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2019 Season Preview: Las Vegas Aces

The 2019 WNBA season tips off on May 24. WNBA.com will be previewing every team in the league. See below for a breakdown of the Las Vegas Aces.

2018 Recap

Record: 14-20; 9th in league standings; did not qualify for Playoffs in first season in Las Vegas, fourth straight year for the franchise missing the Playoffs

Leaders: Points: A’ja Wilson (20.7), Rebounds: Wilson (8.0), Assists: Kelsey Plum (4.0), Steals: Kayla McBride (1.1), Blocks: Wilson (1.7), 3-Point Pct: Plum (43.9%)

Team Stats: Offensive Rating: 101.5 (6th), Defensive Rating: 104.7 (8th), Net Rating: Minus-3.2 (9th), Rebound Percentage: 50.9 (5th), True Shooting Percentage: 52.1 (9th), Pace: 82.9 (1st)

Offseason Moves

Free Agency: Re-signed free agent Dearica Hamby; Signed free agent Sydney Colson

Draft: Selected Jackie Young (No. 1) in the 2019 WNBA Draft; it was the third straight No. 1 overall pick for the franchise.

Trade: Acquired Sugar Rodgers in three team trade with New York and Atlanta

Injury: Lost Lindsay Allen for the season due to offseason knee surgery

Players To Watch

A’ja Wilson: Encore

Some players fail to meet the hype. Some players meet the hype. Then there are players like A’ja Wilson that absolutely obliterate the hype. Wilson was everything the Aces could have hoped for and more, during her stellar rookie season. The unanimous pick for Rookie of the Year averaged 20.7 points (3rd in WNBA), 8.0 rebounds (6th), 1.67 blocks (6th) as she completed one of the greatest rookie seasons in league history. So what does she have in store for an encore this season?

Kayla McBride: McBuckets

McBride lived up to her McBuckets nickname as she finished her fifth WNBA season by setting career highs in points (18.2, 8th in WNBA), assists (3.5), field goal percentage (44.9%) and 3-point percentage (39.3). And while her 91.3% free throw percentage was not a career best, it did rank third in the WNBA. She scored at least 20 points in nine games, including a career-best 38 points against Dallas She earned her second All-Star nod and finished as the runner up to Allie Quigley in a fantastic 3-point contest that needed an extra session to determine a winner.

Kelsey Plum: The Next Step

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 Draft made huge strides in her second season as she averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game. While her per-game numbers aren’t far off from her rookie season, her efficiency in getting those numbers was significantly improved. Plum increased her shooting by 12.1 percentage points from the field (34.6% to 46.7%) and 7.4 percentage points from beyond the arc (36.5% to 43.9%, which ranked 4th in the WNBA). She also dished out 124 assists with only 36 turnovers as her 3.40 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked second in the WNBA to Sue Bird. Plum also got better as the season progressed; her scoring average rose from 3.5 points in May (2 games) to 7.2 points in June (13 games) to 9.9 points in July (8 games) and 16.0 points in August (9 games). Plum entered the WNBA with a well-deserved reputation as a scorer (she is the all-time leading scorer in Division I history). She is poised to become a routine double-digit scorer for the Aces this season.

Moriah Jefferson: Finally Healthy

After making the All-Rookie team back in 2016 with averages of 13.9 points and 4.2 assists, Moriah Jefferson was injured during the 2017 season and did not return to the court until midway through the 2018 campaign. She finished with averages of 5.3 points and 2.1 assists in just 15.5 minutes per game off the bench as she continued to work her way back to form. She enters the 2019 season healthy and while her role has changed since her rookie season back in San Antonio, she is another productive player to Bill Laimbeer to use in his arsenal.

Jackie Young: The Rookie

With Young, the Aces get a strong and versatile guard that can play multiple positions. She has great athleticism and quickness to help her get to the basket, combined with strength and toughness to absorb contact and finish in the lane. The 6-foot guard averaged 14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 steals for the Irish this season while shooting 52.8% from the field and 45.2% from beyond the arc on limited attempts.

Three Questions

Can the Aces avoid another slow start?

After opening the season 1-7 through their first eight games, the Aces went 11-6 to put themselves back into playoff contention. Unfortunately, a five-game losing coming out of the All-Star break hurt their playoff chances as the Aces finished ninth in the standings, just one game out of the postseason.

Even with that losing streak, the Aces still played .500 ball after that 1-7 start to the season. Both Plum and McBride joined the Aces late due to overseas commitments, so they missed all of training camp and the first two games of the season. Getting everyone back in the fold and getting some time together before the season starts should help the Aces get out of the gates quicker.

Is three the magic number?

No team had ever had the first overall pick in the draft for three straight seasons until the ping pong balls came up in Las Vegas’ favor at this year’s draft lottery. With Kelsey Plum (2017), A’ja Wilson (2018) and Jackie Young (2019), the Aces have a strong foundation of pieces for what should be an extended window of playoff and championship contention.

Prior to Las Vegas’ three straight No. 1 selections, the Seattle Storm had back-to-back No. 1 picks in 2015 (Jewell Loyd) and 2016 (Breanna Stewart), who lifted the Storm from the lottery to the championship in their third season together.

How many Aces will represent the franchise when they host their first All-Star Game?

Last season, both Wilson and McBride headed to Minneapolis for the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game. It was McBride’s second selection and Wilson was the only rookie to earn the honor. Both players shined during the mid-season celebration of the game as Wilson finished with 18 points, five rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes, while McBride had 11 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes. McBride was also part of an epic 3-point contest that took place during halftime of the All-Star Game as she fell to Allie Quigley in an extra session shootout.

With the 2019 All-Star Game set to take place in Las Vegas on July 27, the Aces figure to be well represented throughout the weekend festivities, especially on the court. Can Wilson and McBride make it back-to-back selections? And which teammates will they bring along with them this time around?