A’ja Wilson always did everything for the aces. This year she did even more.

UPDATE (08/30/2022, 13:55): Shortly after this article was published, A’ja Wilson was named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.

It’s no surprise to see the Las Vegas Aces – led by franchises Cornerstone and League MVP 2020 A’ja Wilson – Playing in the WNBA semifinals, three wins away from a final. (Las Vegas Game 1 dropped his series against the Seattle Storm on Sunday.) Ever since Moving from San Antonio in 2018 and making Wilson the team’s first-ever draft selection in Las Vegas, the Aces were among the most dominant rosters in the WNBA. In all the years since Wilson’s arrival, Las Vegas has been one of three teams with at least 100 winsincluding one Franchise record 26 wins this season.

Under the tutelage of first-year head coach Becky Hammon, who asked Wilson to adapt in the name of progression, Wilson has continued to evolve and take her game to new levels. In maximizing the team’s core as it seeks its first-ever championship, Hammon, who was named WNBA Coach of the Year last week fundamentally changed Las Vegas’ style of play this season, boosting Las Vegas’ title ambitions in the process.

Again, it’s worth emphasizing just how great Wilson was in her first five seasons as a pro. Since she was drafted first in the overall standings in 2018, she has been either first or second in the league in most important statistical categories.

A’ja Wilson has dominated the WNBA since her rookie year

League-wide rankings for Wilson in key statistical categories since 2018 during regular season games

category value WNBA rank
Points 2,849 1
blocks 254 1
made free throws 745 1
attempted free throws 923 1
win stocks 23.8 2
rebounds 1,257 2
protocol 4,548 3

Wilson made her WNBA debut in the 2018 season.

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

So if parts of the Aces needed repairs after former coach Bill Laimbeer retired after the 2021 season, Wilson was not among the faulty components. But her elevated status and performance didn’t stop Wilson from being open to Hammon’s new tactical approaches.

The most dramatic change for Las Vegas after hiring its new coach was the team’s collective adoption of 3-point shooting. The second place Aces with 3 points total this regular season (a Team record 343) marked the franchise’s highest rank since 2014 (226) when the team was still based in San Antonio. During those intervening years, the team never finished higher than ninth in three-a-side games, and finished 10th or lower six times. per extended WNBA stats.

Such a shift required an adjustment in approach for Wilson, who significantly expanded her shooting range this season for Las Vegas. Although she had an effective middle-class jumper in 2022, she usually did little damage from the outside. With Wilson coming into the league with incredible footwork off the low post, the Aces leaned on their inner scoring as an immediate option for easy buckets.

But if the center of the team Liz Cambage went to the Los Angeles Sparks During the offseason, it was Hammon’s best opportunity to pair Wilson with two-time sixth woman of the year Dearica Hamby on the apron, prompting the former MVP to add a new dimension of long-range shooting to her game. Already known as a consistent midrange shooter, Wilson had more room to expand her game as Cambage took her inside-centric game further West.

A’ja Wilson suddenly started taking – and making – threesomes

Shooting collapse for Wilson during the 2018–2021 and 2022 WNBA seasons

court zone Did To. pt. Did To. pt.
restricted area 289 435 66.4% 113 175 64.6%
pull-up jumper 57 142 40.1 26 48 54.2
middle class 235 594 39.6 55 122 45.1
3 hands 1 2 50.0 31 83 37.3

Source: stats.wnba.com

Wilson just shot 1-for-2 on 3 hands during her first four seasons in the WNBA, although such an approach didn’t stop her behind Brittney Griner in total points over this span of time. This season, her evolved shooting contact resulted in 31 buckets crafted from deep to clear the ground for Las Vegas’s guard-friendly offensive scheme.

It works for the Aces – at least as long as Wilson is on the court. So far this postseason they’ve shot 45 percent from deep in 98 minutes with Wilson in the game. When Wilson sits on the bench? This clip drops to a team-low mark of 39 percent over a 22-minute rehearsal. per extended WNBA stats.

“Protection [are] I will always shoot and I will. Wilson explained earlier this season when it comes to their increase in remote trials. “But you know, it’s just something I’ve been working on in the off-season — it’s nothing new to me. That’s something I had, it’s my game.”

“I’m glad my teammates are telling me to shoot it even if I stink it because I’m going to tell them the same thing. At the end of the day, I’m actually just proud that I’m able to do it and that Becky lets me do it.”

With her newfound shooting ability, Wilson’s swing both near and off the basket gives Las Vegas one of the WNBA’s strongest all-around threats. In addition to half-court scoring, Wilson’s ability to run the ground has played a key role Las Vegas leads the league in pace four of the past five seasons.

And the new dimension Wilson has added to their attacking game hasn’t diminished their importance on defense. Although the aces defensive placement this season (6th) marked the team’s lowest since Wilson’s Rookie Year (9th in 2018)Her defense helped Las Vegas 2022 prevent easy looks near the perimeter. The aces allowed that second fewest shot attempts in restricted area this season after having the best defense of its kind in 2021. Wilson’s value in the stingy Las Vegas defense is evident in her ability to block shots. she Career high 70 blocks This season almost equaled their total of the previous two years combined (84).

By playing closer to the edge as Las Vegas’ de facto center, Wilson can use her mobility to recover or offer defense assistance. Here’s the Aces’ defensive anchor, blowing up a game against defending champions Chicago Sky earlier this season. Wilson does an incredible job of keeping his feet active when offering help on the rim, before recovering just in time to intercept a pass destined for a temporarily open Azurá Stevens:

And here Wilson takes on the Phoenix Mercury in Round 1, rushing over from the weak side to fend off Brianna Turner with an otherwise easy layup:

During that series against Phoenix, Wilson had more blocks (4) as the entire Mercury team (3).

“She’s got the stats and everything, and she’s leading in the categories,” Ace’s starting point guard Chelsea Gray said of Wilson’s impact. “But I think [it’s about] her willingness to be that leader and not pacing. I can’t talk about anyone else, but what I see every day is someone working at both ends of the floor.”

“She does everything.”

For the Aces to bring a championship to the desert, Wilson must remain the elite scorer she has been throughout her career. Although they was very valuable as a passerby and defenseman this postseason, she goes up against the storm in Game 2 after scoring twice in her three playoff games in single digits. After hitting her lowest total for all of 2022 (8 points in Games 1 and 3), Wilson can’t let an increased focus on the all-around game come at the expense of old-fashioned scoring.

But however she contributes, Wilson’s presence will always be crucial in this semifinal series against Seattle, who have won the teams’ last four postseason meetings from the year 2020, they contain the fourth-worst loss in WNBA playoff history. Game 1 proved that the storm with Wilsons MVP rival Breanna Stewart at the helm poses a real threat to the Aces’ title hopes. But Las Vegas hopes that Wilson’s lead and rounded brilliance — which continues to grow — will still give the team the ultimate advantage in their title hunt.

Check out our latest WNBA Predictions.

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