This season has not gone as planned so far for the New York Liberty, to say the least. After coming off a season that saw them finish first in the Eastern conference at 22-12, the Liberty have stumbled throughout the early part of the 2018 season. After their loss to the Chicago Sky Friday night, the Liberty are coming into the second game of a home-and-home with the Sky currently sitting fifth in the East with a 4-11 record. The Liberty have lost five in a row, although their last two games were fairly competitive.
It has been a season of transition, with the Liberty playing their first season in the Westchester County Center. Furthermore, ex-Liberty head coach Bill Lambeer left the team to become head coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Las Vegas Aces. Then assistant head coach, Katie Smith, was promoted to head coach with Lambeer’s departure. Nonetheless, in the midst of all this transition there has been one undeniable constant: the great play of Tina Charles.
After averaging 19.7 points and 9.4 rebounds last year, Charles has come back with the same aggressive mindset that got her a Rookie of the Year and WNBA. Although she hasn’t had a game yet this year in which she hasn’t scored in double digits, her rebounding numbers are down to 6.9 rebounds this year.
While Charles’ rebounding numbers have some concerned, they should be expected from a veteran who’s in their eighth season. Also, she is still averaging 19.3 points on 49 percent shooting. While Charles is still an All-Star-caliber player, her early showings prove that she has begun to transition her game away from the post. In fact, once an extremely limited three-point shooter, Charles is averaging 3.5 three-point attempts per game, making 0.9 per game. Her new-found shooting touch has allowed her to space the floor and maintain a high-level offensive game without having to expend herself on the defensive end.
In short, the Liberty’s struggles go far beyond Tina Charles. Primarily, their overall team defense has been a concern, and it was truly exposed during their latest game against the Sky. The Sky shot better than the Liberty in both field goal and three-point percentages. Furthermore, the Sky were far more aggressive at getting to the line, making 22 of 26 free throws, compared to the Liberty’s 13 of 16. There are usually only a handful of mistakes that have end up costing the Liberty games, especially in late-game situations.
Although Charles finished the game against the Sky with 24 points, she did not have enough support, aside from Epiphany Prince who dropped a season-high 21 points and five assists in a losing effort. The Liberty have certainly tried to rally and turn their season around, as evident in their last two efforts. However, it hasn’t amounted to anything more than moral victories, when the Liberty feel as if they should be real victories.
Offensively, the Liberty have been able to dominate the paint thanks to Charles and fellow-center Amanda Zahui B. When both are on the court at the same time, they can provide a substantial rebounding boost. Along with Zahui B, the Liberty have plenty of capable centers with Kia Vaughn and Kia Stokes also providing quality minutes for Smith’s squad. However, it’s been the Liberty’s guard-play that has been the most disappointing this season.
Aside from Prince’s offensive burst, Bria Hartley and Brittany Boyd struggled against the Sky, both on offense and defense. Bad defensive communication led to the Sky being able to rain down three-pointers, with Destiny DeShields leading the charge with a game-high 22 points. The balanced Sky scoring effort at the three-point line and their ability to slice into the paint and consistently draw fouls showed the flaws in the Liberty’s defense.
There is no denying that the Liberty miss the presence of veteran forward Marissa Coleman. Coleman, who is currently out with a day-to-day ankle injury, can provide the Liberty with another versatile scoring option and better perimeter defense. The Liberty aren’t a bad team; they are just playing poorly and not executing down the stretch of close games. A few better decisions, and the Liberty wouldn’t be mired in the slump they’re in now.
In the end, there isn’t much separating this current Liberty team from the one-seed that was unfortunately knocked out in the second round of last year’s playoffs. If they wish to compete for a postseason position, the Liberty must do more to surround Charles with the help that she deserves.
While she herself can do more on the defensive boards, it shouldn’t be contingent on just Charles to flip the switch. After giving the Liberty her all for the past eight seasons, it’s time for Charles’ supporting cast to step up. As Charles has transitioned into a different offensive threat, which has no doubt affected her ability to defend, the team has to transform around her skill set.