‘Stew York’: Liberty locked and loaded

Published February 3, 2023, 4:45 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

The New York Liberty become instant title contenders with the addition of Breanna Stewart.

It’s pretty fitting that the first person to react to Breanna Stewart’s decision to sign with the New York Liberty was Kevin Durant.

Both Durant and Stewart are regarded as arguably the best scorers in their respective leagues.

Last season, Stewie led the WNBA in scoring, averaging 21.8 points per game. That’s nearly two points more than the second-best scorer in the league. Digging deeper into the numbers shows that her percentages across the board were all career-best. Last season was the most diverse and efficient Stewart has been as a scorer in her six years in the league.

Stewart is a well-rounded scoring machine. Playing next to Sue Bird all of her career has allowed her to hone her off-ball skills. She knows how to exploit opposing defenses after setting a pick for the ball-handler. She can pop for the open jumper if the opposing big decides to shade the lane or roll to the rim for a seal or easy hoop if they overplay her.

Improving her outside shot only made her more deadly. Stewie can now confidently stroke the 3-pointer. That means defenders can’t disrespect her by staying in the paint. That has allowed her to use one of her best skills as a player: attack off the dribble. Once she puts the ball on the floor, Stewart can stop and pop or take it all the way to the hoop.

The Liberty are getting not just one of the best scorers in the league. They’re getting an annual MVP contender whose career is peaking right now. This is one of the biggest free agent signings in league history, turning New York into an instant contender.

Beyond the talent that Stewart brings, she fits the current roster of the Liberty so well because the make-up of the team is similar to the Seattle Storm squad Stewie played with last season.

After being set up by Bird all of her career, Stewart will now play with not one, but two of the best playmakers in the league in Sabrina Ionescu and the newly signed Courtney Vandersloot. Vandersloot was second in assists last season, averaging 6.5 per game while Ionescu was right on her heels with a 6.3 average.

What makes Ionescu such an efficient passer is the threat of her scoring. She averages 17.4 points per game and can hit shots from nearly everywhere on the court. That’s what also makes her different from Bird. Last season, teams could load up on Stewart knowing that Bird will most likely pass to her. This season, teams will have to pick their poison: focus on Stewart or Ionescu. That’s a tough choice for defenses to make.

Vandersloot is just as deadly as Ionescu as a passer. She can issue the picture-perfect bounce pass or thread the needle while on the move. 

Her basketball IQ is one of the best in the league. Once she gets familiar with how her teammates move on the court, she can put things into order and control the flow of the game.

Stewart and Vandersloot are the latest acquisitions by the Liberty. But their first big move of the offseason was pulling off a trade for Jonquel Jones. 

After playing next to a former Connecticut Sun MVP in Tina Charles last season, Stewart gets to do it again this season with Jones.

After her 2021 MVP campaign, Jones had a down year last season, putting up only 14.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game. Make no mistake though, at her best, Jones is a double-double beast. She commands a ton of attention, especially when she gets the ball deep in the post.

That gravity that Jones has will only open up even more opportunities for Stewart, who can play on the opposite end of where Jones sets up and wait for the ball to swing her way for easy baskets.

This stacked Liberty lineup will only allow Stewart to spread her wings even further. While she’s known more as a scorer, Stewie has the length, intelligence, and skills to become more of a complete player as well. 

Playing next to Vandersloot and Ionescu will give her a chance to experiment passing from the top of the key or the post. She can also learn how to whip passes from the short role to Jones in the paint or one of the Liberty shooters out on the wings. 

Stewart can fill in a lot of holes for her new team, which is exactly what an MVP does. She raises not only the floor of the Liberty, but she also removes the roof as this team now has unlimited potential.

Durant was right, Stewart going back home to New York is going to be ridiculous.

Good luck with those tickets. Next season’s going to be a movie for the loaded Liberty.