just 19 years old, Han still has the opportunity to get much better — which might seem a strange thing to say among those who have seen her play. She not only just wrapped up her first professional season in China, but also has the distinction of scoring 20 points against Team USA at this past autumn’s FIBA World Cup.
Han will, of course, be a presence inside for the Liberty, the only player of her height in the league besides Phoenix’s Brittney Griner. She runs the floor well and is a strong scorer, so she’ll be able to provide even more help down low to Tina Charles as she develops.
Huff, a 6-foot-3 forward from the University of Utah, is another prolific scorer that fills several needs for the Liberty. Like Charles, Huff isn’t afraid to shoot from three, making 37.5 percent of her attempts as a Ute. A career 1,000-point scorer at Utah despite playing just two seasons there, Huff has the mentality needed to have an impact on a team right away.
In addition to her scoring ability, Huff is also a strong rebounder, nearly averaging a double-double her senior season. For a team that was outrebounded by its opponents last season, the Liberty need not just more rebounders — the duties on the glass were fairly evenly distributed last season — but more high-volume rebounders. If Huff stays competitive in training camp, the two-time first-team All-Pac-12 pick could find herself a key part of New York’s defensive effort in 2019.