A’ja Wilson has only been in the WNBA for a season and a half and yet it’s still strange not to see her on the court during Aces games.
Wilson didn’t miss a game during her rookie season but is likely to be sidelined for “weeks,” according to coach Bill Laimbeer. And if Vegas hopes to stay in the top two or three in the standings, the Aces are going to need to find ways to fill in for one of the most impactful players in the league.
Enter Dearica Hamby.
Hamby is a candidate for the Most Improved Player award and the Sixth Woman of the Year, though she’s become a key starter since Wilson went down. She's is also a rangy forward who is the next leading scorer after Vegas’s big three of Wilson, Liz Cambage and Kayla McBride.
Hamby is a capable rebounder and defender who has also expanded her range this season, all of which make her a fantastic option for the Aces to go to with Wilson on the shelf. But as good as she's been this season, the Aces could run into trouble when she has to defend the opposing team’s best player.
Take Thursday night's Sparks game.
Look, I wouldn’t wish the task of defending Candace Parker when she’s feeling it on my worst enemy. Parker is one of the best players in the league when healthy and when she gets into a groove, she’s nearly unstoppable. She proved that against Vegas, scoring 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting and looking comfortable no matter what the Aces threw at her. And while 14 turnovers is under the Aces' season average of 15.5, it’s still not great.
There are plenty of other dominant 4s in the league who will pose similar problems to the ones Parker did—Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics await the conclusion of the “Earthquake” game from nearly a month ago—and many other teams who will feast on those turnovers. And while the Aces were able to swat away the Wings by nearly 30 points during their first meeting of last week, the second proved to be a much different story.
Interestingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a big who gave Vegas trouble on Saturday. It was Arike Ogunbowale, who is a walking bucket and went about proving it just about every time she touched the ball. The rookie dropped 24 on the Aces and kept Dallas in it until the waning minutes of the game against a team that hangs its hat on the defensive end and lets its defense feed into its offense.
Not only did the Aces let Ogunbowale get busy, their turnover problem also reemerged. Down two stars—Cambage sat out due to rest—much of the scoring weight was put on McBride, with many of the other players turning in flat performances.
Not among those flat players, however, were Jackie Young and Carolyn Swords. Swords was filling in for Cambage at center and made the most of her minutes, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in extended playing time. While her defense around the perimeter occasionally still leaves a bit to be desired, she filled in admirably.
Meanwhile, Young had perhaps her best game in an Aces uniform, scoring a season-high 17 points and marshaling the offense well with a game-high five assists. With less star power on the court, Young was able to showcase what could make her such an important player for this Vegas team. She’s uber-athletic, loves getting the offense moving quickly with smart passes down the court and helps stretch the floor for the best three-point shooting team in the league.
There’s no doubt that Aces are incredibly talented, and being led by one of the best coaches in the W’s history is helping bring out that talent most nights. But there remain problems that could see this team not reach its full potential.
Wilson’s absence was pronounced during the Sparks game and the schedule doesn’t get much more forgiving coming up. Turnovers, especially those of the silly variety, like poor entry passes to one of the bigs or not knowing where the defenders are before throwing an easy pass, continue to plague Vegas. The Aces are currently the fourth-most turnover-prone team in the league, right ahead of the Liberty and right below Storm. Not ideal.
This team will truly be put to the test this week, first by trying to climb out of a 15-point hole right from the jump as they complete their July 5 game with the Mystics. Then they have a four-day reprieve before welcoming Diamond DeShields and the Chicago Sky into Mandalay Bay Events Center and finish the week with a game against the Sun.
So for those keeping track at home, that’d be games against the two teams the Aces are currently sandwiched between in the standings and one game against a hungry Sky team looking to further secure its playoff spot.
Those standings could look much different come week’s end, with the Mystics and Sparks already breathing down the neck of the Aces. Or Hamby can continue to impress, the turnovers could be kept to a manageable level and Young and Kelsey Plum can step up to help Vegas weather the storm. One missing player certainly won’t sink the Aces, but that absence plus the reemergence of some of the smaller problems that have beset them this season could lead to a rough few weeks while Wilson remains sidelined.
Courtney Williams has strung together a few good games and is doing stuff like dropping 28 points and this to the Liberty.
Don’t get too close to the Sun, y’all. It will scorch you.
I’m not even lying, this may be the most disrespectful thing I’ve seen on a basketball court and I’m so here for it.
We stan our Queen, Marina Mabrey.
Since I’m assuming much of us could use a reason not to sink into existential dread after this weekend, please enjoy this incredible Between Two Birds with Sue and Elena Delle Donne. Just Delle do it.