Written By: Azarr Johnson
When Walt Hopkins took the job, as the New York Liberty head coach, he knew that he was walking into a rebuilding situation. The good news was he was starting his rebuilding project with the #1 pick, Sabrina Ionescu. The bad news, was after he took the job, a world wide pandemic happened, not to long after his press conference. Other then the draft, everything was in the air, as far as the season and so no way to implement a system or get familiar with the players at all. Once the WNBA decided to start the season, they created a schedule that can damn near be impossible for any first year coach to succeed. They were basically scheduled to playing games every night and with a young team of mostly draft picks and even with some vets, it was a recipie for a tough/long season, in which it exactly what it was.
As the Liberty started the season, they begin with guard/draft pick Meghan Walker not being able to join the team because of coovid, Asia Durr also was out for the season, due to coovid. That unfortunately was just the beginning, after a hot start when Ionescu, scored 30 plus points in her second game of the season, showcasing the start of a promising future. The next game, she suffered a season ending ankle injury, with Ionescu out, their was no real leader on the court, with the exception of Amanda Zhaui B. No leadership and inexperience showed on the court, as even though Zhaui B led by her play, she was not an offensive threat and Nurse who was in her third year had not developed into the player that everyone thought she was going to become, Stokes was a great player, but was not the first option either. So once Ionescu went down, the already expected tough times, became tougher, as the Liberty did not win their first game, until their 0-5 start. The Liberty did not win another game until before losing their next seven, going 2-12 and finishing the season 2-20, with not only the worse record in the conference, but in the league. Finishing right where they left off at the previous season, in last place, with the first round pick.
Coming into the 2021 season, General Manager Jonothan Kolb and coach Walt Hopkins, sent a message, that they are buiding around their number one pick Sabrina Ionescu) and they are ready to win now!First they traded guards Kia Nurse and Meghan Walker to the Phoenix Mercury for the number six pick in the draft and then traded those picks to the WNBA champion Seattle Storm to acquire Natasha Howard. The Liberty also signed free agent most improved player Betnajy Laney who is tearing it up on the court, but what was the Liberty most impressive move, was through their draft. What many thought was a very questionable pick, the Liberty drafted UCLA, Pac 10 guard Michaela Onyenwere, who is seeming to not need any developmenet at all, as she is doing just fine in playing in the league.
Especially after her last game scoring 29 points in their last outing against the Atlanta Dream, ever since she has stepped foot on the court, she has done nothing but showcase why the Liberty selected her with their first round pick. Then their second round pick DiDi Richards from Baylor has just added more depth and talent to the team, especially with her defensive skills and also she has shown so far that she can also contribute offensively. The end result from all the additions and changes Kolb and Hopkins made, has resulted in them surpassing their win total from last season, going from last place to second place in the division and the coach smiling alot more. The only knock or question that the Liberty have against them at this poin t is that even though they are 5-2, they have not defeated a team over .500, the only team ,they faced with a winning record is the Atlanta Dream, in which they lost to in overtime. The Liberty real test, will start this Thursday, when they face the Las Vegas Aces who are in a battle for first place in the West and then the Connecticut Sun and then a west coast trip that starts with Phoenix Mercury with Griner and Diggans. This will tell how far along the Liberty have really come or have to go, to get to the next level, which is a good problem to have. Only time will tell stay tuned!