The Las Vegas Aces may be heading to the WNBA Finals, but they lost something important during the Semifinals: two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, who will likely miss the rest of the playoffs with a knee injury.
Losing Hamby is a major issue for the Aces, even if they managed to win two straight playoff games against Connecticut without her. Hamby’s versatility and her ability to play both inside and outside for the Aces adds a much-needed dimension to this team.
But all isn’t lost without Hamby. The Aces are now the underdogs in this series without her, but there are things they can do to pull off the series victory. Let’s look at those things.
Give A’ja Wilson the Basketball
Here’s a (not very) fun fact, via Winsidr’s own Owen Pence:
Article coming later today.
As for now, well, I went back and rewatched the game last night. There were 8 – I repeat, 8 – Las Vegas possessions in the 4th quarter in which A'ja Wilson did not touch the basketball.
— Owen Pence (@OwenPence) September 30, 2020
Yeah, not good!
The 2020 Aces are missing a lot of the offensive options they were supposed to have. Liz Cambage opted out. Kelsey Plum missed the season after an Achilles injury. And now there’s no Dearica Hamby.
But the Aces also have one of the most dominant offensive players in the WNBA this season in MVP A’ja Wilson. The offense needs to run through her. Force the defense to collapse on her every time down the floor, opening up space for her to hit open shooters on the pass. Get her the ball on the block and let her go to work, scoring at the bucket even with two defenders draped all over her. Work on getting her that free-throw line jumper that I’m fully convinced she has never missed in her life.
Including the postseason, the Aces have a net rating of 4.8 this season. Filtering down to just A’ja Wilson minutes, that net rating takes a huge jump to 10.2, and in the minutes without Wilson it’s 3.6. We can talk all we want about the other players on this team, but an Aces championship runs through A’ja Wilson. Get her the ball. Let things happen.
Continue to Get Solid Minutes from Carolyn Swords
Look, I know the Connecticut Sun probably have a trademark on the word “disrespect,” but if I were allowed to use that word to talk about a different WNBA team/player, I’d talk about Carolyn Swords.
Swords has some obvious flaws. She’s a liability when she’s forced to defend in space. You can get her in a bad position on the pick-and-roll. Her finishing at the basket has had some lapses at times.
But the Aces don’t have bigs right now. With no Hamby and no Cambage, they have Wilson, they have Swords, and they have Emma Cannon.
Lineups with Cannon have been a disaster so far. In 30 minutes of play, those lineups have a net rating of -20.3. You could see in Tuesday’s game how much worse the Aces looked with Cannon on the floor.
For Vegas to win this series, they need Swords on the floor as much as possible. Even with the areas of the game where she’s a liability, she can set screens, she can grab rebounds, and she can take advantage of mismatches, like when the Sun had Essence Carson switched onto her in Game 5. Swords knows her role and she plays that role. Despite the limitations, the Aces will need her to play a lot of minutes and take advantage of the opportunities they get.
Play Angel McCoughtry at the Four at Least Some, Please
Look, I just spent a whole section talking up Carolyn Swords, but I think ideally, she should be your third big in this matchup.
The second big? Angel McCoughtry.
The problem is that when Swords sits, the Aces options to come in at the five are either Cannon or Cierra Burdick. Nothing against either player, but if the Aces are winning this series, they need to do whatever they can to minimize the minutes that feature either of those players.
Instead, slide Angel McCoughtry up to the four as much as possible. The Storm aren’t built around a dominant post-up big. The benefits of going with A’ja at the five and Angel at the four with Swords coming in at the five when Angel comes off the floor outweighs the negatives by a whole, whole lot.
Unfortunately, I ran a WOWY query to see how often A’ja/Angel/no bigs lineups have happened and well…the Aces have played a total of four minutes this year with A’ja and Angel on the floor and none of the team’s four bigs on. So, this point might not be likely.
But having Angel at the four would allow this team to defend the Storm better, as they could get more speed and versatility on the floor to help them keep up with a Seattle team that excels on the perimeter. Hopefully if Hamby really is out, Laimbeer gives this lineup a chance.
Find a Little Extra Shooting
You’re going to have to score points to beat the Seattle Storm, and that means the Aces have to find some shooting.
The obvious place for that shooting to come from is Kayla McBride. Runner-up in the 2019 Three-Point Shooting competition during All-Star weekend, McBride’s three has dried up in 2020, as she shot 34.2 percent during the regular season. In the Connecticut series, that fell to 14.3 percent, as she was 2-for-14 from deep.
So, you have to get McBride going. Get her some shots off screens. Move the ball around until you can generate an open perimeter look for her. Do something.
This goes deeper than McBride, though. The Aces can win without taking a lot of threes, but they can’t win if they don’t convert on a good percentage of the ones they do take. This was a problem in the Semifinals.
In the five games against Connecticut, the following players combined to go 2-for-18 from three: Danielle Robinson, Jackie Young, Sugar Rodgers, and Lindsay Allen.
Robinson isn’t known for being a shooter and Young is well on her way to not being known as one either. But Sugar Rodgers was 0-for-7? Someone has to just make a few open shots, right? This can’t continue for another series, right?
If it does continue, Vegas is going to find themselves in a rough predicament in the Finals. But if they can get just, like, average three-point shooting from their perimeter players, we’re going to have ourselves a series.