You know her name, and you know her game. The two-time MVP dazzles you with her frontcourt attack, burying opponents who dare to try and stop her. She’s a punishing, physical specimen that defies all logic for just how good she is. The 27-year-old standout wins awards and gets as much recognition as one can imagine. So why can’t the league, in the five-time All-Star’s sixth and utterly dominant season, find a way to stop A’ja Wilson?
Because A’ja Wilson doesn’t want you to stop her.
The 2022 WNBA champion is a one-woman wrecking ball, demolishing all hope for opposing defenses. She’s fifth in scoring with over 20.0 points per game (PPG). Wilson has the ninth-best field goal percentage of any player averaging 18.0 or more minutes per game (MPG). She’s third in defensive and second in total rebounds. She’s number one in blocks. There really isn’t much that this phenom can’t do.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to find a way to stop her, no matter how fruitless it may be. Listen closely and you just might learn a thing or two about how to slow her down.
If you’re lucky.
Dare Her To Shoot Threes
For a player with as much athleticism and unicorn-esque playmaking ability as she has, it comes as a surprise that Wilson doesn’t shoot a ton of three-pointers and that she isn’t particularly good at them (I’ll let you figure out the chicken and the egg conundrum there).
On long three attempts, Wilson is only scoring at a 0.710 points per possession (PPP) clip, well below average. She also isn’t especially good at the catch-and-shoot plays, scoring only 0.790 PPP (also below average). If—and that’s a big if—you can goad her into taking the perimeter shots, you may just have a chance at slowing her down. To do so, though, will require you to make her life so miserable in the paint that she feels she has no choice. Can anyone really do that for 40 minutes? I didn’t think so.
Pressure Her To Shoot the Jumper
Okay, so you can’t get her to shoot threes all game, but what about the jumper? It’s no secret that Wilson thrives in the paint; just look at her shot chart below:
Make Wilson play in the midrange, forcing her to shoot rather than get her easier scoring chances at the rim. The aforementioned catch-and-shoot difficulty coupled with her good—but not great—0.960 PPP in the midrange leave you with avenues to take her down.
Make Her Play Defense—Or Get Her Off the Court Entirely
Let’s get the obvious out of the way—if you can manage to get her into foul trouble, you’re going to have a much better time than if you let her stay on the court. But since Wilson only averages 2.1 personal fouls taken per game, 53rd in the league, that’s not a likely scenario.
And if you can manage to get her off the court, it may not matter anyway—the Aces have their second-best defensive rating when Wilson sits, so maybe your better hope is leaving her on the court? Decisions, decisions.
Instead of attempting to resolve that dilemma, try making her play defense. If you can keep the ball out of the Aces’ hands, especially Wilson’s, then you have far less to worry about. But where to attack her? Try attacking with either shoulder in the post-up game. Wilson is allowing 1.100 PPP when you attack with your right shoulder and 1.063 when you go in with your left, grading out as below average. If you can’t make those shoulders move, don’t worry—Wilson is still giving up 1.128 PPP on all post-ups, within the 27th percentile and also below average. Keep the ball, post her up, and watch your chances inch in your favor ever so slightly.
Find a Rim Protector and Other Lengthy, Rangy Friends
The number one key to slowing down Wilson in the paint is finding someone—or a handful of someones—who can get physical with her and prevent easy rim looks. You will want several athletic players who can not only bang in the paint with her but also move with her around the court and prevent easy passes off her cutting. Think about getting yourself a team of Awak Kuiers as well as a Teaira McCowan and a Brionna Jones, who are athletic bigs who can move and match physicality with Wilson.
In the clip below, note the way McCowan uses her athleticism to keep her feet moving and body in front of Wilson.
What’s that? Your team doesn’t have any of those players? Oh my. Good luck to you.
Frustrate Her and Keep Her Off the Glass
If you find a way to play physically with Wilson, you better also hope your defenders can box her out and rebound. In the three losses the Aces have suffered this season, Wilson averaged 4.3 rebounds per game (RPG), well below her 9.6 season-long average. If you limit her effectiveness in getting second-chance points, you will limit how badly she can hurt you.
Don’t Send Her to the Charity Stripe
I’m going to keep this one really simple—stop fouling her. Just stop doing it. That easy, right? Well, if it were, she wouldn’t be leading the league in free-throw attempts per game. Stop fouling her and see if she still haunts you every night.
Hope and Pray
With all that said, there is no one spot or play type at which she’s overtly poor. Overall, Wilson is scoring at 1.121 PPP. In the halfcourt, that number is 1.091 PPP. In transition, it’s 1.344 PPP. All of these grade out as excellent. Try her in a man defense? She’ll burn you for 1.086 PPP. Then you try her in a zone, which she’ll respond to with a 1.250 PPP. She can post you up (1.210 PPP), cut (1.208), play the roll man in the pick-and-roll (1.159), and even run iso all over you without batting an eye (0.900).
The 6’4” superstar will show you no mercy. There is no structure on offense she doesn’t dominate in. At the end of the day, the only thing you can do is hope and pray.
Stats as of Aug. 9. Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and WNBA.com.