The Liberty ended their long losing streak last week and, after shaking off some early-season jitters and seeing its bevy of talent start to click, it looks like it's time to start taking New York seriously.
Would you look at what’s going on in Westchester? After finally breaking their 17-game losing streak—that dated back to last July(!!)—the New York Liberty seem to have their mojo back.
In fairness, this team has far too much talent, and young talent at that, to be mired in the doldrums for too long. Tina Charles is one of the best frontcourt players in the league, Kia Nurse and Asia Durr make up a fearsome offensive backcourt and Amanda Zahui B is really announcing herself to the world with her play.
And after reeling off three wins in the span of six days, this week is all about the Libs and their promise going forward.
Let’s start off with Zahui B, who is (at least to me) the most surprising part of this New York team. She dropped a crisp 37 points on the Sparks, going 7 for 8 from three and only missing three shots all night.
Zahui B appears to be a bit of a feast or famine offensive player, having only scored in double digits in three games this season, but when she gets going, she’s hard to stop. Her departure for EuroBasket will seriously affect how New York’s frontcourt operates, especially with an injury to Rebecca Allen that could see the Australian out for some time. Charles is an incredible player, but the Liberty’s frontcourt—and their roster in general—will be stretched fairly thin until the international players return in July.
So what can make up for that? How about some huge performances from Nurse and Durr. I’m not sure what’s gotten into the two—maybe it’s the shoes?—but they’ve been on fire. We all knew Durr’s reputation as a bucket coming out of Louisville but Nurse has really taken a step forward this year.
The UConn product has failed to score in double-digits only once this season, when she scored eight against the Sparks on June 4, and she’s consistently been there when New York needs an injection of points. Her game logs make for impressive reading, including scoring 26 points against both the Sparks and the Lynx in the past week, and her 36.7% three-point percentage is all the more impressive when you realize how many she’s been jacking up. Nurse’s floor spacing makes life easier for Durr, who is still adjusting to the pace of the WNBA but whose numbers are nothing to scoff at either.
Durr is already tied for third on the team in points per game at 11.3 and looks to be getting more comfortable with each passing game. When Zahui B returns, the lineup of her, Durr and Nurse will make this team hard to guard, with the trio all being more than capable of stretching the floor while Charles operates in the middle.
The Libs are currently fifth in the league in points per game, only .5 behind the Sun, and New York’s play in transition is a big reason. Players like Durr and Nurse thrive in fast-break opportunities, using their speed and athleticism to drive up the court and take advantage of an unsettled defense. Having Charles able to push the ball and make the right read is also a huge help for Katie Smith’s squad as they try to climb out of their early-season hole and put the losing streak behind them.
And having Brittany Boyd on the ball and pulling the strings to hand out assists for her shot-happy teammates is a good situation to be in. Teams like the Fever have piled up their wins against struggling opponents—the early-season Libs being one of them—but New York appears to more enjoy big-game hunting.
Its three wins have come against the Aces, Lynx and Sparks, so two teams that have rosters that should see them contending for a championship this year and another surprise upstart that’s proven to be surprisingly resilient this season.
This WNBA season is the most open in recent memory, with so many injuries affecting many of the top contenders. The Mercury have struggled out of the gate. The Aces look unbeatable some days—their demolition of the Liberty in Las Vegas being one of them—but incredibly vulnerable on others. The same logic applies to the Sparks. Major players from last season have seen injuries either decimate their season (see the Atlanta Dream) or forced players into larger roles while making the team’s margin for error incredibly small (oh hello, Seattle Storm).
The only team that seems to be immune to the weirdness of the early WNBA season is the Connecticut Sun, who have rolled to an 8–1 record and easily sit atop the league standings. So who’s No. 2? The Chicago Sky, with a 4–2 record. That’s the promise of this season.
Even for teams like New York, which struggled out of the gate, a strong run of games—like say playing the Sky, Lynx, Wings and Dream in the next couple weeks before receiving its full complement of players—could see the Libs climb up the standings and slide into a coveted playoff spot, giving these young players some postseason basketball.
We have a LOT of time between now and September, but New York has already won almost half of the number of games as it did last year. If the young Libs can keep up their hot shooting, Charles can continue to provide a steadying presence and the team treads water before getting its international players back, it could be a fun season in Westchester.
Indulge me as I add to the legion of people sharing videos of players making young fans’ day because it remains one of the best things about the league and—to channel Arielle Chambers—it's why the WNBA is so important. And also shouts to NBA superstars showing love by coming to games and bringing more eyes to the W. To those who haven't caught on already, stop saying there's no more basketball to watch.
A special shoutout to all the dads on Father’s Day, including the ones that raised some of our favorite hoopers.
Finally, please check out this new spot from Nike that features Brittney Griner, Jordin Canada, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd.