Zeke Still Has It

I went to Sunday’s NY Liberty game. For me a Liberty game is like a Knicks game, without all the anger, frustration, and embarrassment. It’s like watching a professional basketball game, but fun. With my kids on each side I can pass on the finer points of the viewer experience — like how to properly skewer a referee or how to not catch a tshirt. (Side note: I’ve never caught a ball or tshirt at a live professional sporting event — ever.) I can point out to my wife that the Liberty coach was from that ESPN documentary we watched about the Bad Boys.

The cool thing is I find myself feeling the passion for the game of basketball without all the attachment of being a die hard fan. Particularly a die hard fan of one of the worst franchises in the last 16 years. I can check out the basketball-reference page for the team before the ladies tip off and have a good understanding of what their team is about. And from the numbers, it’s obvious the Liberty’s strength is in the front court.

Tina Charles is the Carmelo Anthony of the Liberty. She leads the team in scoring (19.8 pts/36) but comes with mediocre efficiency (49.8% ts% — the league average is 51.1%). Although she’s listed at center, at 6-4 she actually plays forward. Carolyn Swords is the starting center, at 6-6 she’s second on the team in ts% (56.3%) and is in the middle of the pack in terms of volume (12.1 pts/36). Last, but not least, is Kiah Stokes, the team’s 1st round pick in 2015. Stokes leads the team in blocked shots (2.8 blk/36) and efficiency (57.6% ts%), but her scoring volume is lacking (8.2 pts/36).

The trio were on the team last year, so I was familiar with them and their situation. Charles and Swords start, and Stokes comes off the bench. The rookie was second on the team in minutes last year, despite being third on the “depth chart”. The eldest of the trio, Charles, is 27 years old, so there’s no need to look to replace any immediately. Given their different strengths, it gives coach Laimbeer flexibility if he need to go in one direction or another with his team plan.

Enter Isiah Thomas.

This offseason Zeke acquired Amanda Zahui B, another center. Zahui B was the 2nd overall pick in 2015, but had a subpar first season. She posted a ts% of 44.9%, with a PER of 11.6, and only managed 300 minutes for Tulsa. The Shock were a mediocre team, finishing the year 18-16 with the league’s worst defense. I got to see her in person on opening day, and she managed 10 points with only 1 rebound. One one defensive possession, she got lost on a rotation which led to a wide-open bucket under the basket. To be fair, Zahui should be a decent rebounder (9.0 reb/36) and shot blocker (2.3 blk/36), however she’s turnover prone (2.4 to/36) and hack happy (7.0 pf/36).

If acquiring a highly inefficient, turnover prone, foul machine, former high draft pick center wasn’t Isiah-y enough, the Liberty GM sent the team’s first round pick in the next draft for her. [They did receive Dallas’ second round pick in the deal.] Zeke also sent the team’s second round pick to Atlanta for Shoni Schimmel. The guard is a third year player that finished 10th in the league in three point percentage. She finished yesterday’s game with 3 points.

New York was first on defense last year, but 10th on offense. So I’m not sure adding a player whose efficiency is 61 points below average is addressing the team’s needs. Additionally the injury to Epiphanny Prince was never addressed. Prince tore an ACL in Russia in the winter and isn’t healthy enough to return. A 5-9 guard, she was third on the team in efficiency (56.1% ts%), third in scoring volume (18.9 pts/36), and first in PER (24.1).

So if my calculations are correct, Isiah Thomas has traded away the Liberty’s next draft for a fourth center, a three point specialist, and a second round pick. He ignored the team’s need to adding more scoring, while he overloaded the roster with another center. The more things change…

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