With the 2022 WNBA draft approaching, the New York Liberty are setting their sights high to to be vital contenders in an already top-heavy league.
Last season, the Liberty were able to prove their ability to overcome insurmountable odds by putting the eventual runner-up Phoenix Mercury through a tough playoff opener after they posted the lowest winning percentage (12-20, .375) of any team in WNBA playoff history.
They have all the pieces in place for a higher powered offense with All-Star Betnijah Laney (16.8 points per game in 2021), the reliable Natasha Howard (16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game), the playmaking Sabrina Ionescu (11.7 points and 6.1 assists per game), and the versatile Sami Whitcomb (11.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists) but they are in need of some relief in the paint at both ends of the floor coming off the bench.
The signing of veteran center Stefanie Dolson from the WNBA champion Chicago Sky adds experience, size, and a proven winner to fulfill that role. With the fifth pick in the draft, the Liberty could potentially find a suitable sub for Dolson in Nyara Sabally of Oregon. The Ducks forward has put up some solid numbers this past season: 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. She also shot 52.7 percent from the field and 72.5 percent from the foul line.
However, there’s a caveat to those stats because Sabally only played in 24 games for Oregon this year due to injuries that have plagued her career. For much of her tenure at Oregon, she was hampered by torn ACLs in her right knee that led to her missing a considerable number of games.
Even as she helped lead the Ducks to the NCAA Tournament where they lost in the first round to Belmont, the question becomes whether Sabally will be a reliable presence if presumably drafted. On paper, she has the tangibles that the Liberty are in need of to be contenders.
Another possibility could be NC State 6’5 center Elissa Cunane, who this past year averaged 13.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while helping to lead the Wolfpack to the Elite Eight where they lost to UConn. Cunane also provides size and a proven track record of success that can help the Liberty without the history of health concerns of Sabally.
Either way, the Liberty are in need of a consistent rotation of centers who are able to provide relief to Dolson and make contributions in the paint and on the boards. If they go with Sabally, they would have to put in mechanisms to monitor her health right away.
The Liberty are not to be considered championship material by any means but don’t count them out as potential playoff contenders as they have shown us. All they need is that power in the paint to be that draw that stirs the drink.