If you don’t have confidence, you’ve got nothing
Something that the Liberty organization will have to consider is how to create a roster that can play balanced basketball. How can they use their assets and their pieces in a way that mystifies other teams?
The Liberty are predictable and their most successful outings have come when the opposite is true. While turnovers and focus coming out of halftime have been New York’s most prominent shortcomings in 2019, Tina Charles must work with Katie Smith and GM Johnathan Kolb to establish a format that keeps opponents on their toes. Charles is a teammate, a leader, but should not be a crutch.
This roster has a hybrid skillset, they’ve got options on the perimeter, guards and forwards with length who can fight for rebounds on every possession, strength and now height in the paint and speed on transition. Without Charles, there was a different dynamic on the court. Even when she returned on Tuesday night, Charles took just four shots all night. So that evaluation, of how to build around Charles, continued.
This team needs to trust itself. Hesitation and trust do not mix. Smith sees it as vital.
“I hope they have a lot of confidence in themselves,” Smith said following the hard-fought loss against the Sun. “No matter who, what, when, they can play. And when they come together and they are playing hard and moving the basketball and covering for each other and flying around on defense and trapping it, they can play with anybody. We try to tell them that all year. But I hope that they believe that they can do that and do that on a regular basis.”
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, who got the start in place of Charles on Friday and who was the Liberty’s rebounding leader that night, was proud of the collective play and ball handling. “We played together,” she said in the locker room postgame. “We passed the ball well. We worked well together.”
Amid another loss, she was encouraged. “It’s great for our mindset,” she said. “It shows that we can compete with top teams in this league if we want to. And if we really focus on any night and even with our star player missing, we can compete with anyone.”
New York was able to score 84 points against an elite Sun team without their star veteran and they got there with confidence, defense, and movement on and off the ball. Charles wants a title in New York. To get one, she’ll have to shake her teammates and herself out of some of these habits, and bring her USA Basketball identity to the Liberty.
It’s worth noting that while Charles trusts Nurse, her partner in crime and in pressuring defenses, accumulating wins is a job for a collective rather than a pair. Number one draft pick or not, if Charles is back in 2020, she’ll need to believe in New York’s young talent as much as it will need to believe in itself.
That process of trusting took a step forward on Friday night. But it has only just begun.
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