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2019 Season Preview: New York Liberty

The 2019 WNBA season tips off on May 24. will be previewing every team in the league. See below for a breakdown of the New York Liberty.

2018 Recap

Record: 7-27; 11th in league standings; did not qualify for Playoffs

History: Finished with a franchise-low seven wins, the only single-digit win season in franchise history

Leaders: Points: Tina Charles (19.7), Rebounds: Charles (7.0), Assists: Brittany Boyd (5.3), Steals: Boyd (1.2), Blocks: Kiah Stokes (0.633)

Team Stats: Offensive Rating: 97.1 (11th), Defensive Rating: 105.7 (10th), Net Rating: Minus-8.5 (11th), Rebound Percentage: 49.2 (7th), True Shooting Percentage: 51.7 (10th), Pace: 79.5 (8th)

Offseason Moves

Free Agency: Re-signed free agents Brittany Boyd, Rebecca Allen and Amanda Zahui B; Signed free agents Marine Johannès, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, Bianca Cuevas-Moore, Tiffany Bias, Talia Caldwell, Reshanda Gray and Kolby Morgan

Trade: Acquired Tanisha Wright from Minnesota for NY’s 2020 second round pick, Sent Sugar Rodgers to Las Vegas for LV’s 2020 second round pick as part of a four-team deal

Draft: Added Asia Durr (No. 2), Han Xu (No. 14) and Megan Huff (No. 26) in the 2019 WNBA Draft

Players To Watch

Tina Charles – The Anchor

On Friday, Tina Charles not only re-signed with the New York Liberty, but also saw her first documentary film – titled Charlie’s Records, based on the life of her father Rawlston Charles – debut at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Two days later, Liberty training camp opened and it was time for the young filmmaker to return to her other job of being one of the best post players in the WNBA and the anchor for the New York Liberty.

As she has since she arrived in New York in 2014, Charles carried a heavy load for the Liberty last season. She was the team’s leading scorer at 19.7 points per game, which put her seventh in the WNBA, and her 29.1% usage rate ranked third in the league. She is set to open her 10th WNBA season as the 16th leading scorer and seventh leading rebounder in WNBA history.

Asia Durr – The Rookie

The Liberty were desperately in need of scoring help and a perimeter threat that could balance their offense with Tina Charles in the post. With the selection of Asia Durr with the second overall pick in the WNBA Draft, they may have found a perfect fit. Durr is a dynamic perimeter scorer that can shoot from distances as easily as she can blow past a defender to get into the paint or pull up from mid-range.

Kia Nurse – The Follow Up

Kia Nurse appeared in all 34 games for the Liberty as a rookie, with seven starts. She finished as the team’s second-leading scorer at 9.1 points per game, which ranked fifth among all rookies. Her 37 3-pointers ranked second on the team, but she’ll look to improve on her 29.4% shooting from beyond the arc in her sophomore season.

Han Xu – The Project

After taking Durr in the first round, the Liberty used their second round pick (No. 14 overall) to take Han Xu from China. The 6-foot-9 center is just 19 years old, but is filled with raw talent that can be developed and size that simply can’t be taught. How much of an impact Xu will make on the court as a rookie is an unknown at this point (if Thursday’s 19 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks against the China National Team were an indication, then watch out); it will take time for her to adapt to not only the WNBA game, but a new country, a new language, new teammates and coaches. This may be a long term play, but it could have a huge payoff at the end.

Three Questions

How Fast Can Durr Make An Impact?

As mentioned above, the Liberty need a scoring punch; they finished 2018 ranked second-to-last in points per game (77.7) and offensive efficiency (97.1). They were the only team in the WNBA to finish with just one player averaging in double figures. Durr should get plenty of opportunities to contribute as a rookie and how fast she is able to make the transition from the college game to the pro game and find her offense against WNBA defenses may go a long way to how this season plays out for New York.

Was Last Season An Abberation?

Entering last season, the question facing the Liberty was whether or not they could finally find some playoff success after three straight early exits.

2015: 23-11, 1st East, First Round Exit (East Finals, best of three)
2016: 21-13, 1st East, Second Round Exit (First Round Bye, single elimination)*
2017: 22-12, 1st East, Second Round Exit (First Round Bye, single elimination)
2018: 7-27, 5th East, Missed Playoffs
*First year of new playoff format

This was a team that finished atop the East for three straight years and had one playoff series win to show for it. They fell in the Eastern Conference Finals in the last playoffs using the East vs. West format, then went on to be knocked out in single-elimination games in both 2016 and 2017 despite both games being at home.

But rather than taking the next step, the Liberty suffered through its worst season in franchise history in Katie Smith’s first season as head coach. To be fair, the Liberty were facing plenty of outside factors concerning the team’s ownership and the team’s relocation from Manhattan to Westchester.

We’ll dive deeper into ownership later, but with some of those outside factors resolved, can the Liberty get back into the playoff picture this season?

What Impact Will New Ownership, Leadership Have On The Team?

On Jan. 23, the WNBA and NBA Board of Governors unanimously approved the purchase of the New York Liberty by an entity owned by Joe Tsai and his family, ending a year-plus search for a new ownership group for the Liberty and confirming that the Liberty would remain in New York, where they have been since the WNBA was founded in 1997.

“It is an honor and a privilege to join the Liberty and WNBA families,” said Mr. Tsai. “As one of New York’s proudest franchises, the Liberty has played a vital role in New York City over the past 22 years. The Liberty and WNBA exemplify what it means to compete at the highest level, serve as role models in the local community, and bring greater opportunities to female athletes. Our goal is to continue this important work and help bring the WNBA into its next phase of growth.”

The sale of the team gives the Liberty a long-term solution in terms of ownership and support. As far as location, that remains up in the air. The team will again play all but one of its home games at Westchester County Center, with the exception being a meeting with the defending champion Seattle Storm on Aug. 11 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The team also used Barclays to open its preseason against the Chinese National Team on May 9, an 89-71 victory.