The Las Vegas Aces, who inherited the San Antonio Stars, finished the last three seasons with no more than eight wins. But the Aces won’t have to wait much longer to see the roots of the previous process start to bloom. They have found themselves a young superstar and have a young nucleus that is growing together more every game. It is only a matter of time before the Aces take off, and here’s why:
The Aces’ success begins and ends with A’ja Wilson. She is the key that gets the engine rolling on both ends of the floor and she’s only going to keep getting better. Game by game, she fights through double teams and just puts the Aces on her back. It’s been amazing watching her growth from one game to the next, and the city of Las Vegas should be embracing the next WNBA superstar. Now, Wilson’s game is not complete yet. But it’s clear the Aces’ fortunes will rest on her development. The hard part is usually finding the right pieces around a superstar. But the Aces might be closer to finding those pieces than their record indicates.
As of her most recent outing against the Minnesota Lynx on June 24, Wilson has found herself amidst Hall of Fame (and future Hall of Fame) company in the WNBA’s 300+ Points Club.
After a somewhat disappointing rookie campaign, many people have forgotten that Kelsey Plum is also a number one overall pick and still only in her second season. She’s lost a lot of the fan fare from her scintillating college days, but there’s a good player in Plum. Plum has overcome some growing pains early in the season where she had to get used to playing off of Wilson and not being the focal point of an offense. Although she still shows signs of being timid, during the times when she is aggressive, the potential havoc a Plum-Wilson tandem can wreak becomes apparent. Plum is a knockdown outside shooter and an excellent passer out of the pick-and-roll. So hopefully their chemistry develops because, on paper at least, the skill-sets compliment each other perfectly. Also: watching Kelsey Plum cook is super fun!
Every great basketball team needs that YOLO gunner whose just simply going to get buckets. For the Aces, that player is Kayla McBride. At 26, McBride is one the elders on the team and the de facto veteran leader. The former All-Star is shouldering the scoring load for the Aces and in many ways exactly what the team needs. McBride’s job is to simply go out and put up points and she does it well. She’s the Aces’ most polished all-around scorer by far and she is pretty much the only player who has the green light to pull-up from anywhere on the court. She’s Vegas X-factor, a player that can turn a game on its head the minute she gets hot. She’s shooting 40 percent from three and has half of the Aces’ total made threes for the season! While young players find their niche in the league, you need a player whose just going to make things happen and that is McBride for the Aces.
Taking the next step
For the Aces, taking the next step starts with a more modernized offense. A team that has a dominant inside presence like A’ja Wilson should not be last in the WNBA in three-point attempts. Part of it is scheme, and part of it is not making the extra pass. The Aces have two knockdown perimeter shooters with Plum and McBride, yet attempt so few shows from beyond the arc. Dearica Hamby is also a capable shooter who can stretch the floor and, perhaps, should be used more.
Lack of shooting is what dug the Aces in a hole early in the year. Either the whistle dries up or teams start stacking the paint and daring the Aces to shoot. They have yet to oblige and, in fact, seem to fluster when teams take away what they want to do. Solutions start with A’ja Wilson getting better at passing out of doubles, and shooters being aggressive with their open looks. Currently, that isn’t happening and it’s why the Aces have struggled to close games. But these are just the typical growing pains that young teams face, and as they encounter more adversity they will learn from these tough losses.
From the beginning of the season to now, the growth of this team has been vibrant, right before our very eyes. So it won’t be long before we see this team competing in the postseason.