In a day and age where so much of the game is played further away from the rim, it’s refreshing now and then to find a old-school big who likes to mix it up in the paint and make the five to seven feet around the basket her home.
Kiah Stokes has the potential to be one of the preeminent, true bigs that the WNBA has to offer and move into a permanent residence in the paint. She was drafted 11th overall in 2015 by the Liberty out of the basketball factory that is the University of Connecticut. Stokes won three national championships alongside the likes of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and the seemingly endless talent pool at coach Geno Auriemma’s disposal.
Stokes often was asked to do the little things well because of the sheer volume of stars around her at UConn. Still, her tantalizing mixture of size, skill, and willingness to put the necessary work in caught the eye of the Liberty, who scooped her up in the first round in 2015.
She played a total of 71 games in her first two WNBA seasons, but only started six of those contests because she found herself slotted behind proven veteran Carolyn Swords. But, this offseason, Swords was dealt to the Storm and Stokes was handed the starting role.
It was a difficult beginning to the 2017 season for Stokes. She sputtered out of the gates in the starting role and was a carrying a season high of only six points heading into Friday night’s showdown with the Wings.
But, coach Bill Laimbeer’s belief in Stokes as the Liberty’s starting center finally paid dividends. She dropped a new season high of 13 points on a highly-efficient 6-for-8 shooting and nabbed a career-high 15 rebounds in the process.
— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) June 3, 2017
All game long, Stokes’ activity around the rim thwarted the Wings’ defense. Seven of her rebounds were offensive as she crashed the boards with conviction and extended Liberty possessions while earning high-percentage shot opportunities in the process.
Postgame, fellow big and perennial MVP candidate Tina Charles had words of encouragement for Stokes.
“Kiah Stokes is definitely a threat down there for us,” Charles said. “She was looking for her shot and was an real option for us. It just really worked out great. She’s put the time in during practice and is working hard on her post moves, so I think she’s just thriving. But, that’s the Kiah Stokes we know.”
While Charles’ career-high 36 points were the main catalyst behind the Liberty’s win on Friday, Stokes’ impact on both ends is something that simply cannot be ignored.
Going forward New York will be without Brittany Boyd for the entirety of the season due to injury, and Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn for what may be most of June due to EuroBasket commitments. This means that the scoring load will have to be shouldered by players who may not have been offensive threats in the past.
Charles is going to get hers on a nightly basis, but now, players like Kiah Stokes will need to maximize their production to help the team that had the third-most wins in the league last season remain on an upward trajectory. If Friday’s performance is any indication of what’s to come, the Liberty may have found the perfect ying to Charles’ yang and a serious low-post threat.