BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)
I saw two Liberty games on television this season, and let’s just say they have so much work to do.
After an 84-77 loss to a struggling Minnesota Lynx team Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, they are now 3-8 on the season just like their counterpart.
I know it’s early. The WNBA hasn’t completed half the season yet. But soon, it’s going to get late. The Liberty are seven games away from completing half the season.
From what I saw, this team has no identity. Are they a pick-and-roll team or do they want to be a running team? The players don’t seem to trust one another. There doesn’t seem to be set roles. This is a team that has one-and-done tendencies when they are on offense.
Here’s the troubling part: Despite Sabrina Ionescu scoring 31 points against the Lynx, she has not elevated the Liberty to be a good team. She played one great game, and that was when she scored eight points in crunch time on her way to a 25-point performance in the Liberty’s 81-79 Opening Night victory over the Connecticut Sun.
First-year Liberty coach Sandy Brondello continues to search for the right combination to get the offense going. She sure didn’t expect 11 games to be waiting for answers.
If scoring isn’t a problem, it’s their defense. How many more shots can Aerial Powers make without any resistance? She scored 27 points on 11-of-22 shooting. How about Kayla McBride making shots by finding herself to get space? She finished with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting with three 3-pointers to show for it.
It took a 16-0 Liberty run to get themselves back in the game by trailing 74-73 in the fourth quarter. It was their defense that failed them at the end that had the Lynx finish the game with a 10-4 run.
You can say the Liberty exhausted all their energy to make a comeback that they could not play defense in the end, but the problem with that thinking is their defense was terrible even when they made their run. It was just that the Lynx missed shots that help the Liberty make their run.
Defense takes effort and smarts. It seems the Liberty have none of that. That has to be more troubling and frustrating for Brondello than why the offense has not been humming.
The Liberty can change coaches, but the problems remain the same year in and year out. Liberty owner Joe Tsai spent money on hiring Brondello to change things, but nothing really has changed yet. Maybe it will take time. It’s 11 games after all, but in a short season, there’s no luxury for that. It’s not like the NBA where it takes months to jell as the Boston Celtics did in March to be where they are right now in the NBA Finals.
This is a team that has played like they never played together. This is the same roster that has been there for a while. There’s no reason for this team to struggle with cohesion.
It does not help Asia Durr has been terrible. She hasn’t played in two years due to COVID-19, so she was going to be rusty. But she can be better than just playing two minutes off the bench and offering nothing.
This was a player the Liberty want to build around with Ionescu and Durr’s absence has hurt her and the team most right now. Basically, she is like a rookie again. Her lack of development caused the Liberty to be where they are right now.
Sunday’s score makes the Liberty look good, but don’t be fooled. This is a bad basketball team that is not doing the things that a winning basketball team should do. It would be nice if this team would take charge or grab the rebound or know how to set picks. There is a reason they are 3-8 on merit. It has nothing to do with bad luck or a shot made or there.
No one can offer the injury excuse anymore like in the last few years. This is the best team that we have seen in a while, and right now, they are not playing like it.
No one on the team offers solutions. Ionescu and Natasha Howard does well in spurts. The team does not utilize Han Xu often enough. They got no reliable guards. Even the coaching has been suspect so far.
All does not have to be lost, though. There’s still time. It’s up to the Liberty to figure it out and start playing with a sense of urgency. They benefitted last year with the expanded playoffs, and it could be this year they may need some help getting there.
The talent is there to win. The Liberty showed that on Opening Night. They showed that against the Seattle Storm on the road despite losing 79-71 in overtime. They displayed that during that run they had against the Lynx.
They need to play better by playing defense and trusting one another. If they can do that, the season can be worth saving.
If not, then they might as well start tanking for Paige Bueckers to be their next savior.
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