The New York Liberty lost more than a game last Thursday; they lost their dynamic point guard Brittany Boyd.
The third-year veteran tore her left Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of the Liberty’s loss to Minnesota, throwing the season of last year’s top-finishing Eastern Conference team into uncertainty.
Boyd broke her wrist in September, 2015, but came on strong midway last year and finished with a 9.2 point, 6.3 assist-per-game average. She made a solid training camp showing a few weeks ago and earned the starting point guard spot. In her first two games this year, she averaged 13 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists in just 16 minutes of play.
When Boyd went down during the Lynx game, her New York teammates seemed discombobulated for a time, as the California native has become integral to team chemistry.
“She was poised to have a breakout year,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said of Boyd. “Her confidence level was very high. She really put a lot of work in getting ready for this season.”
New York will now look to lean heavily on franchise staples Epiphanny Prince and Sugar Rodgers to fill the gap. The offseason acquisition of fourth-year guard Bria Hartley could also prove key.
“Hartley’s the logical candidate to pick up the bulk of the minutes that Boyd was playing,” Laimbeer said. “But it’s a big opportunity for everybody. We need all hands on deck.”
Hartley, who was acquired from the Washington Mystics as part of a three-team trade that also gave the Liberty center Kia Vaughn, gives New York much-needed depth in what is now a dangerously-thin backcourt rotation. She is coming off her best season as a pro, averaging 6.5 points and 2.3 assists for the Mystics in 2016 before sitting out the final 10 games due to pregnancy.
While not as electric as Boyd, Hartley is a capable player who can run an offense and create and knock down shots when called upon. She will be required to do both effectively if New York hopes to maintain their place near the top of the league standings.
Rounding out backcourt options is ninth-year veteran Shavonte Zellous. While she has been most frequently utilized on the wing in the Liberty’s system, Laimbeer and his staff are considering moving her to the backcourt.
“We’re a little short at guard, so we might have to move Zealous to a guard,” he said. “We’re going to fly by the seat of our pants.”
While New York may indeed have to fly by the seat of their pants, having Zellous gives them a fighting chance. She is tied with Vaughn for most experienced on the roster. While only in her second season with the Liberty, she has a resume that includes a six-year stay with the Indiana Fever, where she won a WNBA championship in 2012. Her veteran leadership and title-winning pedigree will be vital to guiding a young, shorthanded Liberty squad.
In addition to the current roster, it is likely that the franchise will look to acquire, via trade or free agency, players to help stabilize their rotation.
“We’re talking about it, but we haven’t decided anything yet,” Laimbeer said of potential roster changes. “We’re going to be looking at all kinds of opportunities to get some more people on the roster.”
They will need to decide quickly, as both Prince and Vaughn are scheduled to leave in the next two weeks to compete in the Eurobasket tournament for Russia and the Czech Republic, respectively. With Boyd out, losing Prince even for a short period could be devastating.
Right now, however, the most pressing concern lies with the players the team currently has.
“We’re trying to figure out who’s going to start, who’s going to play what minutes, what combinations are on the floor,” Laimbeer said. “We talk about that everyday.”
While the short-term future of the Liberty is now in flux, their resolve is as strong as ever, and the opportunity for different players to prove themselves has the potential to strengthen the team, both this season and in the long run.
Boyd will also remain with the team for support.
“(Boyd’s injury) is unfortunate,” Laimbeer said. “But she understands that it’s part of the business. She’s still hanging around the team and she’ll comeback ready next year.”