With the best offence in the WNBA, have the Aces finally found their rhythm?

Las Vegas Aces guard Aisha Sheppard (4) slaps hands with guard Jackie Young, center, during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against the Phoenix Mercury Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Las Vegas. At right is Las Vegas Aces center Kiah Stokes (41). (AP Photo/Ellen Schmidt)

For a team that, on paper, seemed like they would be able to fight with the best in the league on any given night, the Las Vegas Aces have yet to find the success they were meticulously built for.

It's not team chemistry giving them issues — the Aces have arguably the most fun on and off the court, supporting each other in-game as well as keeping the atmosphere light and uplifting each other outside of those four quarters.

Talent was never an issue either, as 2020 MVP A'ja Wilson continues to dominate the league, Jackie Young has continued her ascendance since last season, Dearica Hamby is one of the biggest threats in the league coming off the bench and Kelsey Plum is putting up career-highs in points and assists.

Yet that post-season glory still eludes the Aces, who moved the franchise from San Antonio to Nevada in 2018 and hired former Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer to coach the team; who after missing the postseason that first year have made three consecutive conference finals; and who are a team that, on the outside, has what it takes to go all the way.

So, what do the Aces have that makes them a championship contender?

When drafting first overall in 2017 (still in San Antonio), 2018 and 2019, they picked up Kelsey Plum, A'ja Wilson and Jackie Young, three players more than capable of making an impact on the floor, whether it's Plum's three-point shooting, Young's finishing or Wilson's impact in all areas of the game — part of what makes her an MVP-calibre player.

Last season, the Aces also acquired Gray from Los Angeles, dubbed the "Point Gawd", who not only fit in well with the Aces culturally, but tied her career-high in assists per game and averaged 11.1 points per game last season, a number she is currently surpassing in 2022.

And while Wilson's ability in the paint, her physicality, her delicate yet precise finishes and her mid-range game all were a nightmare on their own for anyone playing against Las Vegas, they also had to deal with Liz Cambage in their way, a 6-foot-8 centre averaging a near double-double and was clutch on the defensive boards for the Aces.

However, in free agency, Cambage chose to leave for Los Angeles, a team she had said was a dream to play for since she got into the WNBA.

But with that gap in the line-up, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby finally moved into a starting role and proved that her production wouldn't slow no longer coming off the bench.

Hamby is averaging a career-high in points and rebounds so far this season, with a double-double of 14.1 points and 10 rebounds per game, and is able to increase production with her teammates while on the floor.

If all these players were producing at a high level last season, why couldn't they get the job done?

There isn't a solid answer to exactly why the Aces fell to the Mercury, a team that had already played two other single-elimination games, lost a solid shooter in Kia Nurse and were relying on 39-year-old Diana Taurasi to get them to the end of Game 5 — and yet, they did.

The Aces managed to take Game 1 of that series, but dropped back-to-back games, losing by over 20 points in each, including a game where the Aces scored just 60 points with Wilson and Young being held to eight points each and Plum held to just six.

When all their cylinders are firing, Las Vegas has the best offence in the league — that is their greatest strength. They have shooters beyond the three-point line, from midrange, players who can drive the net and players who can be physical in the paint and finish at the time.

However Las Vegas found themselves trailing more often than not, rushing shots that didn't fall, missing lay-ups and other almost guaranteed baskets, and getting too in their own heads to slow down and play the Aces basketball that holds championship-winning technique and skill.

Now, in 2022, the start to their season couldn't be going any better. But what truly is the difference?

Enter Becky Hammon. It's not just her WNBA experience as a player, or her knowledge as a coach from her time with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, but it's her belief in her players and their ability to win games with their shooting.

In the Aces' pre-season game against Minnesota — one of only two games they have lost this year — they took 23 three-point shots in the game, which still wasn't enough for Hammon's liking knowing what her team is capable of.

“It’s an emphasis for us. We shoot a lot of threes every day, and everybody has the green light,” said Hammon after that first game of the season.

Starting the season with back-to-back double-digit wins over Phoenix and Seattle, the Aces looked more in championship form, though they then dropped a game to Washington by 13 points in a game where both Alysha Clark and Natasha Cloud were inactive.

Since then, the Aces have have scored 100 points in three games, including their last two, and have won their last two games by 20 or more points.

Most notably, the Aces took on Cambage's new team on May 23, and set a franchise record for three-pointers made, scoring 18 in the 104-76 win, proving that their sharpshooting offence that Hammon puts an emphasis on has elevated their game to an even higher level and tying a WNBA record.

Meanwhile, the Aces managed to hold Cambage to just 10 points in what could have been a "revenge" game of sorts — new transplants Chennedy Carter and Jordin Canada did the heavy lifting, though the Sparks are now on a five-game losing streak.

On the other side, Las Vegas is on a five-game win streak, Las Vegas has seen Young and Plum score in double-digits every game this season, with Young having a Most Improved Player-type campaign in 2022 as a key player in the Aces' rotation.

The Aces are outscoring their opponents by over 13 points per game, shooting a whopping 10 per cent better than their opponents from the three-point line.

With a starting five like Las Vegas has, all of whom averaging 12 or more points per game this season, it's tough to stop them when even the bench can contribute almost 10 points a night — even their 2022 first-round draft pick Kierstan Bell added 12 points in the Aces' win over the Sparks.

Scoring in transition on the fast break or off of turnovers is what Las Vegas does to create gaps in the score against their opponent while also shooting 50 per cent from the floor as a team, including 47 per cent from beyond the arc.

Their ball movement and rebounding on the court are only compliments to the shooting, intensity, physicality and basketball intelligence the Aces have this season. Their task now is keeping up this style of play for 28 more games.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.