In the first of a two-game series that served as a rematch of the 2022 WNBA Finals, the Las Vegas Aces took home the W over the Connecticut Sun and continued their undefeated start to the season.
They’re still figuring out how to best implement Candace Parker into the offense and Kelsey Plum is in a shooting slump from deep. Riquna Williams, a vital part of last season’s title team, has yet to play this season. The Aces have gone through a few turbulent quarters of late while parsing through some of the growing pains of making major changes, and despite all of that, they’re still undefeated.
Vegas has the best offense in the league. It has the best defense in the league. It has the best net rating in the league. While it’s early in the season and the sample size is small, it’s been clear both in watching this team play and in parsing the numbers that the reigning champs are the best squad in the W.
“We’re not playing our best basketball offensively yet, and we’re scoring 90 points on off nights,” Becky Hammon said after the win over Connecticut.
Las Vegas felt borderline unstoppable much of last season, and with its roster additions and internal growth, it found a way to get even better. The ultimate wrinkle showed up in the waning minutes against the Sun, as the Aces went small, subbing in veteran wing Alysha Clark alongside the starters for Parker. For reference, in 24 minutes of play this season, that 5-player lineup — Clark, Plum, Chelsea Gray, A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young — has a remarkably high 115.1 offensive rating.
Let’s look at the team’s final halfcourt possession against Connecticut, which is a glimpse into why Vegas is so hard to stop.
Off a dead ball, the Aces set a pin-down for Plum to get the ball above the arc and Clark wheels out to the corner with Wilson and Gray set up in the far corner. The defense is occupied on the weak side — Plum has the ball and is a dynamite downhill creator, Young can attack and drive and is shooting 51.7 percent from deep on high volume, and Clark is a career 39 percent three-point shooter.
Wilson sells like she’s going to set a screen for Gray, but the duo flip the action given how it’s covered, and Wilson catches the ball and rips. Gray is getting denied the screen, and the Aces use that to their advantage as Gray drags her defender further into the paint and Brionna Jones jumps out to guard Wilson on the perimeter. Gray doesn’t “screen” Jones, but given the angle she moved her defender into, it does the same thing, forcing the switch from DiJonai Carrington, who is a solid defender but a definite mismatch for Wilson.
On the surface, this possession looks simple, and to be fair, it is a relatively simple play. But it highlights just how impressive the Aces are. After struggling mightily to contain a second half run as the Sun and Bec Allen opened the floodgates from three, the Aces spread the floor to the max for Wilson to get to work.
Jones can’t help off of Gray, because Wilson can make that read and kick one pass away to one of the best shooters in league history. By virtue of playing out of the empty corner, this takes Alyssa Thomas out of the action entirely, as the Sun had employed Thomas on Clark to help into the lane or switch when she set screens.
Carrington did an admirable job, but at the end of the day, this is A’ja Wilson, the two-time MVP and arguably the best face-up scorer in the league. The Aces have the personnel, the intentionality in scheme, and the aptitude to routinely get her into single coverage, and watching it play out is an incredible thing.
“It’s something that we don’t really practice, but it’s there,” Wilson said after the game. “It’s always good to have that in our back pocket, because you kind of look at it as how do you guard it, and we have those communication points, especially Chelsea and I, where it’s like, hey, if something happens, we have multiple things we can get out of it, and that’s the beautiful thing about it: I trust Chelsea’s decisions and she trusts mine and we just go with the flow.”