Jonquel Jones or even Sabrina Ionescu are expected to become the main X-factors for the Breanna Stewart-led New York Liberty heading into this epic WNBA Finals clash against the Las Vegas Aces. But Betnijah Laney's play throughout the series will be the difference-maker in determining whether the Liberty will win their first title in franchise history or not.
After putting together a star-studded team in the offseason, the Liberty are on a quest to make history. With the arrivals of Stewart and Jones, New York (32-8) finished with the second-best record in the league behind the Aces. Now, the two juggernauts will clash in what should be a WNBA Finals for the ages.
Las Vegas should enter the series as the favorite over the Liberty. The defending WNBA Champions have such a star-studded cast that features A'ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, and Jackie Young. Regardless, this will be far from a cakewalk for the Aces.
New York is just as stacked with Stewart, who won the 2023 WNBA MVP award, leading a similarly loaded core of 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, along with 2023 WNBA All-Stars Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot. Stewie certainly can't do it on her own, so expect the usual suspects for the Liberty to show up in the Finals.
With Stewart emerging as the leader of this team, many view Jones as the Liberty's X-factor in this upcoming WNBA Finals series versus the Aces. However, with all things considered, the Liberty's title hopes actually hinge on their main X-factor Betnijah Laney.
Betnijah Laney: The Liberty's X-factor in the WNBA Finals
Stewart struggled to begin the playoffs, as she averaged just 16.3 points on a paltry 27.8 percent shooting from the field. But the five-time All-Star is slowly regaining her MVP form over New York's last two games, where she averaged 26.0 points and 10.0 rebounds on 51.3 percent field goal shooting.
Meanwhile, Jones has been a monster so far in the playoffs. The 2021 WNBA MVP has turned into a nightly double-double machine for the Liberty, tallying averages of 16.5 points and 12.8 rebounds. Likewise, Ionescu continues to be the steady sniper she has been for New York all season long. The 25-year-old guard is shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 16.3 points per game.
As steady as Jones and Ionescu have been so far in the 2023 WNBA Playoffs, their play is already par for the course in New York's journey to make its first Finals appearance in 21 years. Those two stars are already expected to play well if the Liberty want to dethrone the Aces.
One player, in particular, has been playing well beyond expectations and is now carries lofty expectations to maintain her high level of play in the Finals — and that is Betnijah Laney.
Laney doesn't carry the star name of her other teammates like Stewart, Jones, Ionescu, and even the veteran Vandesloot. But the one-time All-Star was a key cog of New York's offense throughout its 32-8 campaign. The 29-year-old appeared and started in all 40 games for the Liberty during the regular season. She finished as the third leading scorer of the team behind Stewart and Ionescu with an average of 12.8 points on 49.9 percent shooting from the field and 39.2 percent shooting from three.
Playoff Betnijah Laney activated
Laney has turned it up a notch in the postseason and she looks more than ready to perform in her first WNBA Finals appearance.
— WNBA (@WNBA) October 1, 2023
In six games so far, the 6-foot wing is averaging 17.0 points per game, increasing her production by over four points a night in the postseason. She is also scorching from the field, having made 48.2 percent of her shots and 43.8 percent of her looks from beyond the arc. Save for one dud — a 1-of-9 shooting game in their Game 1 loss to the Connecticut Sun, where she finished with just three points — Laney has scored at least 19 points in each of the other five games in the playoffs.
Laney has been on an absolute heater in New York's last three semi-finals wins over the Sun. She scored 20 or more points in each of the three games, including a 21-point performance in the close out Game 4 win, where she played all 40 minutes. Over that three-game stretch, she averaged 20.3 points while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and a scorching 52.6 percent from beyond the arc. She has also impacted the game in other ways with her rebounding (6.3 RPG) and playmaking (4.0 APG).