Prior to the All-Star break, it looked like the WNBA’s newest team had turned a corner. The Las Vegas Aces had two All-Star selections (Kayla McBride, A’ja Wilson) in their first seasons since moving from San Antonio, and secured wins over the Phoenix Mercury, Minnesota Lynx, Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm, and L.A Sparks. With their young core, they looked like one of the most exciting teams in the WNBA. Fast forward to the present and that magic has worn off. The Aces who once looked like favorites to grab the 8th seed are now limping their way towards the end of the season.
What changed for the Aces? Why are they in a slump? The simple answer I will lead off with: A’ja Wilson has hit the wall. She’s been unbelievable all year, but down the stretch of the season, tired legs are beginning to show. It is honestly amazing it’s taken this long for Wilson to show signs of fatigue, considering she hasn’t stopped playing basketball since being drafted. In the last two must-win games, Wilson shot a combined 10-31 from the field. Now, I understand it is unfair and even unprecedented to place these expectations on a rookie but it just shows the Aces will go as far as A’ja Wilson goes.
Next, Kayla McBride appears to have cooled down since going scorched Earth in June and July. She’s a combined 5-16 from three point range since the All-Star game and her numbers from the field are even worse. She’s shot a combined 18-50 from the field in total, ugly shooting numbers from a player the Aces rely on to knock down shots. It’s a simple formula really, when stars struggles the team usually struggles, but is that it?
Well yes, and no.
The stars are struggling, no doubt, but opposing teams are game-planning to take A’ja Wilson out of the game.
Relentless double teams whenever she touches the ball has forced Wilson to either give up the ball or shoot a tough contested shot over two defenders. This isn’t new, as Wilson has seen doubles all year, but the Aces perimeter players aren’t making teams pay for shelling out on the inside. The Las Vegas offense has been at its best this season when they use A’ja Wilson in pick and roll or pick and pop action, but teams are swarming the ball handlers and blowing up the screens before the Aces can settle into their set. Teams aren’t respecting the Aces shooting, who rank dead last in threes attempted and threes made. Here are a few examples:
Pause the clip and you will see the spacing is all sorts of screwed up. Moriah Jefferson, the shooter on the wing is to close to the screener allowing her defender to guard the roll while the Dream send two at the ball-handler Kelsey Plum.
Again, pause the video and you will see all 5 of the Dream defenders inside the paint and one Aces player on the perimeter spotting up. Wilson pick and roll is cutoff and McBride is funneled towards the help, block!
Moving forward, the Aces need to adapt a more modern strategy and incorporate more three-point shooting.
When you have such an elite post-player like A’ja Wilson, shooting becomes a must to keep defenses honest. The Aces have two of the best shooters in the WNBA in their back-court with McBride and Plum, so it is puzzling and almost criminal they average a league—worst 10.5 attempts a game from three. For context, the next worst team, the Minnesota Lynx, average five more attempts! This season, the Aces get a pass for their youth, but that will not be an excuse next year. Las Vegas will need to use this four-game losing stretch as a humbling experience because now, it’s a whole different ball-game and to quote Migos, the Aces need to “walk it, like they talk it”.