March 1, 2023
What Nyara Sabally brings to the New York Liberty
2022 first round pick joins crowded training camp
On Tuesday afternoon the New York Liberty announced that Nyara Sabally, the franchise’s 2022 first round draft pick, signed her rookie scale contract. As the fifth overall pick in the 2022 draft, Sabally will earn $71,300 in her first year if she makes New York’s final roster following May 18, the final roster cutdown date prior to the first game of the regular season.
When Sabally was drafted on April 11 of last year, she came with a lot of uncertainties. How would the 6’5 post player play following multiple ACL tears in her right knee? Would there be a WNBA franchise that could draft her, get her healthy and be patient with her growth as a pro? Enter New York, who following drafting her fifth, communicated that they had done their homework on Sabally and her health, and had a plan as to how to move forward and invest in the young post player from Germany.
“We knew heading into the selection for Nyara that there was a very strong chance that she would not play this year because of her current health condition,” Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb said prior to training camp last season. “And we knew that and so in selecting her, that will be the case. And so we knew taking her we’re going to have her rights going forward. And we’re going to work with Nyara and her representatives and doctors to make sure that she’s ready to roll for ’23.”
Well, ’23 is here, and following a Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation (OCA) on her right knee at Hospital for Special Surgery on May 3, 2022, Sabally will be ready to return to play and begin her basketball journey at the professional level.
New York has been keeping tabs on the 23-year-old, paying close attention to her rehabilitation following the surgery. Her rehab has been on schedule and she has hit all of the benchmarks that New York’s medical and training staff has set out for her.
Besides rehab, what has Sabally been doing to prepare for the 2023 WNBA season? A couple of months following her surgery last May, Sabally was hired as an assistant coach at Sacramento State by her former Oregon Associate head coach Mark Campbell.
“He knew that I was not going to be able to play due to my injury so he suggested that I spend the time gaining coaching experience and helping the team/players from my perspective being fresh out of college,” Sabally told Women’s Hoops World.
According to the initial press release of her hire, Campbell indicated that Sabally would mainly be working with Sacramento State’s post players and assist with international recruiting. But what the press release didn’t say was that Sacramento State also gained a practice player. Sabally has been participating in the team’s practices, and she’s functioned not only as a teacher that the college players can go up against, but reincorporating herself back into 5X5 game speed instead of just one-on-one workouts.
As of January of 2023, a league source explained to The Next what the Liberty’s approach is with Sabally moving forward. New York wants to be cautious, allow her to take her time and not put the pressure of a lot of minutes on the rookie. The Liberty see that she has a long pro career ahead of her, and prefer to build her up without pressure and added stress.
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How does Sabally fit into the Liberty’s current vision?
When I scouted Sabally for Bleacher Report last year, WNBA talent evaluators told me that what made Sabally different from other post players of her size was her athleticism, which allows her to complete a post-up at a quicker speed and to run through defenses on her drives and finishes. Also, her strength and comfort with physicality, ability to shoot from three and stretch the defense when needed, and her court vision were all the makings of a future pro. She’s a big that’s more than willing to pass, something that is so important in a Sandy Brondello offense (i.e. Brittney Griner for Phoenix and most recently Stefanie Dolson for New York this past season).
One talent evaluator said that at her 2022 form during her last season at Oregon, she had the skills to “function as a dependable backup big and has the potential to be an impact player.”
When Kolb and Brondello drafted Sabally, the narrative was that she was a pick for the future and someone New York would be investing in for the long term. Their understanding was that if Sabally had been completely healthy during her final season at Oregon and didn’t come with question marks about her health, she’d be a lottery pick and someone that the Atlanta Dream, Indiana Fever and Washington Mystics would have heavily considered in last year’s draft.
Howard Megdal asked Kolb on the Locked on Women’s Basketball Podcast how Sabally would fit into the Liberty’s roster on draft night.
“I think that when she plays and when she’s healthy, I think Sandy will find a spot for her,” he said. “I think she’s somebody who over the long term we hope will fill in as a starter for us down the line. But I think learning from the Stef Dolsons, learning from Natasha Howard. That’s something that will be in practice, but I think on the floor over time she can be part of our core group, and part of a really winning team down the line, so that’s how we look at it.”
We are no longer in 2022. In 2023, the Liberty now have Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart in addition to Dolson and Han Xu—who at the time of this discussion wasn’t known to be the unstoppable force that she is—as their post contingent. Is there room for Sabally now? Will Brondello still be able to find a spot for her? Can she become a part of the Liberty’s core?
But there a universe where New York could keep her on the roster and develop her into a younger and thereby less expensive version of Dolson? There certainly is one. The salary cap won’t be kind to the Liberty when they look at how they maintain their status quo as a contender in 2024 — Sabrina Ionescu will be getting paid.
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Is there also a universe where Sabally is traded (with her consent) or is signed after being waived following training camp by a team that’s a little short handed in the front court? The Atlanta Dream and Minnesota Lynx sure sound like teams that would love to benefit from her services.
With Sabally officially signing on, the Liberty’s spring training camp becomes even more competitive. As of now, New York expects 13 players to report to camp, including 2022 third round pick Sika Koné. The Liberty’s mission will be to figure out a way to construct the most talented bench possible, one that fits seamlessly with the starters, and the only way to find out will be to put all of the players to the test during training camp.
As of now, the Liberty will have 5 players competing for 3 roster spots — not including Marine Johannés, who could very well not start the season in New York, but for sure could finish it back in Brooklyn. Most likely, New York will only be able to carry 11 players, and it will be Han, Koné, DiDi Richards, Epiphanny Prince and Sabally all fighting to remain on the Liberty’s super-talented roster.
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.