5 options the New York Liberty should be thinking about with the No. 1 pick
It's still *super* early, but here's where my brain's at if I'm picking No. 1 for the Liberty.
We have a No. 1 pick to discuss.
So let’s do it.
The WNBA draft lottery came and went, and gave us just one surprise. As expected, the worst team last year, the New York Liberty, will pick No. 1 overall. They’re followed by the Dallas Wings, Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever. The Wings leapfrogged the Dream for the No. 2 pick despite having lower lottery odds.
So, what the heck is New York going to do with that pick?
Let’s preface by reminding everyone that it is EARLY. There’s a LOT going on between now and when GM Jonathan Kolb will make his team’s second No. 1 overall selection in a row. The biggest factor: WNBA free agency, which starts in January.
The Liberty don’t have a ton of decisions to make with a team of mostly rookies locked in on team-friendly contracts. They already got one decision out of the way when they re-signed Kiah Stokes to a multi-year deal before the end of the 2020 regular season. That leaves four free agents: Paris Kea, Joyner Holmes, Rebecca Allen and Amanda Zahui B. Per Richard Cohen of Her Hoops Stats, Kea and Holmes are both on the reserved player list because they have less than three years experience. This means they can only negotiate with the Liberty this offseason, so it’ll be the team’s decision whether they’re back in New York. Same goes for Allen, whose contract expired while she opted out of playing this season. Zahui B is an unrestricted free agent, able to sign wherever she wants.
After free agency, the conclusion of NCAA season will have its influence, too. (That’s of course, if it finishes playing despite teams canceling and postponing games every day due to positive Covid-19 tests every day.) The NCAA season would likely end in April, and see the usual rise and fall of players’ stocks. Injuries will inevitably occur, too. Then college juniors and international prospects will decide whether they'll declare for the draft or not.
But all of this is unknown for now. So just play along and don’t hold me to these specific options in four months.
Now that we got that out of the way, here’s what I think today, on December 14, the Liberty should be considering with their No. 1 pick.
Option 1: Draft Charli Collier, a 6’5 center from Texas
Here’s why the Liberty would make this decision: The Liberty’s roster is very guard-heavy. If everyone who’s expected to return plays in 2021, New York will have Sabrina Ionescu, Asia Durr, Kia Nurse, Marinne Johannes, Jazmine Jones and Layshia Clarendon sharing two or three guard spots. It’s really hard to see the Liberty taking another piece into the rotation unless they move one or two of these names via trade.
So logically, if the Liberty are looking for a big, Collier is the best one available. New York wants all five of its players to be able to shoot, and Collier’s already proven she can, knocking down 36 of 102 attempts from deep (35 percent) for her career. She rebounds well too, averaging 12 per game this year and 11 per game last year. And most excitingly, in flashes, she’s also shown she can create her own offense.
I’ve written about her game a bit here. And I’ve started a thread of what I like about her game here:
Here’s why it wouldn’t happen: Collier is a junior at Texas, and is only eligible because she’s going to turn 22 next year. She could choose to stay in school and enter the 2022 WNBA Draft instead.
Option 2: Draft Awak Kuier, a 19-year-old, 6’4 Fininsh forward
Here’s why the Liberty would make this decision: Again, I don’t see the Liberty drafting a guard, and Kuier might be the next-best big who fits the team’s identity of versatile defenders who can shoot. In nine games in Italy’s Serie A league this year, Kuier is averaging 10 points and eight rebounds on 46 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent (8-of-19) shooting from range. She’s also averaging 1.7 blocks per game. I won’t lie and say I’m familiar with this league, but a brief view over the stats leaders showed few WNBA players minus Kennedy Burke. This isn’t the most competitive league in the world. But also remember, Kuier’s 19. The Liberty would draft her if either Collier doesn’t declare for the 2021 draft, or if they believe their peak is several years down the line.
Here’s why it wouldn’t happen: For one, it’s unknown when Kuier would commit to coming to the WNBA. That’s a risk. And two, she’s 19 years old! She’s a few years from becoming a big-time W threat. For now, she’s a raw talent with tremendous potential.
Here’s some of what I’ve liked watching Kuier so far:
Option 3: The Liberty draft Rennia Davis, a 6’2 wing from Tennessee
Here’s why the Liberty would make this decision: If the Liberty don’t believe Collier or Kuier have No. 1 pick ceilings, or neither commit to playing in the W soon enough, maybe the Liberty will pick Davis, an elite athlete with great size. She might not be a great 3-point shooter (she made just 33 of 106 tries last season, and 1 of 11 so far this year), but she produces. She averaged 18 points on 48 percent shooting last year with eight rebounds and three assists. She’s not a perfect fit for what NY does, but she’s got room to grow, and few can match her frame.
Here’s why it wouldn’t happen: If the Liberty don’t believe Davis can develop into an elite shooter, she could become a weak spot on offense for the team. I think she’d only go No. 1 overall if Collier stayed in school.
Option 4: The Liberty draft Arella Guirantes, a 5’11 guard from Rutgers
Here’s why the Liberty would make this decision: If the Liberty think they can make a real playoff push next season, they’d consider Guirantes with the No. 1 pick. Again, I don’t think they’ll go with a guard, and Guirantes might not necessarily have the best career of all guards available, but the fifth-year senior looks ready to play right now. She’s a helluva play-maker, and a solid shooter. Last year she averaged 29 points on 41 percent shooting with four rebounds and two assists. She knocked down 33-of-88 threes (38 percent), too. The question is if she’d be stepping on Ionescu and Jones’s toes as they all share the same position, and the answer is probably yes.
Here’s why it wouldn’t happen: Drafting another guard on top of all the aforementioned really good young players might cause locker room chaos in the fight for more playing time. This isn’t a smart choice unless other trades are made.
Option 5: Trade the pick
Here’s why the Liberty would make this decision: Despite Collier being the best fit for New York, she isn’t the sure-fire No. 1 pick. If a different team had won the draft lottery, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to consider another guard option (Aari McDonald and Dana Evans are in the discussion, too.) I think Collier will be a really good player, but I don’t have the same confidence she’ll be a superstar like A’ja Wilson or Breanna Stewart coming out of college. So maybe there’s a scenario the Liberty can move this pick down in the draft and still land Collier, or deal this pick to a team that’s high on one of the available prospects and is willing to trade a veteran in return. There are a lot of options on the table… Including a home-run swing. Could the Liberty even package up young prospects and the No. 1 pick to land a star free agent via sign-and-trade?
Here’s why it wouldn’t happen: If the Liberty want to rebuild slow, they’ll hold out and keep this pick, either by drafting Collier or someone else at No. 1, or moving down to draft a talent they like who’d be available later. It would probably take a game-changing star for them to feel comfortable dealing top prospects in a blockbuster deal. But they should shop around. Maybe they’d inquire about Liz Cambage’s availability in Vegas? How about any of the Sparks’ unrestricted free agents via sign-and-trade (Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike or Chelsea Gray?) It’s worth a chat, but it’ll be hard to pull off. I think it’s more likely New York keeps the pick.
Thanks for playing armchair GM with me. Have a great week!