The Liberty have nearly every weapon a team could want in its arsenal after a well-documented offseason roster overall. Reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, former league MVP Jonquel Jones and 2021 WNBA champion Courtney Vandersloot joined a team led by Oregon phenom Sabrina Ionescu, assembling a superteam to rival its West Coast counterpart in Las Vegas. However, it’s hard to imagine Sandy Brondello’s squad where it is now—in the midst of a semifinal playoff run—without one key piece. Someone who has been in New York all along. Well, at least since 2021.

On a team filled with superstars, Betnijah Laney is the Liberty’s unsung hero.

“I think just the way that she just constantly and consistently makes an impact, whether it’s guarding out the team’s best player or making plays, she is someone who knows what she is good at and she’s confident in it,” Stewart said of Laney. 

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Her indispensability was on display in New York’s Game 2 victory over the Sun—a must-win matchup after going down 0–1 early in the home leg of the semifinal series. Laney drained five three-pointers, three of which came in the fourth quarter to preserve New York’s lead down the stretch. Her 20 points energized the Liberty’s slow-to-start offense, with New York still working to find its rhythm against a physical Connecticut side.

“It’s all about winning. She’s improved her three-point shooting all season long, and she loves the moment,” said Brondello. “B’s been great for us. She scores in multiple ways, and we don’t win today [without Laney].”

Just one game prior Laney logged only three points, shooting 1–9 from the field, and the Liberty lost 78–63. New York’s success doesn’t necessarily hinge on a single performance from one player, but Laney tends to be a leading indicator. This theory bore out in the Liberty’s first-round sweep of the Mystics as well, with Laney recording 19 points in each game, making big shots in critical moments.

“I think just the way that she just constantly and consistently makes an impact, whether it’s guarding out the team’s best player or making plays, she is someone who knows what she is good at and she’s confident in it,” said Stewart after New York’s Game 2 win over Washington. “These are the moments that she lives for, so to be able to have her on our side is huge for us, because she just continues to keep playing and give us that sense of clarity when times get tough.”

Offensively, Laney has proven herself to be a player more than capable of saving the day, but where she really shines is on defense. While her job isn’t necessarily thankless, it isn’t exactly the stuff of splashy headlines and highlight reels either. Often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player, Laney is one of, if not the best perimeter defenders in the league. Hailed by Brondello for her “grit” and “toughness,” the star wing stays tight on her mark, harassing guards through screens by using her 6'0" size. She’s terrific off the ball as well, shutting down options that lead to pivotal stops with her sharp spatial awareness. Much of this work doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Laney is the lever that triggers New York’s defense (which finished the season with the third-best rating in the league).

In a career-defining year, Laney’s efforts earned her All-Defensive Second Team honors alongside Stewart, who was named to the 2023 All-Defensive First Team. “We have versatile players, and those two set the tone for us,” said Vandersloot. “B defends the best players on the other team on a nightly basis, and Stewie makes everything difficult for everyone.”

Under Brondello, tough defense has emerged as a foundational element to this Liberty squad, often sparking their fast-paced offense, making Laney’s presence on both sides of the ball critical. The club clearly recognizes that, having extended Laney’s contract through 2025. “It feels good that I’ll be able to come back and hopefully keep the whole team together,” said Laney, hinting at a potential prolonged run for the loaded Liberty roster.

While New York appears eager to keep the band together, the goal has always been to bring home a championship now. The Finals are within reach, but the Liberty has been tested against the Sun, who thus far have been a bit of an enigma for New York’s man-to-man defense. Trailing to Connecticut in Game 2 after a disappointing series-opening loss, Brondello had to make a switch and moved to a zone defense (something New York rarely ran during the regular season). The gamble paid off—credit to the head coach for the shift, and kudos to the Liberty for executing the on-the-fly adjustment. However, whether the team is able to lock down Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Tiffany Hayes going forward remains unknown and will likely determine the series. Sounds like a task for defensive cornerstone Betnijah Laney. Her name might not be the first that comes to mind when thinking of this team, but if this postseason has proved anything, maybe it should be.

Peering into the playoff crystal ball, it’s easy to predict that Stewie will notch another double-double, Ionescu will instigate a splash-fest, Jones will lay down a rousing block and Vandersloot will execute a mind-boggling no-look pass—all worthy of praise. But if the Liberty want to advance past the Sun, and even make a deep title run, it will need its glue—Laney—to keep this superteam together.