NEW YORK LIBERTY – DRAFT SUMMARY
By Matt Hallett
The New York Liberty were not able to do much in the off season. Thanks to the poorly handled non-sale of the franchise, new coach Katie Smith was unable to sign any needle moving free agents. They re-signed their core including Tina Charles, but it looked like their offseason was going to cost them a chance to compete with the top teams this season.
They had picks 10, 22 and 34 in the draft to turn this around.
Pick 10 – Kia Nurse
One of the biggest surprises in the draft was the 6’0” guard from the University of Connecticut fell to tenth in the draft. Nurse has the ability to score, pass, shoot the 3-ball and defend at a high level. This is exactly the type of guard the Liberty needed. When she was still left on the draft board, it was surely the quickest draft day decision ever.
The Liberty have needed a quality point guard who can take defensive attention away from Tina Charles. Nurse fits this profile perfectly. Her decision making on the court was second to none in college last year and her ability to hit the open shot is something special.
Nurse’s numbers from last season are not eye popping. She averaged 14.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals on a loaded Connecticut roster. Her shooting percentages are out of this world though as she shot 54 percent from the field and 47 percent from deep. She is also an 82 percent free throw shooter so has very few chicks in her offensive armor.
Her size allows Nurse to match up against some of the bigger guards and she can switch onto opposing wings easily. I can see Nurse making the starting lineup by the middle of the season and as a result, the Liberty will surprise.
Pick 22 – Mercedes Russell
Talk about dropping a dime and picking up fifty dollars. Mercedes Russell, a 6’6” center from the University of Tennessee was a potential first round pick. When she was left on the draft board at pick 22, this would have been the second fastest draft day decision ever.
Russell averaged 15.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals in her senior year. These are quality numbers. She also shot the ball from the field at an incredibly efficient 60 percent. However, one weakness is her game is her free throw shooting, only going at 66 percent from the line. Put her in the hands of WNBA coaches and we should see this number improve.
Russell is a good option to play with Charles as she provides rim protection, rebounding and an interior scoring threat, allowing Charles to shoot from the perimeter with more confidence. However, she will have to battle for her minutes but should make the regular season roster.
Pick 34 – Leslie Robinson
Leslie Robinson is a 6’0” forward out of Princeton University. For her senior year she averaged 10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Unfortunately for Robinson, she is going to struggle to get a roster spot on a team which has plenty of front court talent.
Draft grade: A++
I gave New York an A++ for their draft day. To put it simply, with the 10th and 22nd picks they got talent which should not have come their way. Nurse is the type of guard who will take pressure of Tina Charles and potentially bring the Liberty offense closer to that of the style of the WNBA. After the offseason they had to endure, Nurse is a tremendous compensation as I believed she should have gone higher in the draft. Yes, her numbers were not as good but she has the body and IQ of a ready made WNBA player who will contribute from day one.
Russell will push for a spot and I think will surprise many by how much she is playing this year. She will be used sparingly against centers like Brittany Griner, Sylvia Fowles, Jonquel Jones and Liz Cambage until she shows that she can hold her own.