2016 Training Camp Storylines to Watch

New York Liberty 2016 Training Camp is presented by Blueprint for Athletes.

The New York Liberty begins its historic 20th WNBA season with the opening of Training Camp presented by Quest Blueprint for Athletes on Sunday morning at MSG Training Center.

Coming off one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, which saw the Liberty post the best record in the league at 23-11 and finish first in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2002, it seems like there are fewer questions heading into this season than maybe in recent years.

Many of the core group remains the same, led by four-time All-Star and 2015 All-WNBA First Team honoree Tina Charles. However, there are still major storylines to watch for as the Liberty officially begins preparations for its 2016 campaign.

Welcome to New York Shavonte!
Arguably one of the most impactful signings of the offseason, veteran guard and 2012 All-Star Shavonte Zellous inked a free agent deal with New York in February. Originally drafted by Bill Laimbeer in Detroit in 2009, Zellous has familiarity with several members of the Liberty team and staff.

While she got to know Coach Laimbeer just briefly back in 2009, that relationship was obviously an impactful one. Associate head coach Katie Smith was a player on that Detroit squad, and Zellous played last winter with Charles in Turkey, who’s passion for turning New York into a championship contender resonated.

Zellous spent the last six seasons in Indianapolis, winning a championship in 2012, and returning to the finals last season. She is a stat sheet filler, averaging 9.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists for her career.

Act II: Sophomore Season
Even as it transpired on draft night 2015, it was clear New York had done something special when it was able to trade into the first round, not once but twice, to draft Brittany Boyd and Kiah Stokes. It goes without saying that a re-draft would not see them go at nine and 11 overall, as they were both named to the WNBA Rookie Team, with Stokes coming in second in the Rookie of the Year voting.

So what will the second season bring for the Liberty’s sophomore duo? Stokes set the franchise single-game (eight) and single-season (67) blocks record last year, and there is no doubt her defensive presence is a game changer. She played this winter in South Korea, where at times she showed the ability to step outside and shoot the three. The development of her offensive game will be key.

Boyd is fully recovered from her late-season wrist injury, suffered against Chicago just a few weeks before the start of the postseason. Coach Laimbeer has stated that he wants to push tempo offensively, and put athletic players on the floor that can get out and run with Boyd. Her speed and ability to finish at the rim and distribute the basketball sets the tone for the way New York plans to attack.

2016 Draft Class
The Liberty selected Adut Bulgak (12th overall), Ameryst Alston (24th overall) and Shacobia Barbee (36th overall) in last week’s draft, but just Bulgak and Alston will be in camp as Barbee continues to recover from a leg injury suffered late in her senior season at Georgia.

Bulgak, a 6-4 center out of Florida State is likely to see more time as a stretch four in New York. Coach Laimbeer stated the draft was going to present an opportunity address a need, and an athletic post that could step out and shoot the three is definitely something every team needs. Alston finished her career ranked fourth in Ohio State history with 2,165-career points, and has the ability to play the one or the two. She describes herself as a change of pace guard that can score and create opportunities for teammates.

Setting the Roster
Coach Laimbeer has stated this will be a very competitive camp, and a quick glance at the roster offers an explanation as to why. In addition to the two draft picks, the Liberty has signed Avery Warley-Talbert, Talia Caldwell (Cal’ ’13), Elin Eldebrink (Sweden), Annie Tarakchian (Princeton), Alisia Jenkins (USF), and Danielle Ballard (LSU/Espoo, Finland) to Training Camp contracts, in addition to adding veteran guard Lindsey Harding, who is slated to report in May.

Despite their impressive 23-11 record last season, there were times that the Liberty struggled to get the offense going, so a premium may be placed on scoring the basketball. However, New York was one of the league’s best defensive teams in recent memory, meaning the expectation is that every player on the court will defend. The best two-way players will have a definite advantage when it comes to suiting up for the season opener.

Celebrating 20
The 2016 season is an opportunity for the Liberty to celebrate its history and continue to blaze a path toward the future. The 20th WNBA season is special for the league and all of its teams, but as one of the inaugural franchises, and the only one to have the same ownership since the league’s outset, the Liberty holds a significant spot in the WNBA’s history.

Just looking at the coaches and players – in 2016 New York has two of the league’s top 15 players of all time in Teresa Weatherspoon and Katie Smith on its coaching staff. Tina Charles is a former league MVP, Swin Cash and Tanisha Wright have won a WNBA title. Bill Laimbeer has won three championships and twice has been tabbed as the WNBA Coach of the Year.

All season long the Liberty will look back at key moments from its history, highlighting why this team means so much to its fans and New York City.