Amid All The Noise, A’ja Wilson Continues To Dominate In Historic Ways

The WNBA has blown up this summer, with more coverage on a national scale from major networks than ever before. With that has come an awful lot of noise, and not all of it has been good. Caitlin Clark has been at the center of much of the discussion, as the top overall pick out of Iowa has appeal well beyond the longtime diehards of the women’s game.

The challenge for the league is capitalizing on that attention, particularly as Clark goes through the typical ups and downs of a rookie. There’s been plenty of talk of her fellow rookies, namely Cameron Brink and Angel Reese, but as is typically the case, it’s the teams led by veteran stars that are dominating the standings at the moment, demanding the attention and respect of the growing audience.

The Connecticut Sun have become the sixth team to start a season 9-0, with Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner leading the charge to the top of the East. The New York Liberty, helped by Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu, and Jonquel Jones, remain a top contender after a run to the Finals a year ago. In the West, Napheesa Collier is putting up preposterous numbers to lead the Minnesota Lynx to the top spot early on, but seated behind them are the reigning back-to-back champions in the Las Vegas Aces.

It’s not often the team chasing a three-peat with the reigning two-time MVP aren’t the lead story, but some of that is simply because the Aces haven’t played much basketball this season. While Clark and the Fever played an astounding 11 games in the first 20 days of the season, Las Vegas had played six going into Wednesday night’s Commissioner’s Cup clash with the Dallas Wings.

In that game, A’ja Wilson offered a reminder that, even with all the chatter elsewhere, she is still the dominant force in the WNBA. Wilson became the first player in WNBA history to reach 35 points, 10 rebounds, and five steals in a game, as she piled up a 36/12/6 line in those categories in a 95-81 win in Dallas — playing the second half with a busted nose she got on a no-call late in the first half.

Wilson’s performance was indicative of her season to this point, as she’s averaging an outrageous 27.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, and 2.0 steals per game through seven appearances this season. The Aces are 5-2 to start their three-peat campaign, and while it hasn’t been perfect (and they certainly miss the presence of Chelsea Gray), they have shown the extra gear they possess that few, if any, other teams in the league have.

That gear exists largely because of Wilson, who is the best player on the floor night in and night out. The Aces are far from a one-woman show, with Jackie Young continuing her ascent as a star and Kelsey Plum capable of a big game at any time, but Wilson’s steadiness and dominance on both ends is something truly spectacular to behold.

On defense, the reigning back-to-back DPOY remains as stout a rim protector as there is in the WNBA, helping the Aces wall off the rim in her minutes. As Young explained, Wilson’s presence along with Kiah Stokes gives the Vegas guards the ability to be more aggressive at the point of attack knowing they have a big at the back end who can cover for mistakes.

“Us guards, we’re able to get up and pressure, because we know we have Kiah and A’ja back they’re protecting the paint for us,” Young said. “So that gives us that security, you know, and being able to be aggressive on defense and sometimes gambling when maybe you shouldn’t.”

On offense, Wilson is shouldering an incredible burden so far this season, boasting a 34.5 usage rate through seven games. With Gray out, Young has taken over the lead guard duties with Plum as the secondary creator, but the Aces are running a tremendous amount of their offense through Wilson and leaning heavily on her scoring ability. What’s been impressive is that, even with that additional load (last year her usage rate was a 28.9 percent), she’s remained impressively efficient. She’s finishing at the rim better than ever (74.1 percent) and she’s knocking down 47.5 percent of her shots from the midrange on high volume. While that is a step back from her outrageous 54.8 percent clip from last year, it’s still an impressive figure and shows the diversification of her offensive game, particularly considering her huge leap in volume (6.4 more shots per game).

Wilson has continued adding and refining her face-up and high post game, and you can see the comfort she has in getting her shot off from just about anywhere on the floor.

As the esteemed Steve Jones Jr. points out, her fluidity on these kinds of looks makes it nearly impossible to even send help and try and force the ball out of her hands. That allows Vegas to run even more of their offense through her, because teams can’t load up on Wilson in halfcourt sets — even in an effort to try and take advantage of there being one fewer elite offensive threat on the floor due to Gray’s absence.

Wilson’s ability to handle the ball and create her own shot is an incredible luxury for the Aces, who don’t need their guards to get her the ball in her spots in order to be effective. There aren’t a ton of bigs as self-sufficient as Wilson. When teams trap and blitz Young or Plum, Wilson can step out to help, take a pass, and attack a defense out of position. In transition, she is lethal running the floor, and the Aces look to push it off any turnover or miss.

Along with all of that, Wilson is still a mismatch in the post against most any opponent, but especially smaller teams, bullying her way to the basket or the free throw line. Wilson continues to get better, and the result of this offseason’s work has the back-to-back MVP putting up the best start to a season of her career. That’s a terrifying proposition for the rest of the league, and a reminder that for all of the chatter elsewhere, she is still the dominant force in the WNBA and on pace to become one of the all-time greats.