New York Liberty 2010 Season Preview
Can Cappie Pondexter play point?
The New York Liberty kick-off our 2010 WNBA Season Previews. You can read upcoming previews here.
by Clay Kallam
It’s simple, really: If Cappie Pondexter can play the point for 30 minutes a game, the Liberty will make the Playoffs.
But if Pondexter finds herself out of position, and is really just a two guard masquerading as a one, then Anne Donovan’s brief term as Liberty coach will not be all that much fun.
Why is Pondexter’s ability to play the point so important? Because otherwise, it’s Leilani Mitchell, and that’s just not going to work for a full season. Mitchell is a smart, small point guard who has an excellent 2.7 career A/TO – but she shot 27 percent from three-point distance last season, took just six free throws in 436 minutes, and, at a generously listed 5-5, struggles at the defensive end. Behind Mitchell are rookies Ashley Houts, who is undersized and underquicked like Mitchell, and Kalana Greene, who had 62 assists and 60 turnovers for Connecticut last season, which are not the kind of numbers future WNBA point guards put up.
With Pondexter finding a way to score and run the show at the one, then the rest of the lineup falls neatly into place. Essence Carson and Nicole Powell are complementary wings, with Carson defending the other team’s top perimeter player and Powell stretching the defense with her three-point shooting ability.
Up front, 84-year-old free agent Taj McWilliams will step in to replace Cathrine Kraayeveld, joining Janel McCarville. Those two are fine scorers, decent rebounders and well, McWilliams used to be a really good defender.
And there’s that defense thing again. Pondexter is going to have to defend the opposition’s quickest guard, with Carson using her length and athleticism to match up with taller scorers. Powell, when motivated, is better than many acknowledge, but McWilliams, who will be 40 in October and is just 6-1, cannot be expected to slow many elite scorers down. McCarville isn’t a great defender either, which means the Liberty will especially vulnerable to big teams. Of course, if Pondexter and Carson can’t stay in front of quick guards, New York will be vulnerable to quick teams as well, which pretty much means they have to outscore everyone.
To do that, the Liberty will need improvement from players like the wonderfully athletic Tiffany Jackson — but she’s 25 now and if she hasn’t figured it out yet, there’s reason to believe she never will. Kia Vaughn is a big body who needs to take a great leap forward in 2010, especially when it comes to the physical aspect of the game. At 6-4, she should be an above-average rebounder, but she’s actually below-average; and as quick and tall as she is, she should get to the line a lot, but she doesn’t (Kristi Toliver, for example, attempted 90 free throws in 386 minutes; Vaughn took 34 in 396 minutes).
Of course, New York could have Tina Charles in the post mix, but Carol Blazejowski, without question the worst general manager in the league, traded the top pick in the draft, which turned out to be Charles, for Sidney Spencer, who averaged 3.0 ppg in 10.3 mpg last year. And Blazejowski has also wasted other draft picks, leaving the Liberty with a thin bench behind a starting five that will be tested on the defensive end every night and quite possibly lacks a point guard who can make things go on offense.
Sure, Pondexter is a great addition, but she cost New York two starters (Shameka Christon and Kraayeveld), and at best, replacing them with Powell and McWilliams is a wash. It could well be that McWilliams is past her sell-by date and will be significant downgrade at the four, and it could be that Pondexter will be sadly miscast as a point guard and needs to be a two. If those two likely scenarios play out, then the Liberty are lottery bound – which of course wouldn’t be a bad thing because it’s hard to imagine even Blazejowski somehow losing the Maya Moore sweepstakes.
But, for the sake of optimism, let’s just say Pondexter is a wonderful one, and McWilliams has a really good year left in the tank. Let’s throw in Jackson growing up, and Vaughn learning to love contact, and now you just might have a team that can get to, and maybe even win, the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
That’s a lot of ifs, though – and it says here that wishes don’t come true, so the Liberty slide into the lottery, the ping-pong balls bounce their way, and Maya Moore is wearing a New York uniform in 2011.
There are worse fates, of course, but for the good of the league, it would be nice to see the Liberty win a lot of games, generate a lot of buzz and sell a lot of tickets. It would be nice if French vanilla ice cream didn’t have any calories, too.