WNBA Feature: Kiah Stokes Has Become the Defensive Glue of the New York Liberty
In the world of basketball, headlines tend to go to scorers and point guards. Once in a while a defender or rebounder gets the press. Dennis Rodman comes to mind. But that was probably due more to his oversized personality.
During her two years with the Liberty, it’s been Tina Charles, Epiphanny Prince, and Swin Cash.
Yet Stokes has been an integral part of the Liberty’s resurgence the last two years with her defense, including shot blocking, and defensive and offensive rebounding.
This season she led the team in blocks (and sixth best in the league in blocks per game) and was second on her team in rebounding at 7.4 a game (and seventh in the league).
And despite not taking many shots at 4.3 per game - seven teammates topped her - Stokes averaged 6.9 points a game in this year’s regular season, the fourth most on her team, and led her team by far in shooting percentage at 64%.
Especially since Stokes started only four games in her senior year and three games her other three years at UConn.
It reminds me of center Swen Nater, who backed up Bill Walton at UCLA in the 1970s. Nater never started a game at UCLA but became a first round draft pick in the NBA draft.
Stokes won a state championship during her junior year in high school and won three NCAA championships at UConn.
The Liberty had excellent seasons her two years with them, with regular season records of 23-11 (the best in franchise history) and 21-13 and made the playoffs those two years after missing the postseason the preceding two years.
In her junior year she averaged 19.9 points per game and in her senior year, 25.
Although the Liberty encourages her to shoot more when she is open, the offense is not geared to her. The shot has to find her. The offense does not allow her, to any significant extent, to find her shot as the offense is geared for Tina Charles and the guards.
Coach Bill Laimbeer has consistently praised her play in his postgame press conferences.
The Mercury, the WNBA chamons two years ago, had a 16-18 regular season record and won a single elimination game against the Indiana Fever to advance to play the Liberty. The Liberty had a 2-1 record against the Mercury during the regular season and the loss was in overtime.
And as the aging Mercury proved, after Wednesday's upset win at Indiana in the opener last Wednesday, they are a very savvy and a skilled team, with players who have played together for a number of years, and that on any one night, they can win.
A longer series in a compressed time frame might have worn them down.