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With so many eyes focused on what the New York Liberty has built this offseason, it’s often overlooked that the WNBA already has a ‘super team’ in place in the Las Vegas Aces. The defending WNBA champions are embracing an inevitable rivalry with the Liberty and still expect the road to the title will go through Las Vegas. The Aces will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting teams to watch; accordingly, they have seven of their games scheduled to be broadcasted on national TV.
After winning last season’s title, the Aces kept most of their winning roster intact including, most notably, reigning Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson. Wilson averaged 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks as one of the best two-way players in the league last season. Joining her as returning centerpieces are Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young. Gray is the reigning finals MVP and was one of the forces that propelled the Aces through last season’s playoffs. Next to the reigning MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP, the Aces also feature Most Improved Player Jackie Young. Young is a former number one draft pick and proved to be an amazing scorer when it mattered the most. Last but not least, Kelsey Plum is another former number one pick and, like Young, has greatly improved her game since then. After struggling to meet expectations when she first entered the league, Plum has found her place as one of the best guards, most-talented scorers, and top three-point shooters in the WNBA.
Between Wilson, Gray, Plum, and Young, the Aces already have plenty of firepower, but that alone was not what carried them all the way to the top. They also had depth, and most of those key role players were also re-signed over the winter. Most prominent among those signings is Riquna Williams, who was an important part of last season’s championship run due to her perimeter defense, three-point shooting and several big postseason scoring performances. Other than Williams, the Aces also resigned veteran guard Sydney Colson and rim-protecting center Kiah Stokes.
That alone would make for a formidable title contender, but Las Vegas also aced free agency despite allegations of tampering. The league is currently investigating whether or not the Aces gave several players under-the-table payments to get them to agree to sign lower-paying contracts than they had in the prior season.
Among those players that signed significantly smaller contracts than would typically be expected is two-time MVP and WNBA champion Candace Parker, who left her hometown team in Chicago. Parker was one of the top free agents available along with Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot, who both went to New York. Bringing scoring and playmaking at the highest level to Las Vegas, Parker will be a key piece of the team’s title chase. The free-agent signing of Parker overshadows that of Alysha Clark, but Clark will nevertheless be yet another valuable asset for the Aces. She won two titles with the Seattle Storm, knows what it takes to win, and has several All-Defensive selections under her belt. Last but not least, the Aces also signed four-time Australian WNBL champion Cayla George, a center who can shoot threes and pass the ball well with plenty of experience at the international level as well as some prior stints in the WNBA.
The Las Vegas Aces now have a projected All-Star starting five of Candace Parker, A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young as well as several valuable bench players. Considering the talent amassed in that starting five, they potentially could be the best scoring lineup in the entire league. In light of all that, it is fair to say that Becky Hammon’s squad is the team to beat this season.
While they have fierce competition to deal with, they are an experienced and veteran team that is already familiar with each other and has achieved success together. The Aces already have an identity and that gives them an edge over other contenders such as the New York Liberty. Nevertheless, repeating as WNBA champions won’t be a picnic, as other teams will place a target on their back from the very first game on. They are one of the favorites to win the title – maybe even the favorite – but the Aces have a long road ahead of them. While they are expected to win most regular season games, they also have to ensure that their aging roster stays healthy. Other than Jackie Young and A’ja Wilson, who are 25 and 26 respectively, all of the Aces’ key players are either already over 30-years old or quickly approaching that age. The Aces do have some young blood in the form of 2022 draft picks Kierstan Bell and Aisha Sheppard, but it will be hard for both of them to find playing time. The reason for that is simple: the team’s priority is on winning right now and not on developing their youth. Even if injures should hit the Aces, however, they seem to be well-prepared to make up for them. Their number of talented scorers is, after all, their biggest strength.