In their first free agency move of the off-season, the New York Liberty have acquired one of the biggest standouts of last year’s Wubble season: former Atlanta Dream wing Betnijah Laney, who joins the Liberty on a multi-year deal. An outstanding two-way player, Laney’s breakout season in the Bradenton, Florida bubble was highlighted by her winning the league’s Most Improved Player award, having been a focal point of her former team’s play on both ends of the floor. In 2020, Laney established herself as one of the WNBA’s elite, after almost not being on a roster for the 2020 season at all, having been cut by the Indiana Fever in mid-June, weeks before the season tipped off. Now, less than a year later, Laney is likely poised to garner a max contract from her new team, and for good reason: Laney is a perfect fit for Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins’ offensive system, and addresses many of the shortcomings that New York faced last year. Here are three ways that Betnijah Laney makes the New York Liberty better, immediately:
Under Hopkins, the New York Liberty have adopted a perimeter-oriented style of offense, one that emphasizes creating opportunities for shots from deep. The Liberty live and die by the three, and last year, they died by it. In the 2020 season, the New York Liberty attempted 27.4 threes a game, nearly the most in the league, while connecting their three-pointers at the worst clip in the league, landing just 27.7 percent.
In Betnijah Laney, the Liberty acquire a solution to their three-point shooting woes. In her Most Improved Player campaign, Laney hit 40.5 percent of her threes, which would immediately make her the most efficient three-point shooter on the Liberty roster compared to last year’s percentages. A legitimate shot-maker, Laney gives Hopkins and the Liberty a stellar offensive force, something much needed for a team that bottomed out the league in overall field goal percentage in the Wubble. Her three point shooting also makes Laney an ideal floor spacer to complement young star Sabrina Ionescu, creating more room for Ionescu to operate with the ball in her hands, and, of course, serving as a dangerous option if opposing defenses dare to leave Laney open.
Off-ball playmaking abilities
Speaking of Sabrina Ionescu, an important quality Betnijah Laney brings to the Liberty is her ability to impact offense without being a team’s primary ball handler. Last year playing for Atlanta, Laney shared on-ball duties with standout rookie Chennedy Carter. Despite having lower usage (23.4 percent for Laney, compared to 30.9 percent for Carter), Laney still was able to find her spots to score, and make plays for her teammates.
In Laney, the New York Liberty have found their ideal secondary ball handler and playmaker. Betnijah Laney led the Dream in assists with four a game, good for 12th in the WNBA. Even more impressive is Laney’s 20.1 assist percentage, or approximately one of every five field goals made by her teammates. If Laney, continuing in this secondary ball handler role, can find similar playmaking efficiency for the Liberty, she’ll help get the gears turning on an offense that often stagnated last year, ranking last in the WNBA in assists per game.
Perhaps most importantly, the acquisition of Betnijah Laney brings an elite defender on the wing to a New York Liberty team that allowed their opponents the fourth most points per game in the league last season. Laney, however, had an excellent defensive season in the Wubble, helping patch the holes in the struggling Atlanta Dream defense. For her efforts, Laney was named to the All-Defensive First Team.
Laney is particularly adept at guarding the pick and roll, an area where the Liberty struggled in 2020. When guarding the pick and roll in signal coverage last season, Laney only allowed 55 points on 77 possessions, ranking her in the 93rd percentile in the league, per Synergy. Though the pick and roll was once an easy point of attack for opposing offenses, Laney helps the Liberty counter, having held her opponents to 33 percent from the field when guarding such plays.
Laney also thrives at jumping passing lanes to grab steals, another area where the New York Liberty need help. With 6.3 steals per game as a team last season, New York was second-to-last in the league. Among players, Laney fared better, ranked 10th in steals with 1.4 per game. The addition of Laney brings an entirely new dimension to the Liberty’s defense—a player that can not only disrupt opposing offenses, but use those steals to make a play on the other end of the floor, like in this play against the Indiana Fever last season:
What does this mean for the Atlanta Dream?
Despite only playing with the Dream for one season, Laney had become an important part of the team’s identity on the court and off, so this departure stings for Atlanta. Laney had quickly become a fan favorite, and many hoped she would resign and be an essential building block in the Dream rebuild, alongside Chennedy Carter. While the Dream still need to fill the gap in playmaking left by Laney’s departure, they have acquired an exciting new pick and roll partner for Chennedy Carter in forward Cheyenne Parker. Parker is a good fit as a rim running and floor stretching four next to Chennedy and center Elizabeth Williams, and should be able to cushion the blow defensively of Betnijah Laney’s departure.
Be sure to check out Winsidr’s Free Agency Tracker for all of the latest transactions in the WNBA. Free agency is just getting started, so buckle up.
All stats courtesy of WNBA.com unless otherwise noted.