Liberty’s Fast Start Takes the League by Surprise

The Detroit Shock and New York Liberty are the only two undefeated teams remaining in the WNBA. While most would not be surprised to see the defending champs without a loss three weeks into the season, the same cannot be said about the Liberty.

The Liberty have had much to smile about so far this season. Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images

Tale of Two Seasons - Through 5 Games
Category 2006 2007
Win-Loss 1-4 5-0
Points Per Game 71.2 79.0
Opponent Points Per Game 84.0 71.2

Scoring Balance
WNBA Rank Player Points/Game
15 Erin Thorn 14.8
17 Cathrine Kraayeveld 14.4
31 Loree Moore 12.4
40 Shameka Christon 11.4
47 Jessica Davenport 9.4

Three-Point Accuracy
WNBA Rank Player 3-point %
1 Erin Thorn .600
2 Loree Moore .588
T-4 Cathrine Kraayeveld .500
T-16 Shameka Christon .412

Statistics through games on 6/6/2007

New York is coming off its worst season in franchise history, finishing the 2006 campaign with an 11-23 record. Many believed the Liberty threw up the white flag to announce they were rebuilding when they traded Becky Hammon, their star player and face of the franchise, on draft day.

Fast forward two months from the draft and the Liberty sit atop the league standings with a 5-0 record. On Tuesday, New York defeated Indiana in the first matchup in WNBA history between undefeated teams with at least three wins. The Liberty are off to their best start since the league's inaugural 1997 season, when the team opened the year 7-0.

“It’s great, but we just want to continue to get better every day,” Liberty coach Pat Coyle said about her team’s fast start. “I don’t know if half of these kids even know we’re 5-0. Our focus is just to get better every day and do the little things and that’s what we’ve done.”

While the Liberty's start could be seen as one of the biggest shocks of the young WNBA season, the Liberty players are not phased by how well they are playing.

"We’re not really surprised," said point guard Loree Moore. "We all have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We just want to show everybody that we’re a really good team and that we can play against anybody.

"What’s gotten us by so far is how hard we work and how much pride we have when we’re on the court. We've held our composure very well. Whether we needed to make stops or we needed to make scores, we always executed the way we needed to."

This week's homestand has been a good litmus test for New York as they defeated Phoenix on Sunday and Indiana on Tuesday. However, things are not going to get any easier for the Liberty as Detroit comes to the Big Apple on Friday night looking to play the stroke of midnight to the Liberty's early season Cinderella story.

“Detroit is coming in here on Friday night and it’s going to be a war,” Coyle said. “They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re the defending WNBA champs and it’s going to be a war.”

Two weapons in the Liberty's arsenal are balanced scoring and 3-point accuracy. The Liberty have four players averaging double figures in scoring, with rookie center Jessica Davenport close behind at 9.4 points per game. Many of the returning players have increased their offensive production dramatically since last season. Guard Erin Thorn averaged 6.1 points in 2006 and now leads the team with an average of 14.8 points per game. Forward Cathrine Kraayeveld has increased her scoring from 8.8 points to 14.4 points, while Moore has jumped from 6.1 points to 12.4.

"We all believe in one another and we know that on any given night somebody else can be that leading scorer," Moore said. "Since game one, it's been somebody different all the time."

Moore said losing Hammon to an ankle injury during the second half of last season forced the rest of the Liberty players to step up their games and find new ways to contribute. The Liberty closed last season winning seven of their last 10 games, and Moore believes that attitude carried over into the offseason.

"Everybody knew they had to bring something different," she said. "They had to increase their game a little bit more... add something to their game, bring a little more than what they did before because the roles were going to change. I think everybody has elevated their game to another level."

While the Liberty return most of their squad from last season, a big addition was made in the post where Davenport has really made her presence felt. Coyle has installed an inside-outside game that has helped the Liberty shooters find open looks from the outside. New York is shooting a league-best 51.7 percent from 3-point range. In fact, Thorn leads the WNBA in 3-point percentage at 60.0 percent, just ahead of Moore at 58.8 percent.

"I know as of late I’ve been shooting a lot of threes with no one around me," Moore said. "I think with the presence inside, it makes our job easier to just shoot shots as if we were just practicing."

Moore has also assumed more of a coach-on-the-floor role this season, as she has taken over play-calling duties from Coyle. Moore says their relationship improved a great deal during the offseason as the two worked out together everyday and discussed last season's results and the approach they wanted the team to bring to this season.

"From the beginning she said 'It starts with me, but I want you to be right behind me.' So I kind of took that and ran with it," Moore said. "From there, we started to understand each other and I started to really study what she wanted from us as a team.

"Coming into the season and seeing her call the plays, I wanted to take that pressure off of her, just like she was calling them to take pressure off of me. As the point guard for this team, I think that’s my job and because she has so much confidence in me and because she trusts me so much, I wanted to show her that I’ve grown up and I’ve matured as a basketball player and I know what you want and I know what this team needs to be successful."

Moore says Detroit is going to be a tough matchup on Friday night. The defending champs are a team that will challenge the Liberty both mentally and physically.

"I think it’s going to be another test for us to see what we need to do and how we are as a team," she said. "We need to handle their physical play. Because they are a physical team, they’re going to try to bully us and get in our heads. And we’re going to have to handle it."