Natasha Howard on custom The Local W graphic

Five Things, Three Stars, One Problem: Liberty 71, Wings 81

#1 – The Offense Needs a Different Gear

Four games into the season, and there’s something off about the New York Liberty offense. Several factors have contributed to this slow start such as injuries, missing players, and acclimating to a new head coach and her offensive philosophy. Whatever the reason may be, the Libs are averaging a league-low 72 points per game and are struggling to keep up with other teams. A common thread between the teams at the top of the standings is that they either take many threes or efficiently knock down the three-point shot. The Liberty are a bottom-four team in both three-point attempts and three-point field goal percentage. One way to counter this is to play quicker in an attempt to increase possessions, but the Libs are also currently bottom three in pace. Last year’s offense (first in three-point attempts and second in pace) isn’t the answer either, but something towards the medium would likely lead to a more reliable attack. 

#2 – The Curious Case of Han Xu

The Liberty entered the season with high expectations, which made sense considering they were bringing back an exciting core fresh off its playoff debut and pairing them up with an established coach who has seen it all. With a record of 1-3, it’s natural to sift through the mess to find any silver linings. The most intriguing of these narratives may be the emergence of Han Xu. In the two games she has played, Xu is averaging 10 points and has displayed a soft touch at all three levels. Her rebounding is still a significant concern and it’s perplexing that her length doesn’t seem to bother anyone at the rim, but on a team that needs stability around Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, Xu has a pathway to finding consistent playing time based off the unique looks only her length can create. 

#3 – Unleashing Onyenwere

The reigning rookie of the year is in a weird spot. Michaela Onyenwere isn’t necessarily playing worse but she also seems to have taken a back seat on offense, consequently limiting her potential impact on the game. To begin her rookie campaign, Onyenwere was held to four shot attempts just four times in 20 contests. This season, she has taken fewer than four shots in all four games. There’s no indication that her surgically repaired thumb is affecting her, so the ball needs to find her more. 

#4 – At Arm’s Length 

No matter how hard the Libs pushed, the Dallas Wings did a tremendous job of killing any momentum that was brewing for the home team. Arike Ogunbowale was phenomenal, hitting several shots whenever it looked like New York was ready to take a hold of the game. Her ability to thrive in big moments is well-documented, meaning an early regular season matinee did not affect her. When the Wings weren’t hitting the Liberty with a barrage of jumpers, they punished their opponents down low with Isabelle Harrison and Teaira McCowan. Their length and efficiency (a combined 26 points on 55 percent from the field) added diversity to the Wings offense that the Liberty couldn’t counter. 

#5 – Reinforcements on the Way? 

With how the team is currently constructed, the return of Rebecca Allen should be able to jump start the team’s offense. The Liberty veteran has matured into a do-it-all type of player capable of transforming her style to whatever the roster needs. With a rematch against the Connecticut Sun next on the schedule, she’ll need to be everything she’s capable of, particularly whenever Ionescu or Laney hit the bench. Last year against the Sun, Allen averaged 8.5 points, 2.5 made threes, 1.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks. 

Three Stars

1 – Arike Ogunbowale (Just an absolute nightmare matchup for the Libs’ perimeter defense)

2 – Isabelle Harrison (Doesn’t need a three-point jumper to be effective, love her game)

3 – Natasha Howard (The best two-way player on the floor last night, great bounce back performance)

One problem: Slow Starts

Status: Resolved, kind of, but not really…

The Liberty were finally able to throw a first punch, coming out to a 9-2 lead to begin the game. The confidence was flowing on the court and the crowd at the Barclays Center was electric. For a brief moment, the offense looked dominant and difficult to contain. Laney was bullying her way to the basket, Howard was hitting shots from deep and down low, while Ionescu was freely navigating through the defense. Unfortunately, a switch was flipped and the Wings went on a 15-2 run to completely negate the Liberty’s quick start. This ended up being a deficit the Liberty couldn’t overcome.