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Odds and Ends

WNBA Best Bets: Preview of Liberty vs. Sun on Wednesday, September 15

by Jake Wolf
Updated On: September 15, 2021, 3:25 pm ET

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The only matchup scheduled in the WNBA tonight is an Eastern Conference battle between the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty. Connecticut is favored by 13 points for this game with the total set at 147.5 at PointsBet Sportsbook. My WNBA picks are 16-10 since the break, and I’m looking at the spread to find value in tonight's game.

New York Liberty vs. Connecticut Sun:

With Connecticut already clinching the top seed in the playoffs, this game has minimal stakes for the Sun. On the other hand, this is a key matchup for the Liberty to keep the team's playoff hopes alive.

The Liberty sit one game behind the Mystics for the final playoff spot, but New York still controls its own destiny and can make the playoffs by winning the final two games against the Sun and Mystics. Even if the team loses tonight, New York could still have a chance at the final seed but would need the Mystics to lose out and the Sparks to drop at least one of the final two games

New York lost the first two matchups to the Sun this season and each game was a blowout. MVP favorite Jonquel Jones dominated the Liberty in both matchups, averaging 24 points and 15 rebounds on 60% shooting from the field over two games. Jones averaged 34.6 minutes against New York, and I think she could see a lighter workload tonight as the Sun gear up for the playoffs.

All five of Connecticut's starters average at least 30 minutes per game this season. Only 26 players averaged that much playing time, so nearly 20% of the players averaging 30 minutes per game are on the Sun this season. This heavy reliance on the team's starters could lead Connecticut to rest some key players for the final week of the season. While the Sun haven't announced any players will be inactive for tonight's game, I think head coach Curt Miller will prioritize health over playing starters a full load throughout the second half of a meaningless game.

Another reason I think the Liberty should be able to cover is the slow pace of Connecticut's offense. The Sun played at the slowest pace this season, which means there are less possessions available over the course of the game. This could be beneficial to Liberty's hopes of covering as fewer possessions makes it more difficult for favorites to cover double-digit spreads. Connecticut went 9-1 straight up but only 3-7 ATS in the last ten games as favorites of 12 points or more.

Over 25% of New York's offense came from spot-up plays this season, the highest rate in the league, and the Liberty ranked as the second-most efficient team on spot-up possessions. New York's spot-up shooters will need to hit their shots for the Liberty to stay in this game, as the Sun allowed the fewest overall Points Per Possession (PPP) to opposing offenses but only ranked sixth in PPP allowed on spot-up plays.

Luckily, the Liberty made the most three-pointers of any WNBA team this season and boast some of the best spot-up shooters in the league, led by Sami Whitcomb. The sharpshooting wing paced the league with 1.48 PPP off spot-up plays this season (100th percentile) and also ranked in the 91st percentile of PPP scored off screens and 83rd percentile of PPP scored in isolation. Whitcomb also led the WNBA in three-pointers made per game on the second-highest three-point percentage among all players averaging at least one made three per game.  If she exceeds her scoring average of 11.9 points per game tonight, Whitcomb will reach 1,000 career points as she currently sits just 12 away with 988 career points.

Another great shooter on this Liberty team is Rebecca Allen. Allen's smooth shooting form resulted in 1.9 threes per game on 37% shooting from deep this season, Allen played mostly forward for the Liberty this season out of necessity but the 6'2" sixth-year player is listed as a guard on the official roster, and her 1.3 blocks per game would lead all guards while ranking in the top-10 among all shot blockers this season.

She only averaged 9.4 points per game this year, but Allen is among the best players in the league within her role as a three-and-D specialist. Allen is one of only three players, alongside the top MVP contenders in Jones and Breanna Stewart, to average at least one steal, one block and one three-pointer per game this season. Allen leads the team in total steals and blocks and also joined Sylvia Fowles as the only player averaging at least three combined steals and blocks this season.

While she hasn't yet shown much on-ball creation skills, with an assist-to-turnover rate of only 0.55, Michaela Onyenwere made an impact off-ball and with her defense. The current favorite for Rookie of the Year had a solid first season in the WNBA and won the last three Rookie of the Month awards after being selected sixth overall in last year's WNBA draft. Onyenwere graded in the 87th percentile of overall defensive PPP allowed and led all rookies in average minutes, points, made field goals and made three-pointers.

Fellow rookie DiDi Richards also looks like an effective three-and-D player in her first season, ranking in the 80th percentile for overall defensive PPP allowed and 97th percentile against opposing spot-up plays while converting 50% of her 0.7 three-point attempts per game. Richards also ranks second among rookies in average assists, steals and blocks this season in the fourth-most minutes played among first-year players.

Betnijah Laney led the team with 17.3 points this season and ranked in the league's top-10 for assists per game and average points scored off turnovers. Point guard Sabrina Ionescu also ranked among the WNBA's lead distributors with six assists per game to go along with the third-highest rebounding average among guards. Ionescu only ranked fourth on the Liberty in scoring but picked up her game in the latter half of the season, scoring double-digit points in each of her first nine games since the break.

Natasha Howard missed the team's first two matchups with Connecticut with an injury, but the former Defensive Player of the Year will be key to slowing down Connecticut's frontcourt in this matchup. Howard ranked in the 99th percentile for overall defensive PPP allowed, including a 95th percentile grade against opposing spot-up plays.

Howard's biggest impact offensively has been improving the fast-break game for the league's worst transition offense. The Liberty scored the fewest PPP off transition among all WNBA teams this season but things have been better since Howard returned, as she ranked in the 97th percentile of PPP scored in transition this season. After joining the team this offseason, Howard averaged the seventh-most points in the paint and scored at least 10 points in nine of her first 11 games with the Liberty.

New York scored the third-fewest fast-break points per game this year, one spot above Connecticut, but that average increased by almost a full point per game in August. Part of this improvement came from better ball control, as the Liberty allowed a league-high 18.6 opposing points off turnovers per game this season but only conceded an average of 14.2 over the last five games.

The Sun clearly have plenty of talent to run away with this game, but I think the difference in motivation will be a factor as Connecticut prepares for the playoffs. New York’s abundance of three-and-D players give the Liberty a good chance to hit enough spot-up shots and keep this game close at Connecticut’s snail-like pace. The Sun will rise in the playoffs, but I’m not counting out the Liberty yet.

EDGE: New York Liberty +13

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Jake Wolf

Jake Wolf is covering basketball for NBC Sports Edge and has worked for FNTSY Sports Network and YES Network. Follow him on Twitter @jakewolf13 for betting content and basketball analysis.