For the third consecutive season, the Las Vegas Aces won the WNBA Draft Lottery. They drafted Kelsey Plum with the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 (back when they were known as the San Antonio Stars), then selected eventual Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson a year later. Both players were considered at the time to be clear No. 1 picks.
This year, though, their decision wasn’t so simple.
It was widely assumed that the Aces would draft Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu if she declared herself draft eligible. But she didn’t, complicating the process significantly. With Ionescu deciding to stay at Oregon, there wasn’t a clear-cut No. 1 player in the 2019 draft class. Would the Aces go big with Teaira McCowan or add more shooting with Asia Durr? Would they be able to justify taking either player with a No. 1 overall pick?
As it turned out, another draft-eligible junior essentially made Las Vegas’ decision for them. Notre Dame guard Jackie Young announced shortly after the NCAA Championship game that she’d forego her senior year with the Irish to enter the draft, immediately becoming a favorite for the Aces to select at No. 1.
And that’s just what the Aces did.
While rumors about a possible trade swirled on social media, Vegas ended up drafting and keeping Young, who will join an exciting and talented young core that includes Plum, Wilson, Kayla McBride and Moriah Jefferson.
It’s not difficult to see how Young will fit with this group of players.
At 6-foot-0, she projects to be a solid defender on the perimeter, which will give Plum and McBride a break from defending opposing teams’ top scorers. Young’s athletic frame and nose for the basketball also gives her a bit of a head start relative to her peers: Most rookies need time to adjust to the physicality of the WNBA, but this particular curve shouldn’t be as steep for Young.
She also makes finishes in traffic, like this one, look like a breeze:
Jackie Young through traffic for a quick two points! #ncaaW | @ndwbb pic.twitter.com/oFMIbq5dYy— NCAA WBB (@ncaawbb) April 2, 2019
Physical gifts like these are always nice to have, but it’s Young’s skill-set that makes her an ideal piece for the Aces’ puzzle. She’s a great playmaker for a guard of her size; Young led a stacked Notre Dame team in assists this past season, excelling in a system that had no single dominant ballhandler. Playing alongside Plum and McBride — both excellent outside shooters — will give Young plenty more of these opportunities.
Of course, the face of the Aces’ franchise is Wilson, and how Young will play alongside her isn’t as clear. A team ideally wants as much shooting as possible around Wilson, and Young has yet to prove she can hit the three-point shot on a consistent basis.
In every other area of the game, though, Young shines. She’ll give the Aces additional playmaking, defense and rebounding on the perimeter, and she should feel right at home in the typical Bill Laimbeer culture of physically-imposing basketball.
Las Vegas might have had just one pick in the 2019 draft, but they made it a good one with Young.