NY Liberty forward Kayla Thornton
May 6, 2023: NY Liberty forward Kayla Thornton in training camp

Kayla Thornton Is Key To the Liberty’s Season

Following up on a great season is difficult. For the New York Liberty and Kayla Thornton, it’s a challenge they are prepared for.

Thornton joined the Liberty in the winter of 2022 in the trade that brought Jonquel Jones to Brooklyn. Before her on-court debut, she promised to bring a “dawg mentality“ to the Liberty team. In year one, fans saw that in action as she was critical to many of the franchise-record 32 victories. Thornton’s heart and hustle were rewarded when she signed a two-year contract extension last fall.

So far, Thornton has played well in her second season in seafoam. Her usage rate is a tick higher than last year as she’s more involved in the offense. Last year, she was a very effective spot-up shooter and played her role well. This season, fans are seeing a new aspect of her game on offense.

In this play against the Seattle Storm, Thornton received a dribble handoff from Jones and attacked off the dribble. Although her jumper did not go in, fans could see a new dimension to her game—which the team encouraged Thornton to add to her arsenal.

“That’s some of the things that they wanted me to work on and be aggressive,” Thornton told The Local W at practice on May 22. “It doesn’t come overnight, so just continue to get the reps in. I feel like I have a lot of stuff in my bag, but it’s just about putting it together, staying confident, and executing whatever the offense asks me to do.”

Thornton’s versatility allows this Liberty team to explore new options and reach higher heights.

The Liberty Keep Building

NY Liberty forward Kayla Thornton
September 7, 2023: NY Liberty forward Kayla Thornton shoots vs. the Dallas Wings. Image via Brandon Todd/NY Liberty

Sandy Brondello and the Liberty coaches saw an opportunity for Thornton to be even better entering this season.

“When you’re new to a team, you defer to the stars around you,” Brondello told The Local W after a May 22 practice. “She did that last year and it was a detriment to herself in that regard. But it’s more like ‘Be a dawg!’ and I think we worked out that she’s way better on handles than off the ball in terms of physicality.

“But it was more like, ‘You’ve got a three, take it!’ but you’ve gotta be able to play off a dribble handoff. And she’s worked on it. She’s worked on it, she’s a real pro. Went overseas, worked on that, and the improvement has been shown immediately since she’s been back.”

Even with Thornton’s increased ability to score off the dribble, she is still an exceptional cutter off the ball and a knockdown three-point shooter.

Thornton also remains an exceptional defender on and off the ball. She can handle guards on the perimeter or tussle with bigs in the paint. Speaking about the skill level needed to handle guards and bigs, Thornton attributed it to understanding the opponent, heart and want to. Thornton’s excellence is key to a new Liberty roster that continues to establish itself following a good training camp.

“I like how versatile we can be and what we can mix up,” Brondello said when asked about the team’s ability to switch on defense. Having Thornton come off the bench and take any assignment given to her makes things simpler for her teammates. The Liberty defense was one of the best in 2023 and has the potential to be even better with Thornton on the court.

Always On Time

Kayla Thornton and Jonquel Jones of the NY Liberty
May 31st, 2024; Kayla Thornton and Jonquel Jones celebrate after the New York Liberty defeat the Washington Mystics 90-79 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

On May 29, Courtney Vandersloot was ruled out due to a back injury and Thornton got the start against the Washington Mystics. Thornton had her best game with the Liberty as she scored 20 points and was a force on both sides of the ball as New York came away with the win.

“She’s the glue of this team, honestly,” Kennedy Burke said after the win against the Indiana Fever on June 2. “She just brings that energy consistently. She just has this light and glow about her that’s so contagious.”

Thornton’s presence, energy and toughness help take a great Liberty team and make it even greater. The team has talked about it in depth throughout 2024, and Thornton’s size, strength and basketball IQ allow her to fill in every task given to her.

It is still early, and the Liberty are figuring things out; with new players come new rotations and new roles. One thing that has stayed consistent is the energy and hustle of Kayla Thornton. As the team continues building good habits, Thornton will be an integral part of its plans.