NEW YORK, N.Y. – June 20, 2017 – Heading into the month of June the New York Liberty faced a bit of early season uncertainty, dropping two-straight games before losing a pair of star players in Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn to European National Team duty for the 2017 EuroBasket Women Tournament.
Following a 90-75 loss to the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks, the Liberty’s final game with both Prince and Vaughn before they departed, head coach Bill Laimbeer addressed the tough road ahead for New York.
“We knew this was coming, three of our top seven will be gone, the league doesn’t stop, it is what it is. It’s going to be tough, we can win some games, that is our goal, to win as many games as possible,” said Laimbeer. “We’ll tread water till we get our players back. This isn’t going to be one person saving us or one person making us fail. This is a collective group of coaches and players. We have to all stick together and get through this.”
Stick together they have, as New York has gone 5-1 since that pivotal moment, including a stretch of 4-straight victories that immediate followed the setback against the Sparks. While it has indeed been a collective effort, the effort of veteran guard Shavonte Zellous has been one of the brightest highlights.
Zellous has scored in double figures in 6-straight games, averaging 20.0 ppg over that stretch, with 3 20-point performances, dropping 27 points in a win over the Dallas Wings at The Garden on June 2, and torching the Wings once again last Friday when she scored a season-high 28 points, no two bigger than her near buzzer beater with 0.6 on the clock to send the game to overtime.
A Liberty team that got significantly younger this offseason looks to Zellous as one of the leaders on the court and in the locker room; her 9 WNBA seasons tie with Kia Vaughn for the most on this year’s squad.
She has leaned into that role completely, and when asked to start shouldering the offensive load, handle the basketball more frequently, and take advantage of her considerable ability to generate offense off the dribble, she has done it all.
“All this week in practice my teammates and the coaching staff told me I needed to continue to be aggressive,” Zellous said after her 27-point performance against Dallas on June 2. “I noticed the first couple games I wasn’t being as aggressive and helping my team but, it was just determination from myself that I need to do more in order for us to win.”
As important as her offensive efforts have been, Zellous is arguably the most versatile defender on a team that depends on lock down defense to win games. She can guard any player on the floor, and that effectiveness is clear when you look at her plus/minus numbers.
Zellous leads the Liberty in raw plus/minus (+38) and in net plus/minus (+16.7), the latter being a real indicator of what an impact she has defensively, while also ranking 2nd overall in the entire WNBA.
Teams are averaging 78.4 points per 40 minutes with Zellous on the floor, a number that increases to 86.2 when she is on the bench. The Liberty has also moved into 1st place in the league, limiting opponents to .405 percent from the field.
With the Liberty nearing the point where players return from European duty, it will be fun to watch how the newfound aggressiveness from Zellous and others lends itself to the team moving forward. One that that is for certain is it will continue to be a collective effort.
“I think that one thing about this team that’s unique is that nobody is selfish everybody moves the ball, everybody knows that they can contribute,” said Zellous.