2018 Season Preview: Five Reasons To Watch The New York Liberty Work

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2017 Record: 22-12, No. 3 seed in Playoffs, Eliminated by Mystics in Second Round

Key Offseason Moves

  • Re-signed Tina Charles, Kia Vaughn, Bria Hartley, Lindsay Allen and Rebecca Allen
  • Signed free agents Marissa Coleman, Rashada Gray, Kelly Faris and Shay Murphy
  • Added Kia Nurse and Mercedes Russell through the 2018 WNBA Draft
  • Named Katie Smith as head coach

2017 Season Highlights

1. The Katie Smith Era Begins

After spending four years as an assistant to Bill Laimbeer, Katie Smith was named head coach of the Liberty in October after Laimbeer departed to lead the Las Vegas Aces. While this is Smith’s first head coaching job on any level, she has been groomed for this opportunity by Laimbeer ever since her playing career came to a close in 2013. Smith will be a familiar voice for the returning Liberty players, but moving to the head coaching seat brings added pressure, responsibility and authority – something Smith has thrived under throughout her professional basketball career. She spoke about her new opportunity and the challenges it provides on a recent stop at Area 21.

In addition to earning the title of Head Coach, Smith will also add the title of Hall of Famer when she is officially inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. Smith is the all-time leading scorer in women’s professional basketball as she has 7,885 career points between her time in the ABL and WNBA. However, she won’t hold that claim for much longer as Diana Taurasi is only 18 points behind her (7,867) entering the 2018 season.

2. Opening A New Home

The Liberty enter the 2018 season not only with a new coach, but with an ownership situation in flux as the Madison Square Garden Company will continue to operate the team while actively pursuing a sale to a new owner. Meanwhile, the team will now call The Westchester County Center (located in White Plains, N.Y.) its new primary home with select games to be played at The Garden. The Liberty open the season on the road in Chicago – where the Sky are also opening up a new home this season at Wintrust Arena – before returning to New York for the season opener in their new home in White Plains. The Liberty went 13-4 at home last season, compared to 9-8 on the road; can they keep that same home-court advantage in their new arena?

3. Looking For A Playoff Breakthrough

Over the past three seasons, only three teams have won more than 53 percent of their games – the Minnesota Lynx (77-25, .754), the Los Angeles Sparks (66-36, .647) and the New York Liberty (66-36, .647). In that same three-year span, the Lynx won two championships (2015, 2017), the Sparks have the other championship (2106) and the Liberty have just one playoff series win (2015 Conference Semifinals vs. Indiana).

In 2015, the final season of East vs. West playoff format, the Liberty were the top seed in the East, beat Washington in the first round before falling to Indiana in the Conference Finals. In each of the past two years with the new playoff format, the Liberty have finished as the No. 3 seed behind Minnesota and Los Angeles, giving New York an opening round bye. However, the Liberty have lost in the single-elimination second round both years – to Phoenix in 2016 and Washington in 2017. Last season’s exit was especially tough as the Liberty closed the regular season as the hottest team in the league, winning 10-straight games, only to be eliminated from the postseason with a single loss.

4. Veteran Core Returns

The coaching staff may have changed but the roster has not, as the majority of players that suited up for the Liberty in 2017 are back on the roster for 2018. New York took care of its top priority in the offseason by re-signing franchise star Tina Charles (2012 MVP, 8-time All-WNBA). They also re-signed Kia Vaughn, Bria Hartley, Lindsay Allen and Rebecca Allen.

With returning guards Epiphanny Prince, Sixth Woman of the Year Sugar Rodgers, and Brittany Boyd joining Allen and Hartley, the Liberty have plenty of depth in their guard rotation. On the frontline, Charles and Vaughn are joined by returning bigs Kiah Stokes and Amanda Zahui B. On the wing, in addition to returning players Shavonte Zellous and Rebecca Allen, the Liberty also signed nine-year veteran guard/forward Marissa Coleman after she spent the past four seasons in Indiana.

5. Rookie Additions

The final new additions to the Liberty puzzle are rookies Kia Nurse and Mercedes Russell, who were added in this year’s draft. Nurse is a 6-foot guard that brings the ability to score, pass (441 career assists) shoot the three (44.3 percent as a senior) and defend the perimeter (WBCA Defensive Player of the Year) and comes from a storied Connecticut program known for preparing players to excel at the next level. Nurse led the Liberty in scoring (14.5 points per game) in two preseason games this week.

Russell, a 6-foot-6 center out of Tennessee, was selected to add even more depth to the Liberty frontline. As a senior, she averaged 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 58.3 percent from the field, but will face stiff competition in training camp to make the roster and earn playing time. She averaged 4.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 26 minutes per game in New York’s two preseason games this week.