12 Days, 12 Previews: New York Liberty
Five keys to a successful season.
The WNBA’s 15th season begins June 3rd and SLAMonline is counting down the days with in-depth previews of all twelve teams.
Prior to the start of each WNBA season (and NBA season for that matter), every writer and blogger in the country compiles extensive (by “extensive” I mean “wordy,” and by “wordy” I mean “tired”) previews analyzing the upcoming year, team by team. It’s just a fact of life. Almost as certain as death and taxes.
The problem, however, is they all look, feel, and say the same exact thing every year (copy and paste). You, the reader, deserves far better. Thus, we’re going through each team discussing five specific things they’ll need for their 2011 campaign to be considered a success.
More importantly, we want this to be interactive – be sure to post your thoughts in the comment section below.
Five Keys to the Season: New York Liberty
By Ben York / @bjyork
5. Defense: The Liberty made the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals primarily because of their stringent focus on the defensive end. Holding opponents to just 76 ppg (4th in the league), a 43.6 shooting percentage (6th in the league), and forcing almost 15 turnovers per game (6th in the league) largely made up for what they lacked from an offensive standpoint (which was versatility).
Additionally, they’ll need to place an even heavier emphasis on defensive rebounding in 2011 as the loss of Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s 5.4 rebounds each night (second on the team) will inevitably sting. As a team, the Liberty averaged a third-worst 31.2 rpg in 2010 and that was with McWilliams-Franklin. Janel McCarville is more than capable of making up for the gap; she averaged a career-high 6.0 rpg in 2010 and I see that increasing in 2011.
4. Versatility: As I mentioned above, the Liberty’s focus on defense made up for their lack of versatility on the offensive end of the floor in 2010. Cappie Pondexter averaged 21.4 ppg in 2010 and the next closest teammate was Taj McWilliams-Franklin (now a member of the Minnesota Lynx) with 10.7 ppg.
However, in spite of the gap, the Liberty managed to finish the year 5th in the league in scoring with 79.2 ppg in 2010. They might not have the luxury of staying stagnant offensively in 2011 with Atlanta getting bigger, Indiana adding depth, Chicago on the come up, and Washington with a healthy Alana Beard.
Enter Nicole Powell…
3. Nicole Powell: The Liberty need the Nicole Powell of 2009 to return; or, at least, a closer version.
An unselfish player by nature, Powell needs to take on a much bigger load offensively in 2011 to help Cappie Pondexter; Powell averaged just 9.3 ppg in 2010 which was down from a career-high 16.7 in 2009 with the Monarchs. To be fair, she averaged the least amount of shot-attempts in her career in 2010 (8.4) as well as a career-low in minutes per game (26.4).
For the Liberty to return to the playoffs, Powell will need to be much more aggressive offensively to take some of the burden off Cappie Pondexter.
2. Free Throws: One way to combat the size of the Dream, Fever, and Sky will be to get the free-throw line on a much more consistent basis; New York averaged a league-worst 16.5 FT’s in 2010.
The league-leader (Atlanta Dream) averaged 24.8 in 2010 and this was a major reason why the Dream beat the Liberty in the Eastern Conference Finals (the Dream shot 67 FT’s in the two games compared to just 39 for the Liberty).
1. Cappie Pondexter: Any team Pondexter is a member of will win. Simple as that. She won’t have it any other way.
Probably the most exciting and dynamic player in the game today, Pondexter not only carried the majority of the scoring load for the Liberty in 2010 (21.4 ppg, 2nd in the league) but also the ability to create opportunities for her teammates (6th in the league in assists, 4.9). Furthermore, her efficiency was (and will continue to be) off the charts; she shot 48.3 percent from the floor in 2010, 43.0 percent from beyond the arc, and 89.2 percent from the foul line.
Perhaps more importantly, Pondexter is as much a playmaker as she is a scorer; she averaged just 2.4 turnovers per game which is insanely low considering the ball was in her hands offensively nearly the same amount of time it’s in Steve Nash’s hands for the Phoenix Suns (hint: it’s a lot).
Look for Pondexter to average close to 20 ppg and 7 apg for the Liberty in 2011…and maybe even her first MVP award.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts and we’ll tweet out some of our favorite responses!