As the NCAA tournament wraps up, the 2013 WNBA draft quickly approaches. Liberty fans realize just how important this years draft will be for the New York franchise. The Liberty front office, led by new head coach and general manager Bill Laimbeer, have made aggressive moves in the off-season that have many fans anxious for this summers season and with the #5, #7, #15, and #27 picks in the 2013 Draft, there is great potential to add to this already very talented group.
Laimbeer re-signed Essence Carson and Kara Braxton and brought on a few players he coached while in Detroit, including Deanna Tweety Nolan, Katie Smith, and Cheryl Ford. Laimbeer is clearly trying to build a new culture in New York and fast. The task is much easier to do if you have pieces existing in the structure that know what to expect and can lead by example. The former Detroit Shock players are change catalysts, if you will. Their presence on the roster will speed the learning curve up immensely. While it still isnt clear if Tweety Nolan will play this season due to obligations overseas, we already know that Ford will rebound (something the Liberty lacked last season) and that Katie Smith adds experience and leadership as well as versatility to the perimeter with her ability to run the one, two or three positions. All of this means that the Liberty will have a mix of seasoned veterans with multiple championship rings, returning maturing players coming off strong 2012 campaigns, a super star in Cappie Pondexter, and likely a very solid group of rookies. So far Id say the Liberty have been the rock stars of the offseason, but their final grade hinges on how well they do in the draft. Here are a few players to consider, specific to the Libertys needs and their #5, #7, #15 or later draft picks.
Bill Laimbeer likes versatile guards - players that can bring the ball up, operate on the wing, and possibly even post up. Enter Kentuckys ADia Mathies, SEC co-player of the year. Mathies is a very capable scorer and can get to the rim, pull up, or shoot the three at a 40.8% clip. Her three point shooting ability is what excites me most in that she can play along side Pondexter and spread the defense. Her offensive arsenal is mature; shes been balling out all four years of her collegiate career and shows up big in important games. As a part of Kentuckys 40 minutes of dread relentless defense, she understands the importance of toughness and defense creating offense. She could make an impact not only on offense but also on defense by guarding the point guard (and allowing Pondexter some rest). She is not a fiery or very vocal player; shes a quiet person on and off the court.
The biggest sleeper in this years draft is Cals shooting guard, Layshia Clarendon. Clarendon has the best pull-up jump shot in college basketball. She gets her shot off best when driving to the middle but will also pull-up going baseline. She attacks full speed and elevates over the defense for her shot, a move that will make her valuable in the WNBA. She is naturally a driver but has worked hard on this pull-up jumper counter move. Her three point shot could use improvement. Good handle, solid on defense, what you are getting here is a scorer with speed. She has not shown the versatility to consistently run an offense. Still, Clarendon is good at her craft and has been the leader for Cal all season, recently leading them to their programs first ever Final Four berth.
With a lower pick, the Liberty might want to consider Kelly Faris. Laimbeer likes hard work and toughness. Faris epitomizes those two words. The UConn guard has played every position from point guard to power forward for the Huskies and has been the glue-piece for one of the most consistently successful programs in college basketball. She can score, but she is not a scorer. She is an all-star defender. Faris is extremely strong, in great shape and hustles hard. Laimbeer could put her on any guard and give her the task of shutting them down. She will find people to set screens on, she will know the offense, she will run her lane in transition, she will get on the floor, she will offensive rebound, she will take a charge. If there is a good habit to have, she will have it. Faris is the type of player that will stick on a team because of her work ethic and intangible value.
Laimbeer has made it clear that he would like to see Pondexter run the point guard position (termed a lead guard in his offense) for this seasons team, however, in past seasons it seemed that Cappie is more comfortable coming down the court on the wing. If that is the case, the Liberty might need to beef up at the point guard position. Katie Smith will give minutes at the one, but likely isnt going to be a whole-game option. Leilani Mitchell is a nice option at PG, but she is small defensively and on offense needs to be more of a scoring threat at the rim. Liberty fans, take a look at Penn States Alex Bentley. She is the motor of the Penn State offense. She will push the pace in transition and has experience in finding and feeding a great scorer in Maggie Lucas. She would find similar ways to set up Cappie Pondexter. She has a strong handle and can score at the rim or with her pull up jumper. She is capable of being a scoring PG while facilitating and has good size at the one.
Lindsey Moore finished her college season strong at the point guard position for Nebraska. She is poised, smart, and patient. In a number of close, end-of-game situations she has used high basketball IQ and nerves of steel to manage the game and her teams possessions to lead them to a win. Moore has a good handle and dribbles with her head up. She has great vision and creates for teammates off the dribble using sharp no-look passes. She has good touch on each pass, usually leading her teammate to the rim each time. She is a solid scorer in college but her value is in her ability to facilitate the offense and create for others. Current Liberty point guard Leilani Mitchell may be a better three-point shooter, however Moore may be more potent penetrating and kicking to teammates.
If you are looking for a pure shooter this draft, consider Gonzagas Taelor Karr, the WCC player of the year. Karr can come in and hit shots, spread the defense, and make teams pay for giving too much attention to Cappie or posts inside. She shoots the 5th highest percentage from three in the nation (43%) and has a good level of patience to her game. She can handle the ball well with her head up and is tough. She works hard on both ends of the court. She is a very high IQ player and is efficient on the court. While she is not bashful about taking a shot, she would not compete with Cappie for baskets, rather, I imagine her success being the opportunistic type, moving without the ball, running in transition. However, she is average height and Im not sure how successful she will be putting the ball on the floor going to the rim on the next level.
The Liberty are looking big and tough inside these days with the addition of Cheryl Ford, but they could also use some fresh blood in the paint. The conversation about posts must include mention of Texas A&Ms Kelsey Bone, as the junior just declared for the WNBA draft this year. She averages 18 points and 10 rebounds in a very physical SEC conference. She was the anchor inside to lead her team to an SEC tournament championship. She is strong, aggressive and has a tough demeanor on the court, fitting for a Laimbeer-run team.
Lets give another nod to the west coast. Introducing, Alyssia Brewer. This post is flying under the radar due to sitting out a year because of transfer rules and because of a few injuries. Brewer is a 63 redshirt senior who started out at Tennessee and finished her career at UCLA. The former SEC tournament Most Outstanding Player is enjoying a fiery finish to her last season at UCLA. Ill admit Brewer is banged up, however, she emerged as a top scoring threat for the Bruins this season. Her emergence allowed the team to run their offense through her. She is a big body post with surprising mobility. She is incredibly strong and likes to play close to the rim with her back to the basket. She had an outstanding showing in the Pac-12 tournament where the Bruins nearly upset conference tyrants, Stanford. I have been increasingly impressed with her productivity in the paint and flashes of great agility, but the concern is, will her banged up body hold up?
This years draft is certainly top heavy with Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins, and Elena Delle Donne all coming out. After that there are some great college players with major WNBA potential! This could be one of the most impactful draft classes for the Liberty in team history. Tune in Lib fans!