The Las Vegas Aces have been historically successful in their first few seasons as an NBA franchise under the tutelage of future WNBA Hall of Famer Bill Laimbeer. Franchise player A’ja Wilson is an impressive young star, and the team has had enough of a collection of veterans to be competitive year in and year out. The franchise is entering a new era this season with Laimbeer retiring, and young members of the team will have to enter a bigger role.
Incoming head coach Becky Hammon has brought the Aces to an outstanding 8–1 record so far this season. One of the biggest stories of the season for the team so far has been the play of young guard Jackie Young. Young is a former number one overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft out of Notre Dame. She was not considered a generational player out of college like young stars Sabrina Ionescu or her teammate A’ja Wilson, having been mostly serviceable in her career coming into this season, but she has surprisingly become a completely different player this year.
Young has taken on a starring role for the Aces nine games into the season and has truly elevated herself into the MVP conversation. In a league with 12 teams, superstar ascensions are a little more common, as Jonquel Jones last year won MVP for the Connecticut Sun with elite defense and a balanced offensive game that propelled the team to regular season success. This type of precedent makes it a little less surprising that a young player with so much potential could have experienced such an astronomical leap early on this season.
Young’s current average of 19.3 points per game plus four rebounds, four assists, and two steals puts her among the statistical elite of basketball. She averaged a very serviceable 12 points per game last year, but it seemed as though she was reaching her peak after losing efficiency and being overshadowed by other players on the team. That is where new coach Becky Hammon comes in.
Coach Hammon is widely regarded as one of the best basketball minds in the game. A WNBA Hall of Famer as a player, she was long rumored to be Gregg Popovich’s successor for the San Antonio Spurs, where she would have held the mantle of the first ever female head coach of a men’s basketball team. However, she took a different historic step this season by electing to step into the large shadow of coach Laimbeer and lead the Aces to prominence in the WNBA.
As a longtime star guard in the league, Hammon is obviously a prime candidate to shepherd Jackie Young and fellow star Kelsey Plum to fully realize their large potential in the league, and it’s safe to say that has been done so far this season. To go along with Young’s outstanding season, Plum leads the league in three-pointers per game and is in the top five of assists per game. As a team, the Aces average a blistering 92.1 points per game and Hammon has her fingerprints all over the transition to a modern fast-paced offense.
The Aces’ dominance has gone largely unchallenged this season, with only two of their wins by a margin of less than ten points and having tallied only one loss. That one loss was to a Washington Mystics team with the return of the incomparable Elena Della Donne, who herself has returned to the MVP conversation after a few injury-riddled seasons. Hammon has used the aforementioned stars Young, Plum, and Wilson to dominate opponents offensively, but the importance of the other starters cannot be overstated. Veterans Dearica Hamby and Chelsea Gray both have been great on the defensive end, with Gray providing necessary shooting and Hamby giving the team an imposing interior presence on both sides of the court.
In Hammon’s first tenure as a coach in the WNBA, she has presided over a well-constructed team that has provided great results. However, in such a small league with few teams the scouting report gets out quickly, and the Aces’ emphasis on shooting and getting their shooters and facilitators out in space could very well meet its match soon. Hammon’s challenge throughout this season will be to continue to find creative ways to find offense when defenses get tighter on these shooters.
Look for A’ja Wilson to get a bigger role as the season goes on, as she is one of the league’s most talented one-on-one players who will surely benefit from more single coverage as defenders shift their focus to Jackie Young. The Aces have the unique benefit of multiple players who are top-level talents, and Hammon will surely be able to find the correct mix of scoring to keep the team’s momentum going.
The question is, will it be enough for the Las Vegas Aces to win their first ever WNBA championship? Be sure to keep up with this exciting young team to find out how Young and company fare for the rest of the season.
Image courtesy of Lorie Shaull