Throughout the history of the WNBA, there have been a handful of teams that have produced a core group that has included some of the most illustrious talent in the game. The Houston Comets that won the first four WNBA titles had Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson and Kim Perrot. The New York Liberty had Rebecca Lobo, Theresa Witherspoon and Kym Hampton. The Chicago Sky last year had Candace Parker, Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. Now the surging Las Vegas Aces have all the tools to be able to carry on that tradition of excellence.
As the highly-favored Aces contend for their first WNBA championship against the Connecticut Sun, they are not only in prime position to do just that, but also to become the biggest draw in the league. They have the unquestioned talent and strong comradery that championship clubs are made of. Beginning with head coach Becky Hammon, who in her first season at the helm, guided the Aces to the best record in the league at 26-10 as well as the coveted Commissioner’s Cup on July 26. As a result, she was named the 2022 Coach of the Year, becoming only the third former player to win the award.
She is also blessed with one of the most dynamic rosters in the league, which includes three No. 1 draft picks that are all in their prime. League MVP A’ja Wilson is having her best season ever. She averaged 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals in the regular season and was named the Defensive Player of the Year. She is the essence of versatility and can effectively contribute at both ends of the floor. Then there is the stern but spirited Kelsey Plum, the All Star game MVP and one of the best 3-pointer shooters in the league who has taken her game to another level this year. Plus, Jackie Young has come into her own in her fourth year and was named as the 2022 Most Improved Player.
Perhaps the biggest breakout player, at least in the postseason, has been tenacious Chelsea Gray. After being denied a spot in the All-Star Game on July 10, she took that slight and channeled it into late season success. She was named the MVP of the Commissioner’s Cup, scoring 19 points, grabbing four rebounds, and dishing out five assists. Those strong numbers have only gotten better into the postseason. She is averaging 23.6 points and shooting a remarkable 61.1 percent from the field. On Sept. 6, Gray scored 31 points, attained six rebounds and garnered 10 assists in the clinching Game 4 of the semifinals against the Seattle Storm. Then in Game 1 of the Finals against the Sun, she had 21 points and shot 52.9 percent from the field compared to her team’s 39.7 percent.
Beyond the numbers, the Aces have players that are made for one another. Their charisma and enthusiasm is infectious and they showcase that both on and off the court. Their notorious prank wars have been widely circulated on social media. During their postgame press conferences, the players often like to crack some wise ones with the reporters that generate a sense of relaxation along with laughter. They are good at answering questions and are real open and transparent about who they are and what they are about. Furthermore, there is a genuine feeling that under the leadership of Coach Hammon, the players are having their best year. She knows what it is like to be in their position and has created an environment where they can be themselves and play their game.
What the future holds is very much predicated on whether or not they win the title. They came close in the 2020 wubble season in which Wilson was named MVP, but were swept by the Storm in the Finals. Now they have all the pieces in place to go far beyond expectation. In comparison to teams of the past, they have their core group to carry them and a coach with a basketball IQ at an Einstein level to lead the charge. They also have a dedicated fan base that has created an atmosphere of excitement. If anything, they could be the second coming of the Houston Comets with a core group that constitutes the best talent, the best coach and a dedicated fan base that poses a unique identity.
The Las Vegas Aces could be a team that takes the league to new heights. They have what champions are made of, but they have to be champions first.