Having already added an MVP this offseason by trading for jonquel jones, Liberty added a second via free agency on Tuesday, earning two-time WNBA Finals MVP Stewart. With choice of the second team sabrina ionescu already on the list, New York now boasts 30% of last year’s All-WNBA selections, matching the Vegas Aces‘ in total, and they may not have finished adding star players yet.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Liberty project with its new star-studded frontcourt, particularly compared to the Aces after the defending champs charged with the addition of Candace Parker.
Furthermore, let us consider what follows for the seattle storm after Stewart’s departure. With All-Star guard jewel loyd Still in Seattle, a rebuild doesn’t seem to be on the cards, barring a trade. But Storm will have a very different look in 2023 after Stewart’s departure and the retirement of legendary point guard Sue Bird.
How do Stewart and Jones fit together?
It’s safe to say that adding two former MVPs, both in their prime, during the same offseason is unprecedented in WNBA history. In fact, prior to this year, only two former MVPs had changed teams before the age of 30: tina charles when she was traded to Liberty in 2014 and Elena Delle Donne about his trade with Washington Mystics in 2017.
In 2008, Seattle added a pair of former MVPs in Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes. However, Griffith was 38 when she joined the Storm and Swoopes would soon be 37. At that stage in their careers, they were both role players, not anchor pieces like Jones and Stewart.
To be sure, teaming up will require some sacrifice for Jones and Stewart, probably more than Stewart, as Jones already saw his usage drop after he hit a career-high 27% during his MVP campaign. Still, last season Jones finished 24% of the connecticut sunShooting plays, trip to the free throw line or turnover. Stewart was at 29% in Seattle.
Some of those opportunities in New York will come from replacing Natasha Howardwhich had a 26% usage rate and was traded to the dallas wings as part of the Jones deal. But the other Liberty holder in front was the center stefania dolson, who will likely head to the bench, and Dolson’s usage rate was a modest 17%. That was a combined 43% share of the offense for New York’s front-line starters last year, compared to 53% for Jones and Stewart with their previous teams.
As long as Jones and Stewart are comfortable with fewer touches and shots, with Ionescu likely cutting back on his offense as well, the adjustment should work well. Jones and Stewart are capable of moving away from the basket and each have enough gravity as an outside shooter (Stewart is a 37% career 3-point shooter, while Jones has shot 38% on lower volume) to space the court while the other Posts or runs a pick-and-roll with Ionescu.
On the other end, Jones and Stewart were among seven players to receive Defensive Player of the Year votes in 2022, with Stewart making the first-team All-Defensive and Jones making the second-team. Both players have defended various frontcourt spots throughout their careers, giving Liberty coach Sandy Brondello flexibility on how to deploy them for maximum benefit.
At this point, I would keep the Aces as favorites for the WNBA championship because it should be easier for them to integrate Parker than it is for New York to get comfortable with multiple new starters. Still, the scary possibility for the rest of the league is that the Liberty aren’t done adding to the roster.
Could New York add another All-Star?
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported earlier this month that courtney vanderslootStewart’s free agency would be a factor in Stewart’s decision. The Liberty were among four teams Vandersloot was expected to meet with before making his own decision. Could New York still add Vandersloot as well?
Yes, particularly if Stewart and Vandersloot are willing to accept less money than their maximum possible salaries. If Stewart signs for the maximum $202,154 for players who change teams on top of the sign-and-trade, that would leave Liberty with about $160,000 to offer Vandersloot, for salary data from HerHoopsStats.com.
By giving up reservations michaela onyenwere Y didi richardsNew York could get that offer in excess of $180,000, in the ballpark of what Vandersloot did last season with the chicago sky ($195,000). To offer more than that, New York would have to trade a player with a protected contract.
A wild card for Liberty’s 2023 roster: The team has a couple of key international players: guard johannes marina and center Han Xu — that they are reserved, which means they can only deal with New York. If those players re-sign for minimum salary, it will be a lot easier for Liberty to fill out the roster with Stewart and another high-paid free agent.
From a form standpoint, Vandersloot would make sense in New York given the success Ionescu enjoyed after Liberty signed point guard Courtney Dangerfield midseason and moved Dangerfield into the starting lineup. Freed from primary distribution responsibilities, Ionescu emerged as an overnight triple-double threat. Adding Vandersloot would make New York my favorite to win the first title in franchise history.
What’s next for the storm?
Stewart on moving to Liberty: ‘I want to keep being great’
Breanna Stewart explains the mindset behind her decision to play with the New York Liberty.
We saw a Seattle team without Bird and Stewart make the playoffs in 2019, when both missed the season due to injury. The Storm even won a playoff game before being eliminated in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks.
In addition to the remnants of Loyd and the center mercedes russell, that team also featured Howard, who won Defensive Player of the Year and earned first-team All-WNBA honors. If Seattle wants to replicate their 2019 success, a similar move up from the fourth-year spot will likely be required. Ezi Magbegorlike Han and Johannes, a reserved player this offseason.
As the starting center during the All-Star break last season, Magbegor seemed to be on that kind of trajectory. She averaged 11.3 PPG and 6.5 RPG as a starter while leading the league with 2.3 BPG. Magbegor struggled to make the same impact after Charles replaced her in the starting lineup, seeing her average per minute drop as well as less playing time.
There’s a lot of work to be done for the Storm, who only have Loyd and Russell under contract but also have the most cap space in the WNBA. In particular, Seattle needs to find a replacement for Bird at point guard. Vandersloot, a native of the Seattle area, could still be in the mix there. If not, the Storm will likely seek a point guard change to restricted free agents. natisha hiedeman Y Marina Mabrey or unrestricted options Moriah Jefferson Y erica wheel.
With so many open roster spots, it’s hard to say how competitive Seattle can be without Stewart. For now, the presence of Loyd, the development of Magbegor and the Storm’s ability to land veteran free agents in the past suggest the team should still be in the mix for the playoffs.
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