May 9th, 2024; New York Liberty defeat the Connecticut Sun 82-79 in their final preseason matchup at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT(Photo by. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)
May 9th, 2024; New York Liberty defeat the Connecticut Sun 82-79 in their final preseason matchup at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT(Photo by. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

NY Liberty Season Preview: What to Watch For

After a long and busy seven-month offseason, the WNBA is finally back in session. And after a heartbreaking defeat in last seasons’ finals, the New York Liberty are looking for revenge.

They have: the same starting superstars. Continuity in the coaching staff. New bench pieces. Different dance moves from Ellie the Elephant, the Liberty’s electrifying mascot. New attendance and viewership records inevitably set to be broken. 

While New York has some new additions to make up for some key losses this upcoming season, their ultimate goal remains the same—bring the city their first WNBA championship in franchise history. 

Returning Faces

The Liberty is returning familiar faces to its starting lineup this season, as Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and Sabrina Ionescu, the current longest tenured Liberty members are back. Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones and last season’s MVP Breanna Stewart are also returning for their second season in The Big Apple to round out the starters. 

“When I saw the fans pour that love into me, I was just like yeah, I’m coming back to New York,” Jones said. “Obviously things ended poorly for us [last season] and not being able to win, but my mind was already made up that I was coming back.”

Head coach Sandy Brondello has given her stars adequate rest during training camp and the preseason to gear up for hopefully another long regular season, especially with the Olympic break, and potential title run. 

Key Bench Additions and Departures

The biggest changes to the Liberty team this season come from the bench. Defensive threat Kayla Thornton is bringing her energy and hustle back after signing an extension in the middle of last season. But Stefanie Dolson was traded to the Washington Mystics in the offseason and sharp-shooter Marine Johannès will most likely sit out this WNBA season to focus on playing for France in the Paris Olympics. There’s a chance Johannès could return after the Olympic break, but it seems like the Liberty have worked to add pieces to make up for her absence.

After these departures, Nyara Sabally is poised to step up this year, playing overseas in Germany during the offseason. Sabally was drafted fifth overall in the 2022 WNBA draft but sat out her first season as she recovered from a knee injury. Last season, Sabally showed sparks and has continued to develop her post game after playing overseas, which will benefit New York who lack depth in the post after Jones.

While the 2023 WNBA Basketball Executive of the Year, General Manager Jonathan Kolb, didn’t sign any household names like he did last season, he did make some under the radar moves that can definitely benefit the Liberty this season. 

Another player who is poised to be a key contributor off the bench this season is Leonie Fiebich. Fiebich was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2020 draft and her rights were acquired by the Liberty in 2023. After playing overseas in Spain last season, she signed a rookie scale contract with New York. Fiebich was the MVP of the Spanish league and also has ties to Sabally—both are set to play with the German national team during the Olympics. Fiebich is a reliable three-point shooter and a solid defender both on the perimeter and in the paint as a 6’4’’ wing. 

Ivana Dojkić is another addition, after having played with the Seattle Storm last season. Coming back to the U.S. after playing in Italy, Dojkić scored eight points in the Liberty’s second preseason game and can be a scoring contribution off the bench.

The team signed Kennedy Burke in free agency, who has more than five year’s professional experience between the WNBA and international play. Burke has played for the Indiana Fever, Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics and brings athleticism and the ability to play multiple positions for the team.

The Liberty also acquired the rights to Rebekah Gardner from the Chicago Sky. Gardner won’t play this season after undergoing foot surgery but will bring length and defense to the bench in the future. 

Making Moves in the Draft

Additionally, the Liberty’s first round draft pick, Marquesha Davis out of Ole Miss, made the roster after impressing in training camp and preseason. Davis is a strong finisher at the rim, hounding on defense and has high basketball IQ skills. She has already showcased these moves in multiple highlights from camp and brings poise and confidence even as a rookie. 

While the team brought 19 players to training camps, difficult cuts had to be made to get the roster down to 11, which is the current maximum number of players the Liberty can hold under their salary cap. General Manager Jonathan Kolb mentioned the hope to add a 12th during the summer, potentially from training camp cuts. 

Okako Adika, Brianna Fraser, Rita Igbokwe, Stephanie Mawuli and the Liberty’s 23rd draft pick Jessika Carter were included in the first round of cuts. 

In the second round of cuts, the team had to let go of some fan favorites. Esmery Martínez was the team’s 17th overall pick and the first Dominican-born player to be selected in the WNBA draft. Jaylyn Sherrod was also cut, who was a bright spot during camp as an undrafted rookie. Sherrod impressed in both preseason games with her energy, even giving the Liberty the win against the Sun with her game-winning steal and layup.

In addition to their on the court signings, 14-year WNBA veteran and former Liberty player Epiphanny Prince retired and was appointed the Director of Player and Community Engagement for the team. While Prince won’t contribute as a player, she does bring veteran leadership and years of experience and will make contributions in the community. 

“I’m always talking to them, encouraging them and giving them advice when I see that they need it,” Prince said. “We have a lot of good talent here and it’s exciting to be around and excited for their future,”

Preseason Looks

In their first preseason game on May 7, the Liberty looked discombobulated and disjointed as they were blown out by the Chicago Sky 53-101. The Liberty’s starting five played most of the first quarter together, before being fully taken out of the game midway through the third. From the tip, there were some missed opportunities at the rim and a lack of chemistry, as New York committed 26 total turnovers during the game. 

“They have to look at themselves. At the same time, we have to stay together…we didn’t stay together… they’re embarrassed by the effort put forth,” Brondello said.

While the preseason isn’t totally indicative of the team as a whole, it definitely opened some eyes in New York’s first game back together after losing in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces in October 2023. 

In their second preseason game against the Connecticut Sun, the Liberty got off to a much better start with the starting five having a much better shooting night, winning 92-89. While the starters didn’t play much during the second half, the rookies were given some important minutes, in a close game. 

“There’s always going to be a short turnaround… we understand what didn’t go well in the first game… our chemistry will continue to grow, get better,” Laney-Hamilton said. “I think it’s good, we’ll continue to be great.”

“Our response, we put the last game behind us… it showed us being able to come together, trust each other… it was really nice coming out today, playing our style of basketball,” Ionescu said.

Building Upon Last Season’s Chemistry

With a season of playing together already under their belt, the starting five’s chemistry will be key to another deep playoff run. The Liberty’s starters better understand one another, and this will help the team get into more of a rhythm this season from the opening tipoff.

During training camp, Vandersloot said the starters feel more comfortable in their roles coming into this season.

“It’s almost like we’re starting it kind of where we ended last year instead of we’re just all thrown together on the day of training camp, so there is a little bit of comfort,” Vandersloot said. “We have a really good understanding of what people do, how they want the ball, when they want the ball, those kind of things. Of course, there’s so much more work to do.”

“As good as our offense was, there were times that we struggled with our shot selection and shooting percentages, you know, making sure that we’re really hard to guard,” Vandersloot continued. “Training camp is about finding those niches and finding what works for us as a group, where we’re at our best.”

Jones was also the only Liberty starter to go overseas to play during the offseason, meaning the rest of the starting lineup should be more rested and ready to make another run.

Additionally, with the league’s recent announcement of charter flights for all regular season games to be instituted this season, this will hopefully give the team some much needed rest while traveling. It was reported that the team will not be flying charter for their first two games to start the season, but expect the program to be ready to go after that.

New Expectations

Last season it was the Aces versus the Liberty, one ‘superteam’ against another. Other teams have entered that conversation this season, including the Seattle Storm and the Phoenix Mercury, but the Liberty have something these teams in their first season all together don’t: that existing chemistry and the shared experience of heartbreak and defeat in the finals. The team carried a large weight last season due to the high expectations placed on them, but this season will be about continuing those goals and also enjoying playing together once again.

The Liberty kick off the regular season away against the Washington Mystics on Tuesday, May 14 at 7p.m. ET and in Indiana against the Fever on Thursday, May 1 at 7p.m. ET. Their first home game at Barclays will be Saturday, May 18, against the Fever at 1p.m. ET.