2020 Season Preview: Las Vegas Aces

The Las Vegas Aces came in fourth last season, however they had the second best net rating of 3.4, a bit ahead of the Connecticut Sun at 2.9. However, I had picked this team to once again top out in the semifinals with a full team. I was skeptical of this team due to the lack of shooting. Losing two key players in Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum hurt the teams chances.

Liz Cambage is one of the players who is likely missing this season because they are high risk. She will still get her full salary, and count against the Ace salary cap. We are still waiting on official word for her, so this may need to be updated as the WNBA slowly and fitfully actually informs us. 

Without Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum, out with an achilles injury, this team will be relying on A’ja Wilson to provide a lot of the shot creation without much space to operate. This team has the talent to make the playoffs, but to make it back to the semifinals is now a long shot.

Roster Breakdown:

Notable Losses: Kelsey Plum (injury) Tamera Young, Liz Cambage (medically excused, probably)

Notable Additions: Angel McCoughtry, Danielle Robinson, Lindsay Allen

Guards: Danielle Robinson, Kayla McBride, Sugar Rodgers, Alex Bentley

Wings: Jackie Young, Angel McCoughtry, Dearica Hamby

Bigs: A’Ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, Carolyn Swords, Avery Warley-Talbert

Veterans make sense when a team is going for a championship, though it helps if they are actually effective. Clearly the Aces feel differently about their full team than I do, since I would have used one of the open spots on a young player instead of Alex Bentley. Te’a Cooper for instance was available. 

Angel McCoughtry at full strength is likely still effective, but at the price the Aces paid, and her odd fit with the existing roster, made her signing curious. Though funnily enough she may be more valuable on this current roster than she would have been on the team the Aces anticipated having. 

Playing Time Breakdown:

Dearica Hamby is one of the best backup bigs in the league and she will be able to slot in next to A’ja Wilson in a lot of lineups. She should start with A’ja Wilson. Hamby is undersized against many fives, but she is tough and can guard a lot of them, and use her quickness on the other end to her advantage. Any continued improvement in her shooting would be beneficial, as this is a team, as I have said, starved for shooting. /She shot 32% on 2 attempts per game in 2019. She should be looking to double her attempts this year, and hopefully increase the accuracy, but spacing is based more on attempts than accuracy so Hamby firing away would be beneficial.

One of the most interesting aspects of this team from a purely basketball standpoint is how much can A’ja Wilson hang as a center. While she’d be slightly undersized there, long term it may be her best position in closing lineups, unless she adds a three point shot, something she has not shown yet. On offense, she would be devastating with four shooters around her, and it is easier to get her those if she plays center, though finding a center who can shoot 3s, a la Amanda Zahui B, would be an interesting idea for a post-Cambage Aces team.

How much Angel McCoughtry has left after a year off playing is the question for the team at the three. In 2018 I was hoping to see McCoughtry at the 4 for the Atlanta dream. Injuries derailed that idea, but we may see it again with the Aces. She has the size against most teams to play it, and it would help her as losing a step at the 4 is not as killer as at the 3. A career 29% 3 point shooter on less than 1 attempt per game, she will not provide much spacing, but that would be slightly less damaging at the 4, when either Hamby or Wilson are not playing.

Kayla McBride is going to be shooting. She always does, but on this team, she will be extra needed to shoot. How much gravity can one player provide? Not enough to craft an above average offense is my guess, but we shall see. McBride is a good player, someone who is above average at all aspects of the game from a shooting guard, though not quite elite in any area. Closest is her three point shooting, at 37% on 5 attempts per 36 minutes. That should be higher, no reason she can not be at 7 like Allie Quigley.  Too many long 2s for such a shooter.

Point guard is an open question. The Jackie Young experiment at point guard did not go particularly well last year, and was pretty quickly mothballed in the playoffs, but might be the best option this year. A year two improvement is to be expected, but it will be tough for her to improve her offense enough to be as impactful as a number 1 pick is hoped to be.

Danielle Robinson was signed to be the backup point guard so might get the call. Even as a backup I wonder why the Aces signed a point guard who can’t shoot or finish at the rim. She can ill afford to lose much of her speed, given she is a total non shooter and an adequate passer, not exceptional. She is going to be 31 and speedy point guards that can’t shoot don’t tend to age well, but hopefully she can still produce.

This team should still be fairly effective on defense, but the offense is likely to be a slog. They have the players to get out and run in transition once again, which should help their offense, but half court will be a struggle. Laimbeer has typically proved to be reluctant to go small, but this might be the year for him to experiment more, especially given how thin the team is in their front court after their starters. Making the semifinals again would be a good outcome for this team.