Are the New York Liberty the favorite for the 2023 WNBA title now that Breanna Stewart is considering signing with the team? Stewart announced the move Wednesday on Twitter.
Having already added an MVP this offseason by trading for Jonquel Jones, the Liberty added a second via free agency on Tuesday, clinching two-time WNBA Finals MVP Stewart. With second-team pick Sabrina Ionescu already on the roster, New York now has 30% of last year’s All-WNBA selections — matching the total Las Vegas Aces — and may not be done yet. add star players.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Liberty project with its star-studded new frontcourt, especially compared to the Aces after the defending champions loaded up with the addition of Candace Parker.
Also, let’s think about the aftermath of the Seattle Storm after Stewart’s departure. With All-Star guard Jewell Loyd still in Seattle, rebuilding doesn’t seem to be in the cards, barring a trade. But the Storm will look very different in 2023 after the departure of Stewart and the retirement of legendary point guard Sue Bird.
How do Stewart and Jones fit together?
It’s safe to say that the addition of two former MVPs, both in their prime, in the same offseason is unprecedented in WNBA history. In fact, before this year, only two former MVPs had changed teams before the age of 30: Tina Charles when she was traded to the Liberty in 2014 and Elena Delle Donne when she was traded to the 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 this point in their careers, the two were actors, not anchor parts like Jones and Stewart.
Undoubtedly, teaming up will require some sacrifices for Jones and Stewart – probably more Stewart since Jones has already seen his usage drop after hitting a career-high 27% during his MVP campaign. Yet last season, Jones finished 24% of Connecticut Sun games with a shot, trip to the free throw line or turnover. Stewart was 29% in Seattle.
Some of those opportunities in New York will come from replacing Natasha Howard, who had a 26% usage rate and was traded to the Dallas Wings as part of the Jones deal. But Liberty’s other starter was center Stefanie Dolson, who will likely head to the bench, and Dolson’s usage rate was a modest 17%. It was a combined 43% share of offense for New York starters last year, compared to 53% for Jones and Stewart with their former teams.
As long as Jones and Stewart are comfortable with fewer touches and shots, with Ionescu surely recalling his offense as well, the adjustment should work well. Jones and Stewart are both capable of getting away from the basket and each has enough gravity as an outside shooter (Stewart is a career 3-point shooter at 37%, while Jones hit 38% at lower volume) to space out the floor while the other posts or performs a pick-and-roll with Ionescu.
On the other end, Jones and Stewart were among seven players to receive votes for Defensive Player of the Year in 2022, with Stewart making the All-Defensive First Team and Jones making the Second Team. Both players have held multiple front-row spots during their careers, giving Liberty coach Sandy Brondello flexibility in how to deploy them for maximum benefit.
For now, I would keep the Aces as WNBA championship favorites because it should be easier for them to get Parker on board than for New York to get to grips with several new starters. Still, the terrifying possibility for the rest of the league is that Liberty isn’t done adding to the roster.
Could New York add another All-Star?
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported earlier this month that Courtney Vandersloot’s free agency would be a factor in Stewart’s decision. The Liberty were among four teams Vandersloot had to meet before making his own choice. Could New York still add Vandersloot as well?
Yes, especially if Stewart and Vandersloot are willing to take less money than their maximum possible salaries. If Stewart signs for the maximum $202,154 for players changing teams in addition to a sign-and-trade, that would leave Liberty about $160,000 to offer Vandersloot, according to salary data from HerHoopsStats.com.
By waiving reserves Michaela Onyenwere and DiDi Richards, New York could get this offer above $180,000, much like 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.
Wildcard for Liberty’s 2023 roster: The team has a pair of key international players – full-back Marine Johannes and center Han Xu – who are booked, meaning they can only negotiate with New York . If those players re-sign for minimum wage, it will be much easier for the Liberty to fill the roster with Stewart and another highly paid free agent.
Form-wise, Vandersloot would make sense in New York given the success Ionescu enjoyed after the Liberty signed point guard Crystal Dangerfield mid-season and moved Dangerfield into the starting lineup. Freed from his primary distribution responsibilities, Ionescu emerged as a nighttime 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
We saw a Seattle team without Bird and Stewart reach the playoffs in 2019, when both missed the season through injury. The Storm even won a playoff game before being eliminated in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks.
Along with Loyd and center Mercedes Russell, that team also included Howard, who won Defensive Player of the Year and earned All-WNBA First Team honors. If Seattle is to replicate its 2019 success, a similar breakthrough will likely be needed from fourth-year Ezi Magbegor, as Han and Johannes are a booked player this offseason.
As a 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 averages per minute drop in addition to less playing time.
There’s a lot of work to do 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 Seattle-area native, could still be in the game there. Otherwise, the Storm are likely considering a waiver to point guard for restricted free agents Natisha Hiedeman and Marina Mabrey or unrestricted option Moriah Jefferson.
With so many spots available on the roster, it’s hard to say how competitive Seattle can be without Stewart. For now, Loyd’s presence, Magbegor’s development and the Storm’s ability to land veteran free agents in the past suggest the team should still be in the game for the playoffs.