July 8, 2020 

Asia Durr opts out of 2020 season to focus on COVID recovery

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Who should New York have their eye on to replace the high-volume scorer?

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New York Liberty guard Asia Durr (25) during the WNBA game between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 13, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

The New York Liberty announced today that second-year guard Asia Durr will miss the 2020 season. Moments later, Durr announced in a post on social media that she has opted out as a “medical high-risk player” after testing positive for COVID-19 a month ago. Players who sit out due to “preexisting health conditions” are granted their full salary. According to a league source, Durr’s case is pending.

Durr, who didn’t play her first off-season overseas, underwent hip surgery following the end of the 2019 regular season. Her hip arthroscopy repaired a torn labral which limited New York’s 2019 second overall draft pick to only 18 total appearances last season.

The news comes as a disappointment after Durr told teammate Kia Nurse on May 6 on an episode of Kickin’ it with Kia, that she could, “Do anything without any pain.” General Manager Jonathan Kolb expressed similar dismay in a team press release.

“Asia worked extremely hard this offseason to put herself in position to take a major leap forward in her second WNBA season,” he said. “While we are disappointed that we will need to wait a bit longer to see her emerge as one of the bright young players in the game, we fully recognize and support the difficult decision she had to make amidst unprecedented circumstances. Brooklyn will be ready for her in 2021.”

In her post on social media, Durr mentioned how supportive her teammates have been during this difficult time. She has battled the coronavirus “arduously.” On June 17th, Durr posted an Instagram story thanking Liberty young vets Bec Allen (who won’t be playing for New York in 2020) and Amanda Zahui B. for a care package they sent her.

Asia Durr thanks teammates Bec Allen and Amanda Zahui B. for her care package. The card says: “wishing you a magical recovery.” (Screenshot via Asia Durr’s Instagram.)

A team that once had a surplus of guards and wings now has a shortage. That moment in time when it was a question of whether or not Marine Johannès or Durr would start at the two this season is long, long gone. Both won’t play in 2020. Those discussions about comeback player of the year–Durr’s done it before– will have to wait until 2021. And, a reunion of sorts with Louisville alumni Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook will occur in Brooklyn rather than Bradenton.

Zahui B. assured fans Tuesday afternoon that good things come to those who wait, imagining what the Liberty will look like with Sabrina Ionescu and Durr on the floor at the same time.

But to be clear, the Liberty can’t replace Durr. There’s no way to do that unless she has some sort of identical twin hiding in an alternate universe without COVID. But, what New York can do is find an available player who has the skill set and psyche that will fit into their ‘New Era’ system.

Uncasville, Connecticut/USA – Aug. 19, 2018: Los Angeles Sparks guard Karlie Samuelson (44) warms up before a WNBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Connecticut Sun defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 89-86. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Assessing what exactly New York needs to fill the roster

When the Liberty signed Joyner Holmes a couple of weeks ago to fill Bec Allen’s spot, a void was left. Holmes is incredibly athletic, can run in transition and is a rebounding machine. But, she’s not a sharpshooter yet.

Targeting a sharpshooter is a must but Holmes’ athleticism and quickness may serve as a bandaid to patch up some of the swiftness the team will miss without Durr. In other words, New York should look to address the shifts in the roster collectively rather than as they come. The Liberty ought to consider three boxes when they decide on who should fill their twelfth roster spot.

Familiarity 

A bunch of the Liberty’s personnel decisions in the past six months have included the familiarity principle. It began when the team signed guard and First Vice President of the WNBPA Layshia Clarendon and continued when coaches Shelley Patterson, Kelly Raimon, and Dustin Gray joined the staff. (Patterson worked with Head Coach Walt Hopkins in Minnesota. Raimon (née Schumacher), a former player, was drafted by Shelley Patterson. And, Hopkins has known Gray since High School.)

New York drafted Megan Walker who has played with Nurse. There’s also the Louisville duo who are very familiar with Durr. Familiarity matters. So who checks this box?

Haley Gorecki comes off her most productive season as a Duke Blue Devil. She was the first Duke player ever to average over 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in two straight seasons. In her fifth and final season, her scoring and assist averages increased to 18.5 from 17.2 and to 4.4 from 3.9. She’s a 6’0 combo guard who can play all of the guard spots, including shifting to the three when necessary.

She can knock down open threes when needed as she was a 33 percent three-point shooter in her final college season. She’s comfortable driving and hit over 85 percent of her free throws, along with a combination of toughness and quickness to defend both bigs and guards.

There was a reason she was drafted by the Storm. Dan Hughes was drawn to her toughness. But also, back to familiarity, she played with Liberty forward Leonna Odom. In Gorecki’s highlights below at around the 2:10 mark, their chemistry is obvious. Off a steal, Gorecki fires a laser over to Odom who catches and finishes in transition. New York will be running the floor. The shoe fits.

There’s also Sug Sutton, who was chosen by the Mystics in the third round of this year’s draft. She played with Holmes, but New York doesn’t need a guard at the point. Arica Carter, who played four years at Louisville and a tiny bit with the Phoenix Mercury is another guard who can shoot from long, as she finished her career with a three-ball percentage above 37. But once again, New York doesn’t need a point guard.

Other free agents include Tamera Young and Tiffany Bias. Raimon knows Young from Las Vegas and the Liberty and Kolb do know Bias from 2019. But, skill set also matters, and both Young and Bias don’t have the whole package. Gorecki has more of it.

Skill Set

What’s the whole package then? Well, what do we know about the ‘New Era’ system? What are the intangibles to the system? Players ought to have three-point shooting, be defensively-minded and versatility is prioritized. Gorecki has that, but who else? Part of Asia Durr’s game that is almost irreplaceable is her mid-range game. Juicy Landrum could compensate for that and then some. She’s got a silky smooth jumper right inside the key and can score on and off the ball. She shoots the three on or off the bounce.

The 5’8 guard is also incredibly efficient from the field, as she averaged over 40 percent accuracy beyond and in front of the arc during her career at Baylor.

Athleticism and speed are other considerations. Kaela Davis has both and she’s proven that she can keep up in transition in the WNBA. Defense, defense, and more defense is an area the Liberty can always improve in.

Experience and Mindset

What I like about Davis instead of Gorecki is that she’s a 6’2 wing with three years of league experience. While an eighth rookie could be on the horizon for New York, I don’t think it’s ideal and it can be easily avoided. Here’s what’s ideal, however: a younger player with some experience who will be willing to buy into the ‘New Era’ system and is extremely coachable.

Karlie Samuelson is used to coming off the bench. Karlie Samuelson is used to plug and play situations. She’s used to being signed and cut, and taking every opportunity as it comes. According to her sister Katie Lou Samuelson, “She’s going to be a great coach.”

“You break it down for me,” Katie Lou said to her sister on the UCONN Insider podcast. “Karlie really has been a help throughout college and the pros, telling me things I need to do better. The best thing about her is she focuses on the little things.”

Karlie Samuelson comes from the Brian Agler school of defense and New York could use that insight. At 6’0 she could also play the two or the three which is exactly the hole that the Liberty must fill.

“Karlie can offer shooting and perimeter spacing,” Dallas Wings Player Development Coach Bryce Agler told SLAM in April. “She has a good basketball IQ and is versatile in the positions she plays.”

While she might not be as athletic as Davis or Landrum, the shoe also fits for Samuelson. She’s a sharpshooter with WNBA experience, but just enough to be willing to buy into a slightly different system.

While Gorecki would be a rookie, she spent five years at Duke and is 23 years old. Davis and Samuelson are both 25. This trio checks a lot of the peripherals, but the ball’s in New York’s court to determine which boxes matter most and provide the best fit to the Liberty’s 2020 puzzle.

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