It’s a wrap on the New York Liberty’s 2020 season. The team ended with a dismal 2–20 record, last place in the WNBA. After all the hoopla about getting its first-ever top draft pick, the resoundingly heralded Sabrina Ionescu was missing for the second half of the season after sustaining an ankle injury.
First, we can speak about the good things. All of the rookies performed admirably and showed tremendous potential. The veterans were also solid, with a particular shout-out to Amanda Zahui B, who appears to have elevated her game to a new level. Layshia Clarendon was an excellent addition and served as a ferocious presence on social justice initiatives.
Now, the reality check. Coach Walt Hopkins can say over and over that this is a learning year, but fans deserved more than two wins. Coming off of two seasons of the Liberty exiled to Westchester, the diehards were dreaming of a little fresh motivation and excitement.
Teams flourish when they have a balance of rookies and veterans. Yes, Ionescu was one of the most heralded top draft picks in league history, but even rookies need time to adjust. Ask previous top picks like Brittney Griner and Jewell Loyd. A young team is one thing, but a team with more than half rookies cannot reasonably compete against wily veterans like Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.
A look at some of the Liberty’s best seasons show there was always a significant veteran presence to ground the team and push it forward. Leaving out 1997–2002 when veterans fueled four trips to the WNBA Finals, let’s look at 2010 when Cappie Pondexter joined the Liberty with two WNBA titles with the Phoenix Mercury under her belt. Or 2015, when Tina Charles, a former league MVP, and Swin Cash, a three-time WNBA Champion, led the charge.
Why didn’t the Liberty sign some of the top free agents like DeWanna Bonner and Angel McCoughtry? There was room under the salary cap with Charles’ departure. It appears everything hinged on Ionescu, which is unreasonable pressure for a rookie, no matter how mega-talented she is.
Hopefully, Asia Durr will be healthy for the 2021 season and Marine Johannes and Han Xu will return. Post player Kiah Stokes has already been signed. It’s unclear whether the rookies will gain experience playing overseas in the off-season as COVID-19 will likely keep them home, but no doubt they will all work on their games. Looking forward to Brooklyn 2021.