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2021 WNBA Draft Preview: New York Liberty need help in frontcourt

Could the New York Liberty look to draft power forward Natasha Mack of Oklahoma State in the middle of the first round? Their current stars play point guard, shooting guard and small forward.

New York Liberty v Atlanta Dream
Sabrina Ionescu was a hyped-up No. 1 pick a year ago.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Liberty haven’t had a winning season since 2017 and went 2-20 last year, but hope the additions of Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney and a healthy Sabrina Ionescu will lead them back to the playoffs this year.

Picks: No. 6, No. 17, No. 25 and No. 29

Needs: frontcourt help

The Liberty got a whole lot better when they gave up the No. 1 overall pick to the Seattle Storm in exchange for Natasha Howard on Feb. 10. They were already looking good when they signed Betnijah Laney away from the Atlanta Dream eight days earlier.

Howard has all the tools to be a WNBA superstar and there’s a good chance she and Laney will make New York better right now than they would have been with the No. 1 pick. Whether or not the Liberty will be better off in the long run remains to be seen and depends on how good projected No. 1 pick Charli Collier of Texas becomes. She is not expected to be the transcendent talent that people believe 2020 No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu will be.

New York drafted Ionescu and the fact that she scored 33 points in just her second WNBA game before suffering a season-ending injury in her third bodes well. By trading away this year’s No. 1 pick, the Liberty have signaled that they are ready to try and win now with veterans surrounding Ionescu instead of trying to build a young core for the future that features two No. 1 draft picks.

Yet, even though they have traded away the No. 1 pick, which Seattle later traded to Dallas, they are going to be under the microscope perhaps just as much as Dallas in this year’s draft.

One of the reasons New York is probably ok with trading away the No. 1 pick is because they still have the No. 6 pick, which gives them the opportunity to bring in someone very talented who can contribute right away.

The Liberty have a great 1, 2, 3 lined up with Ionescu at point guard, Laney at shooting guard and Howard at small forward. They also have backup guard help from Layshia Clarenedon, who can run an offense and brought veteran leadership last year. and sharpshooter Sami Whitcomb. Kiah Stokes is a quick 6-foot-3 big who started taking threes last year and can start in the frontcourt, but who will join her in the starting lineup?

Could it be Han Xu, who went 14th in 2019? Or Kylee Shook, who went 13th in 2020? Or will the Liberty look to a first-rounder in this year’s draft?

After Collier and projected No. 2 pick Awak Kuier of Finland, Natasha Mack of Oklahoma State is the next-best available big. Mack averaged exactly four blocks per game as a Cowgirl senior, which led the nation. She had 10 blocks in a single game at TCU on Jan. 6. In addition to her phenomenal defense, she can consistently hit on a short-range fallaway shot in the key or from the baseline. She averaged 19.8 points and 12.4 rebounds as a senior.

Jasmine Walker could also attract the attention of the Liberty at No. 6. She is a 6-foot-3 forward who can shoot and drive, but she’s not a classic power forward, which is probably what New York is looking for. With Mack and Kuier listed as a power forwards, Iliana Rupert is the best center in the draft after Collier. She is projected to go late first round/early second. Mack is probably the better option and should still be available at No. 6.

At No. 17, the Liberty could go for another frontcourt player. Auburn power forward Unique Thompson or UT Martin power forward Chelsey Perry could be options, though both are projected to go just before 17. Texas A&M power forward N’dea Jones is more likely to fall to 17 and would be a huge get for New York seeing as she played in the highly competitive SEC and put up phenomenal rebounding numbers.

At No. 17, No. 25 or No. 29, New York may want to switch it up and go for a point guard, small forward or shooting guard. It has Clarendon, who can bring the ball up, but Jazmine Jones is more of a shooting guard off the bench. So it could use another floor general.

Shyla Heal of Australia is someone New York should probably consider at 17. She is aggressive and good at drawing contact on drives to the basket, can shoot the three and distribute.

Meanwhile Kysre Gondrezick, Tiana Mangakahia and Micaela Kelly would all be great selections for New York if it wants to go the point guard route in the third round.