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Liberty Guards Can’t Miss The Point

The Liberty are 9-6 and sitting pretty in third place, mere percentage points behind Connecticut and just one game behind East-leading Indiana heading into Tuesday night’s game. The ladies stomped over Tulsa on Sunday, even limiting the Shock to just six points in the third quarter, and are playing perhaps their best basketball of the season. Why then, with everything gelling so well, am I worried?

Well, that’s just what I do. You know, for argument’s sake, to play devil’s advocate, to rain on the parade. Yes, I’m loving every minute of Cappie Pondexter’s dominance and the emergence of Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn as star players in the league (I’m feeling the Rutgers love), but there are still a couple of areas of concern with the team.

I don’t doubt her big-play ability whatsoever, but something just doesn’t seem right with Leilani Mitchell. She has admirably battled through nagging back pains all season long and at times has shown why she was named the league’s most improved player last year. Still, Lil-lani seems a little off of late.

Let’s look at her numbers. During the 2010 campaign, Mitchell led the WNBA with a blistering 48.6 percent from the 3-point line and finished with the second most 3-pointers made. Her 9.3 scoring average was third-best on the Liberty.

This year, Mitchell has converted on 15 of her trifecta attempts for 32 percent. In comparison, the league leader (Sparks’ Jenna O’Hea) is shooting 59 percent from beyond the arc, while Indiana’s Katie Douglas has nailed 35 of her bombs to lead the WNBA. Mitchell’s total scoring is down as well – she’s averaging 5.2 points.

Against Tulsa on Sunday, Mitchell played just 16 minutes – the lowest since she joined the starting lineup June 17. She might have earned a rest because New York won in blowout fashion, but Mitchell still didn’t take a single shot or score a point. Again, I might be playing devil’s advocate on another good Liberty season, but Mitchell’s stats leads one to guess that those back pains may be lingering just a bit.

Mitchell, whose small stature and large heart make her a fan favorite, is a prime time player who runs the floor with ease and command. Her value on the court is immeasurable – she frees up Pondexter and can spot shooters on the wing with an eagle’s eye. Now just imagine how unstoppable the Libs can be when she’s 100 percent.

While Pondexter can move from the two-guard spot and run the point effectively, the Liberty are best suited when she’s lined up as their shooter. Pondexter’s scoring and efficiency numbers skyrocketed when Mitchell took over as the starting point guard and now Cappie is one of the leading contenders for WNBA MVP.

That brings us to the Liberty’s next point guard, rookie Sydney Colson. Syd the Whiz Kid is proving that she will play a vital role down the stretch and she is quickly developing a fanbase whose cheers resonate throughout the Prudential Center. Colson doesn’t have flashy numbers like Pondexter or Mitchell, but her ability to control tempo is why she’s getting good minutes.

The key, however, to Colson will be her consistency. We’ve seen her fall out of favor in a flash (July 10 vs. Chicago) and then come through when needed the most (17 minutes and five points against the Shock on Sunday). New York will rely on Colson to back up the starters as the team pushes forward for the playoffs, so it’s imperative that she’s always on her A-game. Plus, The Rock sounds so much more lively when the Whiz Kid’s crew is rooting her on.

So this brings me to my bottom line: the Liberty are playing extremely well right now, they just can’t lose focus. And the most crucial spot needed to keep New York moving forward is the position played by Mitchell, Colson and on occasion Pondexter.

That’s the point.

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