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The New York Liberty were in need of a change on the roster after last year. Although they had rookie sensation Sabrina Ionescu in town, a star to stabilize the roster was a desperate need.
Enter Betnijah Laney, the 2020 Most Improved Player, who broke out with the Atlanta Dream last year. She averaged 17.2 points, 4.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds and established herself as a game changer in Atlanta. In more ways than one, the strides the former Rutger Knight made in 2020 have carried over to this year.
In 2021, Laney has become a walking bucket in the literal and metaphorical sense. Up to this point in the season, she has scored at least 20 points in eight straight games.
Coach Walt Hopkins knows just how elite his new star player is:
“Consistency is the name of the game. It’s what separates the good from the great, and the great from the elite,” stated Hopkins. “Everyone can put up 20-plus in this league, but [it’s different] to do it every night.”
Laney’s streak is remarkable but what is more impressive is the energy her buckets give the team. She talked about feeding of the energy from the team:
“Yeah-you know it always feels good when you have people behind you backing you, supporting everything that you do…that’s just energy for me to feed off of,” said Laney.
The feeling is mutual with her teammates. Liberty center Kiah Stokes spoke how great of an addition Laney has been:
“She’s amazing — I’ve always known she was good… I knew she was a bucket. We kind of stole her, because she’s a great player,” stated Stokes. “The best part of her is she scores quietly. She’s so efficient, she’s so effective.”
Her scoring is just one dynamic of her offensive game but her passing often gets overshadowed. She has been used as a primary ball handler this year and it has resulted in Laney finding herself as a facilitator. Laney is averaging 4.8 assists per game this year and has found ways to set up her teammates for easy shots.
She puts her teammates in great situations to score or set up a better shot for someone else. Laney’s fellow free agent addition, Sami Whitcomb, highlighted what it’s like to play alongside a player who is a dual threat:
“She’s so reliable, she’s a bucket. We know if we get her in a good spot she’ll get a good shot. And it’s not just scoring, she had 7 or 8 assists tonight,” said Whitcomb.
That’s the kind of player Laney is and has always been even since her days playing overseas.
During Laney’s tenure in Israel playing for Elitzur Maclaren Holon, she averaged 19.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 2.8 steals in 2019-20.
Laney is also a good defensive player. She fits in with Hopkins’ philosophy of tough defense and become a leader on that end of the floor. The reigning Most Improved Player recipient takes the opposing team’s best perimeter threat every night and still finds a way to be effective on offense.
Her defensive prowess is something she takes pride in and it shows in her tenacity. Her ability to switch onto guards and forwards as well as defend the pick-and-roll is more than valuable.
Laney’s defensive rating this season, 105, is a sign of her elite defensive play. To put it into perspective, last season’s MVP Breanna Stewart has a defensive rating of 99. For a player like Laney to only allow just 1.05 points per 100 possessions is something to marvel at, especially with all that is on her plate.
Betnijah Laney is more than just a bucket, she is a basketball player to the highest degree. This season she is showing the world she needs to get revered as one of the best the “W” has to offer and should be considered in the early MVP talks.
She is a player to watch going forward and she isn’t hard to find, just look for No.44 in sea foam green.