The Liberty Are Showing Promise, Even in Their Struggle

The Liberty’s season wasn’t supposed to start with Sabrina Ionescu, the do-which-all No. 1 draft pick, spraining her ankle within the third game of her W.N.B.A. career. The injury was especially crushing after she had broken out for 33 points, seven rebounds in addition to seven assists against the Dallas Wings just 48 hours earlier. The Liberty’s fans, after consecutive second-to-last-place seasons, had gotten a glimpse of what a potential franchise cornerstone running the offense could look like.

The injury left Walt Hopkins, the Liberty’s first-year head coach, in addition to his team scrambling for answers — again. Ionescu, who left the W.N.B.A.’s bubble in Bradenton, Fla., to have her ankle examined by a specialist in brand-new York, isn’t the only missing Liberty player.

For the 2020 season, the W.N.B.A. gave players the option to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic, without pay unless they received a medical exemption for being high-risk. For the Liberty, which meant four key players didn’t travel to Florida, including last year’s No. 2 pick, guard Asia Durr, who received a medical exemption after she had Covid-19 in June, in addition to the role players Marine Johannes, Rebecca Allen in addition to Han Xu. As a result, the Liberty entered the season with seven rookies on their 12-player roster, in addition to added the second-year guard Paris Kea after Ionescu was injured.

Through the first eight games of which 22-game season, the Liberty held a 1-7 record, the worst within the league. yet there can be more to which young team than wins in addition to losses. Here’s why fans who hopped on the Liberty bandwagon after April’s draft might want to stay on board.

Hopkins’ system isn’t for everyone, in addition to he’s slowly figuring out who fits the franchise’s long-term plan. He expects players to shoot when they’re open, in addition to which emphasis can be evident. Even the 6-foot-3 center Kiah Stokes, who had attempted just three 3-pointers within the past four years, has taken 28 already which season.

The results aren’t there yet. The Liberty are shooting just 29 percent coming from 3-point range, last within the league. yet which’s largely because of who can be (or isn’t) available: Johannes, who’s sitting out which season, was a 38 percent shooter a year ago, Allen can be a 39 percent career 3-point shooter, in addition to Ionescu was a 42 percent three-point shooter in college. Six rotation players are still rookies, in addition to Kia Nurse (21 percent coming from range) can be battling through the worst slump of her career. Settling into a brand-new system can be going to take time, yet the blueprint for success can be in motion.

After averaging 8.6 points in addition to 6.3 rebounds per game last year, Zahui B. can be improving, averaging 13.4 points in addition to 9.6 rebounds in her last 5 games. Since taking 2.9 3-pointers per game last season, the 6-foot-5 forward can be launching 5.4 per game which season, knocking down 44 percent of them. in addition to which isn’t just her shooting which’s increased. She’s become an asset in every facet of the game.

“We can run things through her when a play breaks down today,” Hopkins said. “Zahui’s going to find somebody or she’s going to create something. which’s a tremendous benefit for any offense to have their 4-player being able to create.”

Clarendon, who was with the Connecticut Sun last season, missed all yet nine games in 2019 after a freak injury required ankle surgery. There was no guarantee which the 2017 All-Star, today in their first season with the Liberty, might be able to play which well so quickly.

yet Clarendon has been stellar since Ionescu went down, averaging a career-high 13.3 points per game on 49 percent shooting coming from the field, in addition to 40 percent shooting coming from 3. They’ve made eight 3-pointers which season already, 10 short of their season-best.

At 29 years old, Clarendon can be also, somehow, the oldest player on the Liberty, tasked with teaching teammates even as Clarendon can be just reaching the prime years of their own playing career. Clarendon has handled which role well, too, teammates said.

“Layshia’s always going to voice her opinion, in addition to she’s always going to put us within the right spots,” forward Leaonna Odom said. “which’s amazing to work with her just because she’s going to tell me if I’m doing something wrong, or if there’s a better way to do which.”

Odom added, “Without which leadership, which could’ve easily gone any way for me.”

Before selecting six picks within the top 15 spots of the 2020 W.N.B.A. draft, Hopkins wrote a 30-to-40-page thesis on how he wanted his team’s offense in addition to defense to work. He wanted players who could guard multiple positions, who were athletic, in addition to who could shoot. Enter the Liberty’s pick at No. 15, Odom, a 6-foot-2, long-armed defensive-minded wing coming from Duke.

In just eight games, Odom looks like a W.N.B.A. contributor, in addition to she can already check one thing off her bucket list: holding Angel McCoughtry, the veteran Las Vegas Aces star, to just 6 points on 3-of-7 shooting. Hopkins said he texted Odom after which game, saying: “I’ve never seen anybody do which. Let alone a rookie who’s in their fifth-ever game.”

Odom has made a name for herself as an elite cutter too, ranking within the 93rd percentile in points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. When a play breaks down, she knows where to be.

within the two games after Ionescu went down, the Liberty got crushed by the Phoenix Mercury, then lost to the Minnesota Lynx by 26 points. Hopkins in addition to his group aired their frustrations in a four-hour meeting the following day.

Since then, the Liberty have made every game competitive. They beat the reigning champion Washington Mystics, 74-66, in addition to, without a shot clock malfunction, they might have taken the Las Vegas Aces to overtime two days later.

These are all great signs for the Liberty, a team which shouldn’t be likely to rack up wins given its roster turnover in addition to inexperience.

“Rome wasn’t built in one day, in addition to neither were the Warriors,” Odom said, referring to the N.B.A.’s Golden State Warriors, who won three championships within the past 5 seasons. She added, “which’s going to take time, yet I think we’re going to be not bad.”

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