The WNBA’s All-Star Break provided the Las Vegas Ace’s “Core 4” with a showcase for 80 percent of a historically stacked starting lineup to strut their stuff in an exhibition. On the downside, it also cracked open a conduit for the cranks to spew their usual bile.
Take for example, Super70sSports aka semi-professional provocateur Ricky Cobb’s reaction to the WNBA All-Star Weekend taking priority in ESPN’s promotional hierarchy. On Monday, Cobb borrowed material from Jason Whitlock’s misogynistic take file and trafficked in antiquated contempt for the Worldwide Leader providing more than the bare minimum coverage of women’s sports. Cobb tried to soften his statement with an apology salad, but for a significant segment of the sports-viewing audience, women’s sports actually being given proper placement sets them off as much as affirmative action boogeyman stories.
Super70sSports’ jab at ESPN’s placement of women’s sports ignores the reality of the national media’s disregard for storylines germinating within the top domestic women’s basketball league in the U.S. Doing it in the aftermath of the All-Star Game from Las Vegas is ironic considering Vegas’ WNBA resident franchise is sizzling hotter than Death Valley right now. Worrying about whether women’s sports highlights play before men’s in mid-July is akin to stressing over whether Barbie or Oppenheimer is taking up more screens at AMC. Just chill out. You’ll have time for both.
The Aces are must-see basketball. There’s no Barbie or Oppenheimer conundrum here. The Aces don’t have to choose. They’re the nexus of both. One price of admission for the denizens of Michelob ULTRA Arena is worth two tickets.
Like BarbieLand, Vegas is not a real place. It’s a multicolored, brightly lit facsimile of several cities. Few people actually live there permanently and The Strip is more tourist attraction than throughway, which is fitting because the Aces feel like a make-believe team puppeting 11 other plastic franchises. Like the WNBA, Barbie has already drawn scathing reviews from conservative critics who’ve ravaged it for pushing LGBTQ stories and feminist narratives. It’s the same sort of thing WNBA critics obsess over when they’re intent on missing the point.
The Aces are box office in several ways. Conversely, during the first half of the WNBA calendar, the Aces have been the destroyer of worlds, activating a devastating offensive attack that’s decimating the league at a blistering pace. As exciting as pitch clock baseball is, the Aces embody what fans seem to gravitate towards more than the most; a dynasty at its peak.
The PGA Tour was at its strongest when the debate centered around Tiger vs. the field. Golden State’s run from 2015-2019 and temporarily reignited in 2022, generated more fan interest than any NBA Finals since. The Last Dance still captivated hoop heads over 20 years after the six-time championship-winning Chicago Bulls dissolved. The Kansas City Chiefs are the modern greatest show on turf while premature dynasty talks continually surrounded Patrick Mahomes.
However, A’ja Wilson isn’t discussed nearly enough. If the NBA equivalent of Joel Embiid, but without the playoff shortcomings appeared in the wild, everyone would flock to see him hoop. After making just one 3-pointer in her first three seasons, Wilson extended her range last season behind the arc to make 31-of-83 attempts from downtown in Hammons spread offense en route to her second WNBA MVP and the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year while displacing Brittney Griner as the league’s premier paint protector. The Aces can play big through Wilson or small with one of the greatest lineups of shooters this side of the Splash Brothers.
That expansion of Wilson’s game was triggered by Hammon showing up with the answers like Basketball Prometheus and unlocked Vegas’ offensive nuclear process by transmuting an offense that attempted the WNBA’s fewest triples into the league’s most prodigious 3-point shooting lineup in the span of a year. That adjustment has left a crater in opposing scoreboards.
If the season ended today, A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young, and offseason addition Candace Parker would comprise the highest-scoring starting lineup in league history. Vegas would also boast the highest offensive rating in league history and the most points per game recorded over the course of an entire season.
On Monday, Nekias Duncan tabulated nine instances of teams having three players named to an All-WNBA team in one season. They could be the first team with four. When the Aces floor leader, Chelsea Gray isn’t whipping CGI assists to her supporting ensemble castmates, she’s poised to become the second player to join the WNBA’s 50/40/90 club. Plum is currently logging a 50/38/89 split as one of three Aces among the league’s top-10 scorers.
The only starter who won’t be named All-WNBA is 37-year-old former MVP Candace Parker, who was first-team All-WNBA a year ago, but has acclimated to a reduced offensive role in Vegas. Parker’s addition gives the Aces two of the last three Defensive Players of the Year in one starting lineup. Parker has been a critical component in an Aces defense allowing four fewer points per 100 possessions than they did during their dash to the 2022 dual league title and Commissioner’s Cup.
This collection of talent has neutered the prophesied rivalry with the New York Liberty after the offseason arms race. In their only meeting this season, Las Vegas smoked New York by 17 combined points. Through 20 games Vegas’ point differential was the best in league history. That start is reflected in their 19-2 start over the season’s first 21 games. The ‘98 Houston Rockets’ .900 winning percentage during the WNBA’s second season is the WNBA’s gold standard for highest single-season winning percentage.
The Ace’s league-record 19.2 net rating, is currently surpassing the ‘99 Houston Comets’ previous high of 18.4. Only six WNBA teams have a positive scoring differential. Their cumulative net rating, points differential per 100 possessions, amounts to those six teams being a combined 21.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents.
On their current trajectory, the Aces are on track to become the WNBA’s second repeat champions since the 2002 L.A. Sparks. The upcoming WNBA postseason is all about dethroning these juggernauts. Even if it doesn’t occur, watching teams devise half-baked answers to an unsolvable equation like the Aces is part of the thrill.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex