The New York Liberty are looking to celebrate the WNBA’s 15th anniversary in “Big Apple” style. The Liberty (22-12), who set a franchise record with their 22 regular season victories in 2010, have their sights set on reaching the WNBA finals for a record fifth time. The Liberty’s quest to bring the 2011 WNBA Championship to New York begins on June 5 against the Atlanta Dream in Atlanta. The game versus the Dream is a matchup between the two 2010 Eastern Conference Final teams where the Dream defeated the Liberty 2-0. New York will have 16 of their 28 games televised by ESPN2 (three games) and NBA TV.
Despite New York’s high expectations, the Liberty went through a lot of changes during the offseason starting with the hiring of Coach John Whisenant. Whisenant, who also is the Liberty’s general manager, has added four new players to the roster including three rookies which gives the Liberty a good mix of young and veteran players. The Liberty is led by the backcourt duo of Cappie Pondexter, who led the Liberty in scoring (21.4 PPG) and assists (4.9) and Leilani Mitchell, who averaged 9.3 points and dished out 3.8 assists per game. Mitchell also shot a league best 48.6% from three- point range.
Although Pondexter will be looked to carry most of the offensive load, the Liberty has other players that can produce offensively including projected starting frontcourt players Nicole Powell (9.3 PPG) and center-forward Plennette Pierson (9.1 PPG). The Liberty will also look to a very talented bench led guard-forward Essence Carson (who averages 6.8 PPG in her career) and rookies Jessica Breland, Sydney Colson and Alex Montegomery to produce off the bench. A major concern for New York will be rebounding the basketball as their two best rebounders Taj-McWilliams- Franklin, who signed with the Minnesota Lynx in the offseason, and Janel McCarvel are no longer with the team.
The Liberty definitely have the offensive firepower to win their first WNBA Championship but New York’s success this season will depend mainly on how well the Liberty rebound the ball. Since Powell and Pierson aren’t good rebounders, the Liberty will have to rely on Breland and Montgomery along with the recently acquired 6’5″ center Quanitra Hollingsworth to hit the boards. In addition, Whisenant will probably use the early part of the season to instill his system and use different line-ups in an attempt to find the right rotation. So, expect the Liberty to struggle early and then make a run for the playoffs similar to what occurred last season.
Slaka Benjamin has followed the New York Liberty and WNBA since the leagues inception.