Training camp is officially underway, and the New York Liberty will begin their journey to the WNBA championship. The team has undergone dramatic upgrades this winter and are ready to scale the mountain. All eyes are on the Liberty, so let’s take a look at some storylines to watch in camp.
The early part of the 2022 season was defined by injuries as Jocelyn Willoughby, Didi Richards and Betnijah Laney all missed extensive time. Along with that, Sabrina Ionescu was recovering from ankle injuries that impacted her first two seasons in the W. All of the injuries wreaked havoc on the Liberty’s training camp and contributed to their 1-7 start. Now that everyone is here and fully healthy, the Liberty will have the opportunity to conduct a full training camp.
To wit, the Liberty did not play a single preseason game last year> They didn’t have enough healthy players to suit up! This year, they have two road preseason tilts, one against the Connecticut Sun on May 10 and another against the Las Vegas Aces on May 13.
Now, the team is at 100% and the holdovers from last season have another year under their belts with Sandy Brondello and the coaching staff. The season is also a lot longer as there will be a record high 40 games to be played in 2023. At the press conference introducing Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot, I asked Brondello about the expanded schedule, and she said:
“I look forward to training camp. I look back to my first year in New York last year and we had so many injuries. Some days, I had five players. I had to use the first month of the season to have training camp, develop that chemistry, and learn a new system. It wasn’t just the new players. It was a new coach and how we wanted to play.”
It’ll give everyone more time to get comfortable with each other and get
Brand new, brand new, brand new!
We’ve got some new superstars in the house as Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, and Courtney Vandersloot join Ionescu and Laney to form out one of the most talented starting fives in New York hoops history. The starting five has the perfect mix of scoring, shot creation, defense, passing, and everything else you can think of.
Stewart is going to draw a lot of attention when she has the ball in her hands, and for a team that has shooters up and down the roster, having a good passer out of the pick and roll like Stewie is exciting and guarantees the team will get great shot attempts on every possession.
When your starting center is able to score in the post, in isolation, get her own shot whenever she wants, and be an ace catch and shoot three point shooter opens up a world of possibilities for the Liberty.
New York struggled to get to the basket for much of last season, but they found success once they had the full roster available down the stretch. The team will have as much spacing as a coach can dream of, and it should help create easier drives to the basket for Ionescu, Laney, Marine Johannes, etc. At Media Day last year, Brondello mentioned that she wanted the team to get a lot of shots in the paint. Their offensive attack will be more varied this time around.
It’ll be interesting to see the lineup combinations Brondello tries out and tinkers with during camp. She has plenty of size in the front court, rangy athletic defenders on the wings, and ace shooting all over the court. There’s a very good chance the Liberty will be able to have at least three former All Stars on the court at all times. That’s a blessing.
Finding the perfect role
The Liberty have talent all up and down the club, and here’s the roster as we begin camp:
Johannes has French basketball duties to tend to, so she’ll be in a bit late.
Someone I’m interested to see in camp is Jocelyn Willoughby. An Achilles injury cost Willoughby all of 2021 and a left quadriceps tendon injury cost her much of 2022. She returned to action in mid-July, but was out of the rotation as the Liberty fought to make the playoffs.
In college at the University of Virginia, Willoughby shot 38.8% from 3-point range in her four years on the team. While playing in Australia this offseason, she shot 37 percent from three. And in the 2020 season, she shot 40.5% from deep in the “wubble.” With the stars getting all the attention, she should see her fair share of open opportunities.
Someone else to keep an eye on is Didi Richards. A hamstring injury limited Richards’ effectiveness and availability in 2022. Now that she’s healthy, she’s ready to make an impact on defense. In ‘22, the Liberty had their fair share of trouble with athletic wings, and Richards should help solve that. She can also play backup point guard, and that should lessen some of the workload for Ionescu, Vandersloot, and Johannes. There will be a lot of competition for the final roster spot, and as camp gets going, Richards will look to make her mark.