The 2021 season for the New York Liberty was, in many ways, a tale of two seasons.
There was the first half of the season that saw the Liberty race out to a fast start (5-1) and where New York was at the Olympic break seemed to all but assure a Lib return to the postseason.
A second-half lull nearly cost the Liberty one of those playoff berths, but the team eked its way into the postseason as the eighth seed and nearly pulled off a miraculous upset against eventual Finals participants the Phoenix Mercury.
The question for Lib Loyals ever since last season was which Liberty team would show up in 2022. New York’s season-opening 81-79 triumph at Barclays Center over the Connecticut Sun appeared to indicate that it would be the Liberty of last season’s first half that would show up.
Unfortunately for those same Lib Loyals, the last seven games has given them flashbacks to the last few years of Liberty basketball since the dreaded Westchester days – one where the seafoam, black and copper have been in the loss column more than the win column.
The Liberty have dropped its last seven games and are currently last place in the entire WNBA. Coming off New York’s first appearance in a postseason since 2017, to say that the start of the 2022 season has been disappointing is an understatement.
Coach Sandy Brondello is finding out that coaching this New York collection is anything but like coaching the team she was at the helm of for several seasons in Phoenix.
One must also take into consideration that the Liberty have been bit early in the season by the injury bug. Betnijah Laney is not easy to replace. Lorela Cubaj is in her first season and is learning that the pace of WNBA is nothing like what she was used to at Georgia Tech. DiDi Richards, one of the young Lib defensive specialists, has also missed time as has Jocelyn Willoughby who missed all of last season.
Fortunately for the Liberty is its upcoming schedule provides plenty of opportunities to get back in the win column. Four of New York’s next five games are against an Indiana Fever team that recently fired its head coach (Marianne Stanley) and a Minnesota Lynx team that has started slow out the gate as well at 2-7.
In addition, three of those five (in addition to six of the Liberty’s next eight games) are at Barclays Center. If New York is to turn things around to get back in playoff contention, it starts with taking care of home at Atlantic and Flatbush.
That record of 2-7 rings bells. There was another team that began the 2021 season with a 2-7 record as well. That team was the Chicago Sky, which eventually rallied to conclude that season with a 16-16 mark – and the 2021 WNBA championship.
Another bright spot for the Liberty has been the play of Han Xu. New York was aching for frontcourt help last season and general manager Jonathan Kolb hoped to address that with the signing of Stef Dolson as well as drafting Nyara Sabally (even though Sabally will not be available until next season also because of injury).
In the five matchups she has played in, Han has averaged 11.2 points and five rebounds per game in addition to shooting 51 percent from the field.
Through the Liberty’s first games, New York has been led scoring-wise by the veteran that is Natasha Howard and the youngster that is Sabrina Ionescu. Howard leads New York in scoring among players who have played all eight games with 13.1 points per game. She has also hauled in nearly seven rebounds per contest.
As for Ionescu, she has dropped 12.6 points, nearly six rebounds and almost five assists per contest.
While the WNBA season may be more of a sprint than those of other leagues, there is still plenty of time for the Liberty to figure things out and right the ship. But if New York has another season reminiscent of the two Westchester seasons and the 2020 campaign in the bubble, the Tsais, Keia Clarke, Jonathan Kolb, Oliver Weisberg and Sandy Brondello may be staring lottery ping pong balls in the face again – where another noteworthy big who wears South Carolina garnet and black will likely be at the top of the 2023 draft list.