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New York Liberty Make The Grade In First Half

It’s been a half of adjustments, perseverance and good fortune for the Liberty, who enter the All-Star break in third place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-7 record. It’s just about where they should be, considering the team started the season losing four of its first six games while it grew accustomed to a new coaching philosophy.

With half of the season completed, it’s time to look back at an exciting first half and review how the Liberty players have performed. Here’s a look at their report card after the first 16 games:

Essence Carson. The Rutgers alum shot for the star and finally got it this year. The Liberty’s second leading scorer, Carson was named to her first-ever All-Star team this year. In developing an unstoppable step-back jumper to go with her slash-through-the-lane ability, Carson has become a lethal scorer from any spot on the court. She’s perhaps the team’s best all-around player, as her shutdown skills on defense are matched by few others in the league. Grade: A+

Felicia Chester. The Liberty signed the rookie free agent after they released first-year player Jessica Breland. Chester has played in just four games as a backup front court player. Grade: Incomplete

Sydney Colson. The rookie backup point guard shows flashes of brilliance in between moments that many fans would like to forget. As a result, she plays sparingly (just under 7 minutes) and the team goes with Mitchell, Pondexter and Carson as its handlers. But it’s hard not to keep Colson off the court for too long – someone with so much speed and skill has to play. Grade: C+

Quanitra Hollingsworth. The second-year pro just might be the biggest surprise of the season for the Liberty. Hollingsworth was a late preseason addition after the team tried out several front court players, and she has played admirably behind Kia Vaughn and Plenette Pierson. She’s a tough defender and intelligent rebounder, fitting perfectly into the team’s philosophy. She’s averaging five points and nearly four boards in 15 minutes of play. Grade: B

Leilani Mitchell. Inserted into the starting lineup five games into the season, Mitchell has made a world of difference to the team’s scoring. Her point guard play freed up Cappie Pondexter, who is scoring points at will. What made Mitchell a weapon last year, her 3-point shooting, is down considerably this season. Grade: B-

Alex Montgomery. Averaging under 10 minutes a game, the rookie has yet to have her breakout game. But she has been serviceable as a backup forward and is the most consistent of the team’s rookies. Grade: C+

Plenette Pierson. Averaging 13.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds (both marks higher than her career totals), Pierson just missed making this year’s All-Star team. She’s shown a physical and mental toughness working down low, which is exactly what the Liberty needed with the season-long suspension of Janel McCarville. She has lost a step in her speed, and a minor banged-up knee toward the end of the first half didn’t help. Grade: B+

Pondexter is averaging 17.2 points per game, sixth in the league.

Cappie Pondexter. With killer instinct, explosiveness and leadership abilities, Pondexter is arguably the best player in the league. Lineup shuffling in the beginning of the season cost Pondexter some points, but she’s back in MVP-candidate form. She’s sixth in the league in scoring and is averaging nearly five assists and four rebounds a game. Grade: A

Nicole Powell. The small forward has been strong of late, but early inconsistency held back a higher grade. Her outside shooting numbers are down a bit, but she showed confidence from behind the arc during the final stretch of games in the first half. We’re still waiting for her to break out and regain the form that made her a legitimate 15-point scorer in Sacramento. Grade: C+

Sidney Spencer. She gets the job done in the limited minutes that she plays and isn’t a liability. Spencer is always a threat to shoot the 3-pointer, which has come in handy in several games this year. You can’t ask for more from a bench player. Grade: C+

Kia Vaughn. Vaughn was thrown into the spotlight following the McCarville suspension, and she hasn’t disappointed. No one has worked harder in the paint for position than Vaughn, who has developed a solid short game and reliable mid-range jumper. She’s on pace to establish career highs in points (currently 11.9 ppg) and rebounds (7.4 boards). Like Pierson, she earned All-Star team consideration. Grade: B+

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