Scouting the Rest of New York Liberty’s Rookie Class
I recently looked at how Sabrina Ionescu will impact the New York Liberty. While she gets the lion share of the coverage, Ionescu is just one of six rookies drafted by New York—all of whom were selected within the first 15 picks.
On TBW’s WNBA podcast, Get the W, Gabe Ibrahim and I also talked about which of the rookies excited us most, though we did not have the opportunity to spend major minutes on each newcomer.
So let’s do that here!
The five players I’ll break down have something in common: They measure 6’0 or taller and they’re athletic. Most can guard multiple positions. New York’s draft strategy went a long way in solidifying Coach Hopkins’ ideal style of play, so we’ll dive into each prospect’s skill set to see what they bring to the franchise.
Megan Walker (No. 9 Pick)
Many Liberty fans were reeling after the Chicago Sky nabbed Ionescu’s teammate Ruthy Hebard at No. 8, poaching her a pick before New York would end up with five of the following seven selections.
The tantalizing pick-and-roll chemistry the Oregon pair shared was not to be—though Hebard will be finishing buckets off passes from Courtney Vandersloot, another Kelly Graves point guard.
Another name still dangled on the big board, a prospect many did not see falling this far. Of the seven outlets I researched in prepping for our TBW Mock Draft, four of them had Megan Walker going five to the Dallas Wings. Instead, she fell into New York’s lap.
This past season, the 6’1 junior put up 19.7 ppg and pulled down 8.4 rpg for the Huskies. She was particularly effective at cleaning up the defensive glass.
According to Her Hoop Stats, Walker’s 213 defensive rebounds ranked 16 out of 4,456 qualifiers. Last season’s Liberty team ranked eighth in defensive rebounding, snagging 25.5 per game. Only two individual players on the team came in the top 30: Tina Charles at ninth (5.6 DRPG), and Amanda Zahui B at 15th (5.3 DRPG).
With Charles gone, the team has the potential to struggle further in ending defensive possessions, but Walker can help mitigate that.
Walker’s most enticing quality, however, is her range. She shot 45.1 percent from 3-point range last season, averaging 2.4 makes per game. According to Synergy Sports data, she’s deadly in catch-and-shoot efficiency. She ranked in the 91st percentile, with an effective field goal percentage of 59.4. It climbed to 61.3 percent when she found herself unguarded.
Hopkins’ new offense is all about getting looks for shooters, and Walker is a terrific complement to Ionescu, who excels in finding holes in opposing defenses. Get used to seeing Megan Walker tickle nylon from the corner after Sabrina collapses the defense.
Jocelyn Willoughby (No. 10)
At the conclusion of the draft, New York dealt Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (acquired two days earlier in the Charles-to-Washington deal) for Jocelyn Willoughby, the senior guard out of UVA. During her final collegiate campaign, Willoughby took a leap, besting her career scoring percentages by at least four points apiece.
|Field Goal Percentage||45.1%||40.8%|
|Free Throw Percentage||87.0%||83.0%|
A big part of Willoughby’s game is her ability to attack and absorb contact. She scored 29 percent of her 19.2 ppg at the free-throw stripe, and much of that is due to her decisiveness on the court. Willoughby excelled in catching defenses flat-footed, both in finding an opening for her shot or a seam to squeeze a look for a teammate.
Willoughby plays with active hands on the defensive end of the court, as well. She’s got a knack for jumping passing lanes, which fits in nicely for a team that will always be looking to run.
Jazmine Jones (No. 12)
Jaz Jones was the first of back-to-back selections out of Louisville, joining last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Asia Durr. At first glimpse, Jones looks like an odd fit as another guard on a team that already has so many. However, she boasts a skill set that can help her quickly carve out minutes with the second unit.
The strongest part of Jones’ game is her defense on the perimeter. She, too, is 6’0 tall and uses her size to harass opponents, totaling 170 steals in 107 NCAA games. During her senior year alone, she had 13 games with two or more, and had three games in which swiped the ball five times.
Put the ball in her hands in the open court, and she’s a terror. Jones has a solid handle, which goes along with her aggressive downhill attacking speed. She has a tendency to finish right but often does so with a pretty scoop layup.
She plays efficiently, knocking down 52 percent of her attempts from the floor during her time as a Louisville Cardinal.
Kylee Shook (No. 13)
In his substack, Floor Game, TBW alum Ben Dull had a terrific breakdown of what Kylee Shook brings to the pros. At 6’4, the stretch-four will be called on for her defensive versatility in difficult matchups.
Last season’s ACC Defensive Player of the year racked up 2.7 blocks per game (18th in the NCAA) along with a 10.3 percent block rate (26th in the NCAA), according to Her Hoop Stats.
Defensively, Shook has strong mechanics. Her footwork shows promise, and she hasn’t exhibited some of the dangerous reaching habits that many young shot blockers do. With her size, she often disrupted shooters with her verticality: her outstretched arms causing just as much chaos as a swinging arm would, but without the fouling. (She fouled out just once, back in her freshman year.)
Like teammate Zahui B, Shook is comfortable shooting the ball from deep. She shot better than 35 percent from long distance, with a decent sample size (made 3-pointers, by year: 19, 21, 21, 28). That pick-and-pop ability will slot in well with the passing guards on the roster, as does her willingness to shoot over tough closeouts.
Shook hit her stride late in the 2019 season. It took her 11 games to knock down multiple 3s, but she got hot at the season’s close. She made two or more 3s in her last five contests, shooting 11-of-19 during that span.
Leaonna Odom (no. 15)
Duke forward Leaonna Odom is likely a nuisance in practice, keeping her Liberty teammates on their toes. The 6’2 former Blue Devil’s 27.5-inch vertical matched the Combine outputs of NBA players Devin Booker, Josh Hart and Evan Turner.
She’s got some fine-tuning to do, but much of her game takes advantage of that athleticism. Odom moved well without the ball, making weak-side cuts for easy layups, and she was fast in the open court. She shot an odd-looking straight-on banked floater with some regularity but managed consistent conversions.
Odom’s 6.2 2-point makes per game were elite, as was her 54.7 percent shooting.
Depending how the Liberty’s roster shakes out—as well as the health crisis over these next several months—Odom may elect to go overseas to develop. If she can smooth out the edges of her game, she has the potential to be a long-term asset.
In the midst of a transition in every sense of the word, this season is not likely to be a winning one for the Liberty.
The new coaching staff and new arena are also significant changes for the franchise, and that’s without mentioning the half-dozen rookies competing for lockers. Despite the low likelihood of short-term success, the team’s vision and outlook are clearer than in recent years.
Either way, Liberty fans will be treated to an exciting brand of basketball with these young players on the court.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.