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A New Day: The New York Liberty’s big night at the 2020 WNBA Draft

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Arizona v Oregon Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Since 2017, the New York Liberty have been in the WNBA wilderness. From falling out of playoff contention to being forced out of their home arena, the team has been through a LOT.

Through it all, their fans have traveled with them and stuck with them even when previous ownership did not. Their faith and perseverance has been rewarded with a return back home to New York City and new digs in the Barclays Center, thanks to Joe Tsai. We don’t know when they’ll get to the court with our current hellscape, but we’ll all make it back to Barclays Center one of these days, Liberty included.

Earlier this week, the team made a move that changed their foundation. For six seasons, Tina Charles gave her hometown All Star caliber play as she was the team’s focal point and face of the franchise. However, with the team looking to rebuild and remodel themselves as they come home, the team decided to give Charles a chance at competing for a championship and traded her to the reigning champs, the Washington Mystics, for draft picks.

As one franchise icon left, another one is on the way. With the first pick in the Draft, the team went as expected and drafted Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon. Ionescu spent the full four years at Oregon and left as one of the greatest players in college basketball history.

Her presence instantly provides a new box office basketball star in NYC and more importantly, a much needed shot in the arm to the Liberty’s offensive attack. Despite being third in pace, the team was third worst in offensive efficiency in 2019, averaging only 95.4 points per 100 possessions. Having an offensive dynamo like Ionescu can help offset the loss of Charles and create new avenues for new coach Walt Hopkins and the offense.

Ionescu has had a difficult 2020 as she lost her hero in Kobe Bryant and the coronavirus pandemic dashed her dream of winning a national championship at Oregon. Through it all, she managed to stay strong despite suffering tremendous losses along the way. She tells Bleacher Report’s Mirin Fader:

Joining Ionescu in Brooklyn will be six new players, five picks and a veteran picked up in a Draft Night trade. Call it a total remake.

Jocelyn Willoughby comes to the W from the University of Virginia and was drafted tenth by the Phoenix Mercury. The Libs acquired Willoughby by trading recently acquired Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to Phoenix. Willoughby gradually improved across her time at UVA and became a more confident, capable player by the time she finished playing for Basketball Hall of Famer Tina Thompson.

Also making the move to Brooklyn will be Megan Walker of UConn. Players don’t usually come out of college early to join the WNBA, so Walker is a bit of an outlier. On the court, she should be a good fit for Walt Hopkins and friends.

Here’s Daniel Connelly of SB Nation’s The UConn Blog:

Though there are concerns over Walker’s performance in big games this season with UConn, she won’t be asked to carry the load as a rookie. With better talent surrounding her, Walker can focus on what she does best — three-point shooting and rebounding — as she develops the rest of her game.

Kevin Durant surprised Walker with a welcome to Brooklyn...

Rounding out the evening, the Liberty drafted Jazmine Jones, Kylee Shook, Leaonna Odom, and Erica Ogwumike, who they turned into Stephanie Talbot, a veteran Australian forward who spent last season in Minnesota with Hopkins. According to Eric Crawford of WDRB in Louisville, Jones is currently in southwest France after signing with French team Tarbes Gespe Bigorre.

Shook and Jones were teammates in Louisville and will be reunited with their fellow Card, the Liberty’s No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. Asia Durr. Durr played only 18 of New York’s 34 games due to injury but she should be ready whenever the season starts.

Odom projects to be someone that will give the Liberty extra frontcourt help when she gets in the game. From Em Adler of the Duke Chronicle:

This has been a historically-loaded draft in terms of available talent, and in most years, Odom likely would’ve heard her name called quite a bit earlier in the evening. Nevertheless, elite interior shooting and wing defense don’t often come in 6-foot-2 packages, and her falling any farther was a proposition New York general manager Jonathan Kolb couldn’t accept.

Of course, the Liberty have a couple of young players already on the roster, Besides Durr, they have Han Xu, the 6’9” Chinese import.

This draft represents a fresh start for the Liberty as the franchise hopes to stabilize themselves going forward. With a new star, new arena, and upgrades across the roster, Liberty fans might be getting reacquainted with playoff basketball sooner rather than later.