The Las Vegas Aces’ collection of starpower propelled them to victory over the Connecticut Sun to be crowned as the champion of the WNBA. The 3–1 series victory is the first Championship won by the Aces, who were stopped short by the Seattle Storm two seasons ago in the 2020 championship, and were a few points away from returning to the WNBA championship last season, but fell a few points short to the Phoenix Mercury. The win also marks the first championship for Las Vegas in major sports history, the first of what likely will be many for the Aces based on the success they have had thus far.
The accomplishments that the Aces have enjoyed just 5 seasons is nothing short of remarkable. After their inaugural season, they have made the playoffs every season. Including this season, they have finished the regular season in first place three seasons in a row. The difficulty of that streak of dominance can not be overstated, and this potential dynasty has been made possible by their star players. A’ja Wilson has been an absolute menace ever since she stepped on the floor after leaving the University of South Carolina as the number one overall draft choice and is a top talent in the entire league.
The perennial MVP candidate Wilson is flanked by a trio of all-star caliber guards. Kelsey Plum is one of them, a shooter and distributor who has flourished in her new role as a starter this season. Jackie Young, a former number one overall pick herself in 2019 who took a leap forward in her play with greater efficiency to pair with her elite scoring, is another member of the backcourt. Chelsea Gray seemed to be the missing piece to this team’s puzzle. She started off slow this season after being signed in the offseason, but Gray’s impact in the postseason was palpable.
Highlighted by winning WNBA Finals MVP, the veteran Gray is the obvious emotional leader of this team shown by her fiery playing style. In the playoffs, she added outstanding scoring to pair with her consistently stellar defense. Gray put the team on her back in these playoffs, and they were head and shoulders above the competition in large part due to her contributions.
This is not to say that their journey was easy, the competition this year was fierce. The Connecticut Sun posed a difficult matchup due to their comparatively big lineup. The unique talents of frontcourt players Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones were difficult to deal with for the Aces, but first year coach Becky Hammon masterfully worked the game plan to accentuate the players’ strengths.
Throughout the series, the offense was perimeter oriented and ran through Chelsea Gray’s playmaking abilities, setting up teammates for easy looks. Defensively, the Aces dared the Sun to shoot and forced difficult shots for the Sun’s wing players. The sole game that the Aces dropped in the series came when DeWanna Bonner and Natisha Hiedeman led an extremely efficient outing for the Sun, converting a whopping 53% of their three-point attempts.
Hammon’s ability to draw out the most from her team must be given due credit, because the first-year coach truly knew how to manage this star-studded team. Throughout the season each of the trio of guards had their moment, with Young, Plum, and Gray each taking turns as the hero of the day for a team that really did not need much saving. To mesh their talents with those of Wilson worked wonders for this team, and Hammon’s acumen presented itself with her adjustments to keep the ball out of the paint and force the Sun to create from the outside.
This team is a rarity in that it has all the stars currently under contract for next season, so unlike the regular turnover that WNBA teams experience each offseason, the Aces will likely have a very similar team to start next season. They will undoubtedly be a favorite to win again when the playoffs roll back around next year, and perhaps start a bona fide dynasty that can thrust this franchise into the basketball history books.
Image courtesy of Lorie Shaull