2020 WNBA Team Preview: New York Liberty

The 2020 WNBA season is set to be the most unique in the league’s 24-year history. Teams have arrived at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL to begin training camp for a 22-game season with all games played at a single site without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bubble is set and the season is set to tip off on July 25. In the lead up to the season, WNBA.com will break down each team in the league, continuing with the New York Liberty.

2019 Season Recap

  • 10-24, 5th in East, 11th in League
  • Did not qualify for playoffs

Off-Season Moves

  • Draft: No. 1 Sabrina Ionescu; No. 9 Megan Walker; No. 10 Jocelyn Willoughby (via trade from Phoenix for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough); No. 12 Jazmine Jones; No. 13 Kylee Shook; No. 15 Leaonna Odom
  • Trades: Acquired Walker-Kimbrough and four draft picks (2020 1st round, 2021 all three rounds) from Washington in exchange for Tina Charles; Acquired Tayler Hill and two draft picks (2020 1st and 2nd round) from Dallas in exchange for two draft picks (2021 1st from Washington, 2021 2nd from New York); Acquired Jocelyn Willoughby (10th pick, 2020 Draft) from Phoenix in exchange for Walker-Kimbrough; Acquired Stephanie Talbot from Minnesota in exchange for Erica Ogwumike (26th pick, 2020 Draft)
  • Players Added: Layshia Clarendon and Joyner Holmes signed as free agents; Ionescu, Walker, Willoughby, Jones, Shook and Odom all signed rookie contracts
  • Players Lost: Tanisha Wright retired, Brittany Boyd, Tayler Hill and Reshanda Gray waived; Charles traded; Bria Hartley (Phoenix) and Reshanda Gray (Los Angeles) left as free agents; Johannés, Han Xu and Talbot to remain overseas in 2020; Rebecca Allen and Asia Durr have opted not to play in 2020
  • Returning Players: Kia Nurse, Amanda Zahui B, Kiah Stokes, Durr, Allen and Xu remain under contract; Re-signed Marine Johannes

Who’s at IMG Academy

Between free agency, trades, the draft and players choosing not to participate in the season due to health concerns, the teams that take the court in 2020 may look a lot different than they did in 2019. Here’s a look at some of the key players that will represent the Liberty in 2020.

Sabrina Ionescu

  • 2019 Stats (Oregon): 33 GP, 33.7 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 9.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.8 3PM, 51.8 FG%, 39.2 3P%
  • Ionescu enters the WNBA coming off one of the most storied college careers ever. In addition to holding the record for most career triple-doubles (26), she is also the first player in NCAA history (women and men) to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists for their career. Few players have entered the WNBA with more hype and excitement than Sabrina.

Kia Nurse

  • 2019 Stats: 34 GP, 29.4 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.9 3PM, 39.3 FG%, 35.3 3P%
  • Nurse is coming off a strong sophomore season in the WNBA as she became a full-time starter and flourished in the role. She ranked sixth in the WNBA in 3-pointers made (65) as she finished as New York’s second-leading scorer behind Tina Charles.

Megan Walker

  • 2019 Stats (UConn): 32 GP, 34 MPG, 19.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.4 3PM, 47.7 FG%, 45.1 3P%
  • Walker left a year of college eligibility on the table as she entered the 2020 WNBA Draft following her breakout junior season at UConn. The 6-1 wing led the Huskies in scoring, posted career-best numbers across the board and shot the lights out from beyond the arc. Her 45.1% three-point shooting ranked eighth in all of Division I women’s hoops. Walker has been sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, but is expected to join the Liberty in Florida.

Amanda Zahui B

  • 2019 Stats: 24 GP, 23.3 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 46.8 FG%, 31.9 3P%
  • Zahui B put up career-best numbers across the board in 2019 – her fifth season in the league and fourth with the Liberty. She continues to expand her range beyond the 3-point line as she made 22 treys in 24 games last season. She finished second to Charles in rebounding, but steps into the lead role in controlling the glass for the Liberty.

Layshia Clarendon

  • 2019 Stats (Connecticut): 9 GP, 15.3 MPG, 6.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.3 SPG, 41.9 FG%
  • Clarendon’s 2019 season was derailed by a freak practice injury. What initially appeared to be an ankle sprain after stepping on a teammates foot, ended up requiring season-ending surgery. The veteran point guard, a 2017 All-Star in Atlanta, will bring some much-needed experience to a young Liberty squad.

Three Questions

1. How seamlessly does Sabrina Ionescu’s game translate to the WNBA?

Ionescu would have likely been the No. 1 pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft had she chosen to make the leap to the pros after her junior season. Instead she returned to Oregon for one last run at the NCAA title – something that was taken off the table by COVID-19. Her game has been pro-ready for years and she already has a confidence and swagger of a veteran rather than a rookie.

Ionescu is both an elite scorer and facilitator and has a great basketball IQ to know when it’s time to call her own number and when it’s time to create for her teammates and let them shine. She thrives in the pick and roll and has the ability to score at all three levels – driving to the basket, pulling up in the mid-range or stepping back and launching from distance.

2. What can be expected of a team with seven rookies and a new head coach?

The last two seasons have seen the Liberty post their two lowest win totals in franchise history. In addition to making a coaching change (Walt Hopkins replaces Katie Smith), the Liberty also lost their franchise player (Tina Charles) and last year’s lottery pick (Asia Durr) is sitting out the 2020 season.

The Liberty enter the 2020 season with the youngest team in the WNBA as their roster includes seven rookies and only one player with more than five years of experience at this level. While there is excitement for the debut of Ionescu, this team won’t be burdened by lofty expectations. This will give the young players on this team a chance to get playing time and prove that they belong in this league.

Playing on a single campus could favor a team full of rookies as it closely emulates a combination of college dorm life and AAU Tournaments with all of the top teams coming to a single place to play.

3. Which rookies take advantage of this opportunity?

It’s almost unheard of for a team to enter a season with more than half of their roster being rookies, but that is where the Liberty find themselves in 2020. In addition to Ionescu and Walker, the Liberty have Jocelyn Willoughby, Jazmine Jones, Kylee Shook and Leaonna Odom – all taken in the first 15 picks of the 2020 Draft – on their roster heading into the season opener this weekend.

Liberty rookies Jocelyn Willoughby, Kylee Shook, Sabrina Ionescu, Leaonna Odom, Jazmine Jones and Joyner Holmes pose for a portrait during Media Day.

With five players opting out of participating in the 2020 season – either remaining overseas or in the U.S. – there will be ample playing time and opportunity for these young players to prove themselves in the best women’s basketball league in the world.

With only 144 jobs available, its often tough for many rookies to even make a team, let alone get meaningful playing time in their first year. It will be interesting to see which of the Liberty rookies can take advantage of this situation and propel themselves into a long-term career – whether it is with the Liberty or with another team that is impressed by their play.