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2022 WNBA season preview: New York Liberty’s Laney, Howard, Ionescu set for second year together

The New York Liberty have improved by adding Stefanie Dolson to the trio of Betnijah Laney, Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu. But the rest of the league has improved too.

WNBA Draftees at Empire State Building
Betnijah Laney
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Liberty’s big three of Betnijah Laney, Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu is not to be taken lightly, especially if Ionescu ends up improving a great deal from last year. Ionescu was the first puzzle piece to this team’s core, drafted first overall in 2020. The Liberty passed on the opportunity to draft first overall for a second consecutive season and instead brought in Laney and Howard. They started last year 3-0 and 5-1 and probably underachieved by barely making the playoffs when they really could have been the No. 7 seed ahead of Dallas based on their talent. Howard being out for a large chunk of time contributed to their struggles. With Howard healthy, the Liberty again have a high ceiling, but the two teams who battled with them for the final playoff spot last year, Washington and LA, are both looking better too.

New York has a new head coach in Sandy Brondello, who won a championship in 2014 and led the Mercury to the Finals last year. Here are the players Brondello has to work with:

Players (stat score)

Betnijah Laney (31.7) — Known as a defender in Indiana, was the most improved player in Atlanta and was the ultimate team leader in New York last year. She showed no fear in her offensive game with an array of mid-range shots, including step-backs, from the shooting guard position. Her 3-point percentage fell 9.3 percent to 31.2, but that’s still decent and she made 1.1 treys per game. Made her first All-Star Game and was ranked No. 19 on our Top 30 list.

Natasha Howard (31.7) — Was an All-WNBA First Teamer in recent memory and was New York’s big offseason acquisition during the 2021 offseason. She can do it all on offense at the small forward position and can play the 4 as well. Her 3-point shooting percentage isn’t stellar, but it's a decent 30.8 percent for her career. Is also a phenomenal defender who won defensive player of the year in 2019. Only played 13 games last year due to an MCL sprain. Averaged 16.2 point and 7.2 rebounds in the time she did play. Was ranked No. 22 on our Top 30 list.

Sabrina Ionescu (27.7) — A huge star in college who came into the WNBA as a hyped-up No. 1 pick. Had 33 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in her second WNBA game, but suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain in her third and missed the rest of the 2020 season. Dropped 25 points with 11 assists and six rebounds and made the game-winning shot on opening night in 2021. Four days later she became the youngest player to ever record a triple-double in the WNBA. Her sophomore season saw some struggles after that, but she was an All-Star snub and my 19th-best player in the league at the end of the season. Expect a big year from her in 2022. She received points for our Top 30 list.

New York Liberty v Dallas Wings
Sabrina Ionescu
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

Stefanie Dolson (24.7) — Was the hero of the 3x3 Olympic team that won gold in Tokyo, demonstrating that she is one of the best inside scorers in the world. Hasn’t averaged double-figure scoring for a season since her second All-Star campaign of 2017, but still has star potential and is looking to play a big role in her home state of New York. Is a 6-foot-5 center who can shoot the three. Is known for her big personality and nickname “Big Mama Stef.” Received points for our Top 30 list.

Sami Whitcomb (21.1) — Was much-improved last year, becoming a borderline All-Star for the Liberty at age 32 after spending four years as a role player in Seattle. Is a lethal 3-point shooter with great form. Shot 42.5 percent from beyond the arc last year (fourth in the league) with 76 makes (second). Also had solid rebound and assist numbers. Received points for our Top 30 list. Is a 5-foot-10 guard.

Asia Durr (14.9) — One of the feel-good stories coming into this season as she has come back from long COVID and put herself in a position where she is ready to play. Was the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft and missed the last two seasons because of COVID. She had a solid rookie year with 9.7 points per game and the Liberty are hoping to get that Asia Durr back. Is a 5-foot-10 guard.

Rebecca Allen (14) — A member of the Australian National Team who played her most significant role for the Liberty yet last season with 9.2 points and 24.6 minutes per game. This will be her seventh year as a member of the Liberty. Is a career 38.4 percent 3-point shooter with a career-best 1.9 makes per game coming last year. Is a 6-foot-2 small forward.

Michaela Onyenwere (13.1) — The reigning WNBA rookie of the year out of UCLA. Was the No. 6 pick in the 2021 draft and went on to average 8.6 points and 2.9 rebounds. Made 29 starts and played 22.2 minutes per game. Improved as a 3-point shooter her senior year of college and came out and shot 3-of-6 in her pro debut. Later went 6-of-14 in her seventh game. Is a 6-foot small forward.

2021 WNBA Rookie of the Year
Michaela Onyenwere
Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

Jocelyn Willoughby (10.6) — A 6-foot forward/guard who averaged 5.8 points in 17.4 minutes per game in the wubble. Was the No. 10 pick in the 2020 draft out of Virginia. Listed as questionable for the opener (Achilles).

Kylee Shook (8.7) — Started 19 games at center for the Liberty last year. Was the No. 13 pick in the 2020 draft out of Louisville. Improved her 3-point shooting drastically from her rookie year, up to 39.3 percent last year with 24 makes. Listed as questionable for the opener (knee).

DiDi Richards (5.3) — A scrappy No. 17 draft pick who made small contributions to the Liberty as a rookie last season. She is known for her defense and ability to play multiple positions at 6-foot-2. One of the positions she can play is point guard; she averaged 6.7 assists as a senior at Baylor. Did not make a single three in college but developed a 3-point shot last year, going 10-of-22 (45.5 percent). Returned from spinal cord shock injury in college.

Han Xu (4.4) — A 22 year-old from China who hasn’t played in the WNBA since 2019 when she averaged three points and 7.9 minutes per game for the Liberty. Is a 6-foot-9 center.

Lorela Cubaj (No. 18 pick in 2022 draft) — A strong defending and rebounding power forward out of Georgia Tech. Averaged 4.4 assists per game in her final season with the Yellow Jackets.

Nyara Sabally (No. 5 pick in 2022 draft) — Will sit out the 2022 season with a knee injury.

Sika Koné (No. 29 pick in 2022 draft) — Will not play with the Liberty this season.