February 2, 2022
What Stefanie Dolson’s addition means for the New York Liberty
And a step-by-step breakdown of what's next for the Liberty
In 2022, the New York Liberty will bring a New York native home and she’ll wear the number 31. She’s also a graduate of the University of Connecticut.
No, not Tina Charles. Charles isn’t returning to the Liberty.
The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings reported that Stefanie Dolson, the UConn grad who grew up in Port Jervis, NY, less than a two-hour drive from Barclays Center, had agreed to terms and will sign a multi-year deal with New York.
Around two months ago, Dolson made it clear that she had every intention to return to the Chicago Sky. In an interview with Annie Constabile of the Chicago Sun Times, the 2021 WNBA champ explained that she was on board to try to run it back with the Sky, a team that had depth and a core group of players who had played with one another for a long time.
“We just won a championship, so it’s kind of hard to not come back,” Dolson said. “We’ve already gone up in money in the amount that we’re paid. If you take a dock to be on a really good team, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
But clearly, something changed.
“Finally I can talk about it lol,” Sharay Hall, Dolson’s partner and head coach of Millersville University women’s basketball wrote on her Instagram story. “Congratulations proud of you! Now go make some noise and dominate where you are valued.”
And the Liberty made Dolson feel valued during her visit to Brooklyn, putting her up in a five-star hotel along the Brooklyn waterfront. Successful recruiter Betnijah Laney showed her around and the two even hung out with Anthony Ramos at Barclays Center. As a stan of Hamilton The Musical, Dolson appeared to enjoy herself in New York.
And the Liberty are going to enjoy what Dolson brings both on and off the court to New York. GM Jonathan Kolb and Sandy Brondello were aligned in their thinking when they uttered how their goal was to add pieces that can function well alongside the core group they already have in Laney, Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu. This is what they will get in Dolson who has proven that her versatile skill set and size translates into winning. She just came off a monster year where she not only won a WNBA championship but also won an Olympic gold medal as an inaugural member of the women’s 3X3 team. Dolson’s secret sauce: she’s on teams where ball movement and sacrifice have been key.
What Dolson brings to New York on and off the court
In 2021, 38.3 percent of the Liberty’s points were scored in the paint, which was second worst in the league. New head coach Brondello is a firm believer in having a “balanced inside and outside attack.” She will absolutely use New York’s superior shooting talents from deep, but balanced basketball isn’t only produced from beyond the arc. While Dolson has addressed the work she’s done in the offseason on her post-up game, New York will look to employ her on pick and roll actions and pick and pops.
Dolson’s career numbers shooting from deep are significant for someone who’s 6’5. In 2021 she finished shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. She finished finished in the 89 percentile in points per possession (1.234) as pnr roll man per synergy sports. A couple spots up from Dolson is Brondello’s former post player Brittney Griner, who scored 1.289 points per possession for that same metric.
In 2021, the Liberty gave up the most points in the paint in the W , allowing 38.4 points in the paint per game. Brondello and Kolb have made it crystal clear how much defense matters to the 2022 New York Liberty.
Defensively, however, Dolson finished in the 56 percentile (0.869) in points per possession allowed. But, after examining Dolson’s on/off stats in 2021, the Sky performed much better defensively with her on the floor rather than without her. Chicago had a 92.9 defensive rating with Dolson on the floor while without her, that number dropped over 9 points to a defensive rating of 102.3.
Dolson’s addition to the Liberty on the defensive end will enable New York to have more rim protection, but will also allow for former DPOY Natasha Howard to guard traditional fours, rather than fives, when the pair play together. Howard is more comfortable guarding fours than she is guarding fives.
While some believe that signing Dolson means rising third year Kylee Shook’s job might be on the line, that’s not necessarily a given. After Shook was drafted, I had compared her skillset to that of former Liberty center Amanda Zahui B. I noted that both could play solid defense and shot well from deep. But flash forward a couple of years later and upon some reflection, Shook’s potential instead more closely mirrors who Dolson has become.
And who has Dolson become? She’s one of the best screeners in the league, reliable on pick and roll offense, can stretch the floor and is a willing passer.
Shook is also a smart and savvy screener. Remember this?
Against the Sky, Shook slipped right past Dolson rolling to the basket to grab and finish on a pass from Sami Whitcomb.
Against Brondello’s former team the Mercury, Griner over-helped here on Allen and what did that lead to? And open three point shot and eventual make from Shook.
And here against Chicago once again, Shook was able to find Jazmine Jones in the left corner pocket for a wide open three off an errant post entry pass from Laney.
Where Shook struggles are places where maybe Dolson can help. After a tough loss to the Phoenix Mercury on August 25, Laney addressed a comment former head coach Walt Hopkins made about Shook’s toughness as a post in this league. “It may not be her nature to want to hit somebody, but she’ll get to the point where she feels that’s what she needs to do,” Laney said.
While Dolson is known for her vivacious personality off the court with her creative halloween costumes and expressive dance moves, she’s also known to do whatever it takes to win and sacrifices her own gain for that of her teammates.
“I am a big nurturer,”she said back in 2018. “I always take care of people, especially with my teammates.” If the Liberty do keep Shook for the reasons I explained above, expect Dolson to be involved in her growth and to support her via her example but also by just being Big Mama Stef.
Dolson’s 2020-2021 career arc represents the type of player Kolb wants in New York. Her struggles with her health in the Wubble were followed by the most successful year of her professional career. After the 2020 season, she decided to dedicate herself to refining her health habits and as a result lost 30 pounds and became more nimble.
Kolb and Brondello also want a player who can connect with the Liberty fan base and greater New York Metro area. She notably made her mark in the Chicago community. Within hours of the announcement that Dolson was going to return home to New York, people that Dolson had met during her five years in Chicago posted to their Instagram stories to wish her well. The Sky’s head athletic trainer and local basketball coaches in the Chicago area noted how much she’ll be missed in the windy city.
“Such a pleasure working with you and being your friend or the past four years,” Coach Cortez Harper of Harold L. Richards High School wrote. “Good luck with your new team and I’ll see you in Chicago! @bigmamastef.”
The Liberty shouldn’t be finished with 2022 roster construction
While I don’t imagine Shook losing her spot on the Liberty’s roster, there are some others from that draft class of 2020 who might. New York isn’t done with their 2022 roster construction. Next on their list is to re-sign Rebecca Allen.
Allen is another piece that complements New York’s core. She proved that much during the second half of the 2021 season. She’s a combo forward who has the potential to shoot 40 percent from three but also has the length to play as a stretch four when needed. Defensively, she can guard positions one through four.
With Breanna Stewart only signing a one-year deal to re-join Seattle, the idea might be to sign Allen to a one year deal as well and take it a year at a time. How confident did Kolb and Brondello come out of that meeting with Stewart in LA? Did they plant seeds in her head that she’ll remember once Sue Bird officially hangs up her jersey for the final time? Time will tell, but neither side left that meeting convinced it was the last one between them.
But back to Allen. If the Liberty signed Dolson to a multi-year deal at a little bit above what our staff predicted at $155K per year, the Liberty would have around $41,560 remaining on their salary cap. What does that mean? Players need to be either traded or waived.
Finding suitors for both Jazmine Jones–– who proved she has a pro motor but hasn’t evolved into the combo guard the Liberty need–– and defense wing Leaonna Odom will need to happen to be able to bring Allen back. Or New York could waive them. But if the Mercury need a cheaper option on the wing that can guard explosive threes in this league, they ought to inquire about Odom. Jones could fit in Atlanta where the dream are looking to fully rebuild. From the Tallahassee area, playing for the Dream, she’d also be closer to home.
If Allen is signed for $147K, New York is left with $31,729 after shedding he contracts of both Jones and Odom. If the Liberty want to bring back Marine Johannès amid the possibility that she might be playing in France until late May or the beginning of June, more players would need to either be cut or suspended. Giving Han Xu another year abroad and allowing Asia Durr another year to rehabilitate her body might be the types of salary cap gymnastics that the Liberty employ before training camp.
Getting those two contracts off the books would leave New York with around $164,341, which allows the Liberty enough space to sign Johannès for between $85K and $90K plus some space to sign the fifth overall pick of the 2022 draft.
Does it all happen this way? It might not, but let’s return to what is certain, which is Dolson. When she finally steps on the floor in Brooklyn wearing seafoam and black and the number 31, some fans might not know what to make of her, the first to wear Charles’ number. But what they ought to know is that Dolson will work hard, do whatever is needed to win with a desire to play for New York in New York.
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also covers women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.