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WNBA 2019 Team Preview: The Las Vegas Aces (#9) are battling experience with lineup full of youth

The average years of WNBA experience on the Aces is three, with a median player age of 26 years old.

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Vegas Aces starter A’ja Wilson concluded her rookie season with 682 points, 264 rebounds and 74 assists.
Photo by: Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt A’ja Wilson is the heartbeat of the Las Vegas Aces, who finished 14-20 last season. Truly, Wilson’s important to the WNBA overall, seeing as she’s on an exclusive list of players to ink endorsement deals with companies such as Mountain Dew and Nike.

Even with Wilson’s valiant effort last season, the Las Vegas Aces walked into a pit of turmoil in the highly competitive wild, wild Western Conference, as Bill Laimbeer’s team dropped seven of its last 10 games. In terms of an offseason, the Aces unloaded and reloaded their front court. Nia Coffey went to the Big Apple to play for the Liberty in exchange for Sugar Rodgers. A month prior, Aces GM Dan Padover was busy acquiring his one-and-only pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft, Jackie Young.

In the opening weeks of the 2019 regular season, the Western Conference could be anyone’s for the taking. Diana Taurasi is out for the Phoenix Mercury for at least two months, while Breanna Stewart will sit out the entire 34-game season for the Seattle Storm. That doesn’t make their respective teams a whole lot less competitive, but it does give others, like the Aces, a chance to advance up the rankings in the early going.

Season outlook: The Las Vegas Aces in 2019

Familiar faces

When the craze hit for sports organizations to move to Las Vegas, the newly-formed Aces didn’t expect a rookie like Wilson to step up to the plate.

A’ja Wilson was the conductor of the Aces’ offense, leading the team in minutes played (1,010), blocks (55) and points (682). Now in her second season, Wilson’s opportunity to take command early on, with several key players missing from championship caliber rosters, is too good to pass up. Joining Wilson in the trenches is Kayla McBride, who averaged 18.2 points per game in 2018, and Tamera Young, a WNBA veteran of 11 years.

Notable newbies

The Aces added an offensive threat in Sugar Rodgers during the offseason. The Sixth Woman of the Year’s stat sheet doesn’t necessarily shout game changer, but, like Carolyn Swords, Rodgers does offer seven years of experience, which is second to Young’s eleven. So far in her career, Rodgers has accumulated 1,545 points, 530 rebounds, 323 assists and 148 steals.

The freshest player to walk into the Aces locker room is Jackie Young, this year’s No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft. Historically, Young has always been a producer and director in more ways than one. Yes, she was one of Muffet McGraw’s screws on offense, but the kid from Princeton, Indiana, is also solid on defense — help that the Aces desperately need. In addition to her stamina, Young knows how to stay healthy and can therefore be a reinforcement on a team that struggles with the health of its players.

Biggest obstacles

Here are the biggest challenges the Las Vegas Aces will face this season:

  1. Can Moriah Jefferson stay healthy? During her rookie season with the now-defunct San Antonio Stars, Moriah Jefferson averaged a near-full game in minutes, 13 points and four assists to go with a field goal shooting average of 42.6 percent. Her next two seasons, however, were cut short by a knee injury, while other concerns arose in the form of concussion protocol. As was illustrated during her time at UConn, Jefferson’s energy is a much-needed asset and is detrimental to her time with the Aces. With time a healer of all wounds, Bonn Bonn, as she’s known on Twitter, is hopeful in taking a step onto the hardwood this season.
  2. Who can stand out on defense? Though the Aces have a slightly more responsive offense, their defense is in shambles — they allowed 100 points seven times last season. It’s not so much a question of size, but the use of communication. That problem was perfectly demonstrated in last August’s matchup against the Minnesota Lynx, when few times did everybody chip in on reading plays and contesting shots. Luckily for the Aces, Jackie Young can be of assistance as she completed her Notre Dame career with 415 defensive rebounds.
  3. Will Kelsey Plum find her groove? Together, Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum went 95-for-229 (41.4 percent) from three-point range last season. Indeed an impressive number, but it’s laughable compared to the rest of the WNBA (the Aces rank last in three points made and attempted). “McBuckets” is A’ja Wilson’s wingman for the most part, but there’s a void when talking about Plum. A graduate of the University of Washington, her purpose on the team isn’t fully known to anyone, including herself, but she has potential to be one of the most exciting players to watch. One thing is definite: she’s one of the league’s most accurate passers (124 assists to 36 turnovers) behind Sue Bird.

Game zone

Preseason opener

Las Vegas Aces @ Minnesota Lynx

When: Sunday, May 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Cox Pavilion, Las Vegas, NV

How to watch: N/A

Notes: In their two losses to Minnesota last year, the Aces lost by an average of 15 points. Other than A’ja Wilson, the Aces had other contributors in Tamera Young (41 points) and Carolyn Swords (21 rebounds) over three games against the Lynx in 2018.

Season home opener

Los Angeles Sparks @ Las Vegas Aces

When: Sunday, May 26 at 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Paradise, NV

How to watch: WNBA League Pass

Notes: Former Notre Dame teammates Jackie Young (Aces) and Marina Mabrey (Sparks) may play against each other for the first time after they both fell short of the 2018 NCAA Tournament final in Tampa. The Sparks are preseason favorites to win it all in 2019, especially after putting the Ogwumike sisters side-by-side.

Marquee matchup

Seattle Storm @ Las Vegas Aces

When: Tuesday, July 23 at 10:00 p.m. ET

Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Paradise, NV

How to watch: ESPN2

Notes: This game will mark just the second time in the regular season when the Aces play on ESPN2 to face the defending champion Seattle Storm. In last season’s finale between the two, A’ja Wilson recorded 25 points, six assists and 16 rebounds for the Aces.