No bench? No problem, at least for the Las Vegas Aces.

In Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, the Las Vegas Aces took a 99-82 win against the New York Liberty. Of those 99 points, 91 came from four Aces starters.

Kelsey Plum (26), Jackie Young (26), Chelsea Gray (20) and A’ja Wilson (19) dominated for Las Vegas, which outscored New York by 20 points in the second half to take the 1-0 series lead. No four players have combined for more points in a WNBA Finals game, per ESPN’s Alexa Philippou.

The Aces’ other eight points came from Alysha Clark, the first player off the bench for the defending champions. Clark played 28 minutes; the rest of the Aces’ bench played just five minutes combined.

Kiah Stokes, the fifth starter for Las Vegas, is a defensive specialist, often trading places with Clark depending on possession. In Game 1, Stokes finished with zero points, but she had five rebounds and three assists.

Before Candace Parker’s injury, she held Stokes’ role as the second post player in the starting lineup alongside Wilson, averaging 9.0 points and 5.4 rebounds. Yet even with Parker on the sidelines, the Aces’ starting lineup is fearsome for opponents, as they proved again Sunday.

With the victory, Las Vegas has won its first six games of the 2023 postseason. The No. 1 seed Aces swept the No. 8 seed Chicago Sky and the No. 4 seed Dallas Wings to reach the championship series. Five other teams in WNBA history have won their first six postseason games, and all went on to win the title, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The WNBA All-Star teams are set, but the lineup for the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest are still up in the air.​​ Friday’s competition serves as a precursor to the main event on All-Star weekend, with six players participating in the 3-Point Contest and eight in the Skills Challenge (if the WNBA sticks with the same format as last year).

With the entire league to choose from, here is my wish list for the players I’d like to see compete this weekend in Las Vegas.

3-Point Contest

Kelsey Plum, G, Las Vegas Aces

After struggling in last year’s 3-point contest on All-Star weekend, Kelsey Plum deserves a shot at redemption. Despite being an excellent 3-point shooter who averages 43.2% for her career, she was last in the competition in 2022. Teammate A’ja Wilson even said Plum “stunk it up.” The Vegas guard followed that performance up by winning 2022 All-Star Game MVP, but a good showing in this year’s 3-point competition would further erase last year’s struggles. Plum said she’s “not a rack shooter and more of a game shooter,” but why not both?

Lexie Brown, G, Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks guard was considered a snub in last year’s 3-point contest after shooting 39.8% on the season, thanks to a hot hand in the first half. This year, Brown is even better from beyond the arc, shooting 42% and making 2.3 attempts per contest. An illness has kept Brown off the court since June 14, but if she’s healthy, the guard is a no-brainer addition to this year’s competition.

Karlie Samuelson, G, Los Angeles Sparks

Why not have a little intra-team competition? Brown’s teammate, Karlie Samuelson, would be a perfect candidate. She’s spent the last few seasons fighting for a WNBA roster spot and has found a home this year with the Sparks, shooting an incredible 48.2% from beyond the arc. Samuelson is currently injured, but if healthy enough, she deserves this honor.

DeWanna Bonner, F/G, Connecticut Sun

At 35 years old, Bonner is having the best 3-point shooting season of her WNBA career, averaging 38.2% with 2.2 makes per game. Bonner spent her offseason practicing twice a day to rehab an injury and improve her long-range shooting. Bonner’s desire to find ways to get better after 14 years in the league makes her special, and bringing her into the 3-point contest would be a great way to celebrate the veteran’s season.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, New York Liberty

Another player who is having the best 3-point shooting performance of her career, Ionescu is making 43.9% of her attempts this season, marking a 10% improvement on her average last season. She’s making 3.1 3-pointers per contest, good for second in the WNBA. Ionescu is the reigning Skills Challenge champion, so why not give her a chance to win the shooting portion as well?

Jackie Young, G, Las Vegas Aces

Another intra-squad rivalry would be on display if Young competed alongside Plum, and with the competition being held in Vegas this year, two Aces players would make for an exciting atmosphere. Not to mention, Young has had one of the best career arcs when it comes to 3-point shooting, shooting 25% in 2021 and 43.1% in 2022. This year, she’s an absolute must-guard shooter from beyond the arc, making 48.1% of her attempts.

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If this is Candace Parker's last season, an appearance in the Skills Challenge would be fitting. (Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images)

Skills Challenge

NaLyssa Smith, F, Indiana Fever

The Fever forward participated in last year’s Skills Challenge as a rookie and finished in second place. Smith is having a great second-year campaign in Indiana, leading the team in rebounds per game and ranking second in points per game. Could a skills competition redemption be in her future? It’s certainly a possibility.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, New York Liberty

Speaking of last year’s contest, Ionescu took home the top prize and deserves a chance to defend her title. Having the Liberty guard compete in all three of the weekend’s events is a lot, but she certainly has a case to make the trio of appearances.

Rhyne Howard, G, Atlanta Dream

When it comes to All-Star snubs, no one was more deserving than Howard, who participated in the game last season as a rookie. She’s averaging 18.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, building on her Rookie of the Year season in 2022. Since we won’t get to see Howard in the All-Star Game, she should at least make an appearance in the Skills Challenge.

Candace Parker, F/C, Las Vegas Aces

This is perhaps the biggest reach on the wish list, but who better to participate in the Skills Challenge than a do-it-all player like Parker? She’s made it clear that she’s nearing the end of her career, so if 2023 is Parker’s last season, it would be a shame for her to go without seeing her compete in some capacity this weekend.

Marine Johannès, G, New York Liberty

Is it really a skills competition without the flashiest player in the WNBA? The French guard does a little bit of everything, and she does it all with style. Johannès is sure to get “oohs and “aahs” every time she steps on the court, making this event the perfect showcase for an exciting player like her.

Courtney Vandersloot, G, New York Liberty

If we are going to have two Liberty guards, why not make it three by adding in the WNBA assists leader? Vandersloot runs the Liberty offense with ease, dishing out 8.5 assists per game. The WNBA veteran certainly has the skills to win this competition, and maybe Allie Quigley would even make an appearance to cheer on her wife. It only seems fair after years of Vandersloot’s support for the queen of the 3-Point Contest.

Satou Sabally, F, Dallas Wings

Other than Smith and Parker, this list is guard-heavy. Enter Sabally, who is the perfect forward for the skills competition. She’s 6-4, but plays more like a guard who shines in the fastbreak and leads the Wings on the run. That makes her a competitive candidate for this event. Plus, Sabally is having the best season of her career, averaging 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Jewell Loyd, G, Seattle Storm

Things are much different for the 4-14 Storm this season, but Jewell Loyd’s talent remains the same. She could easily participate in the 3-Point Contest, averaging 38.8% from beyond the arc and leading the league in 3-pointers made with 3.4 per game. But I’d rather see Loyd show off her complete skill set, like she’s been doing for Seattle all season.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

When the Las Vegas Aces played the New York Liberty, it was supposed to be the game of the season. Supposed to be a drag-it-out, fight to the finish. Supposed to be a preview of the WNBA Finals to come — and maybe it was.

But instead of a down-to-the-wire contest, it was a blowout. The Aces completely dominated the Liberty with a 98-81 victory. The game was billed as the “Battle of the Superteams,” but it wasn’t a battle, and there weren’t two superteams on the court. There was just one team that was much, much better than its opponent.

Which begs the question, “Can anyone beat the Aces?”

In a single game, sure. The Connecticut Sun already did it, handing the Aces their lone loss of the season. But in a playoff series, it’s hard to imagine anyone stringing together enough wins to stop Las Vegas from repeating as WNBA champions.

Let’s start with the obvious: the roster. The reason the Aces fall into the superteam category is because their starting five is that of an All-Star Game. MVP A’ja Wilson, former MVP Candace Parker, Finals MVP Chelsea Gray, Most Improved Player Jackie Young and All-WNBA First teamer Kelsey Plum. A simple list of those names is impressive, but it’s how they come together that makes Las Vegas so dominant.

The win over New York proves it’s not enough to have stars on the court. The Liberty have their own awe-inducing starting lineup with former MVPs Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, WNBA assists leader Courtney Vandersloot, former Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney and All-WNBA second-teamer Sabrina Ionescu.

Here’s the difference: New York looked like an All-Star team, and Las Vegas looked like a championship team.

The Liberty still look like a collection of stars playing on the court but not playing together, while the Aces are a unit, dripping with team chemistry.

They know how to feed the hot hand — it’s why Wilson, Plum, Young and Gray routinely rotate as the team’s leading scorer in any given game — and how to exploit defensive matchups.

Against the Liberty, Plum’s 18 points led the way, as the Aces focused on guard play and beating defenders off the dribble. Plum and Young were able to break down their defenders with quick first steps, while also using switches on screens to their advantage. The Liberty couldn’t stay in front, which created lanes for attacking and, in turn, opened up the entire offense.

In other situations, the Aces can use Wilson as their anchor and run offense through last season’s MVP. They have options, and they know when to use them.

Then there’s the defense. Becky Hammon has been very vocal about wanting more out of her team on the defensive end, and she’s getting it. The Liberty are averaging 87.5 points per game this season — second in the league behind the Aces — but Las Vegas held them below that average on Thursday night.

Individually, the Aces also contained Stewart and Ionescu to outputs well below their season averages. Stewart scores 22.1 points per game and is nearly impossible to stop, but Vegas held her to 16 points. And Ionescu reached less than half her season average of 15.3, contributing seven points in the loss.

That’s been a theme this season: The Aces hold their opponents to 77.7 points per game, which is second in the league. That, combined with their explosive offense, has Vegas winning their games by a WNBA-leading average of 15.5 points.

Of course, it is possible to beat Las Vegas. The Sun did it, with a 94-77 win in their second meeting of the season on June 4. In that game, two major statistics stand out.

First, the Sun kept Vegas off the glass. Averaging 34.8 rebounds per game this season, the Aces pulled down just 26 in that loss compared to 34 from the Sun. But rebounding isn’t actually one of the Aces’ major strengths. They are 7th out of 12 teams in that category, so keeping them off the boards doesn’t mean an automatic chance at victory. In fact, Las Vegas recorded just 27 rebounds against the Liberty.

The biggest factor in the Sun’s victory was DeWanna Bonner, who scored a career-high 41 points on 5-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Four players have scored over 40 points in a game this season — Jewell Loyd, Arike Ogunbowale, Stewart and Bonner — so it’s not exactly a common feat. The Sun needed a superhuman performance to top Las Vegas, and that’s not something that teams can conjure up on a nightly basis.

So, yeah, the Aces are beatable. But just barely.

The Liberty game only served to prove that Las Vegas is by far the best team in the WNBA, and it’s going to take a special string of games for anyone to stop the defending champs from repeating.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Editor’s note: This story was first published in the first week of the 2023 WNBA season. The Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty will face off for the first time this season at 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

The Superteam Era of the WNBA officially has begun.

Fans have gotten their first glimpses of the new-look New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces squads. And while 10 other teams – like the Washington Mystics, who topped the Liberty 80-64 to open the season – have four months to make their cases, it’s easy to see why New York and Las Vegas are the favorites to battle it out for the WNBA title.

Here’s how they stack up.

Starting Five

Las Vegas Aces

Candace Parker, F, 6-4: The 37-year-old forward is looking to be the first WNBA player to win championships with three franchises after signing with the Aces as a free agent. She already has rings with the Sparks and the Sky in 2016 and 2021. Parker, who has been candid about being near the end of her professional career, is a two-time WNBA MVP and seven-time all-WNBA first team member. Over her 15-year career, Parker has maintained a reputation as a player who does everything. Last season she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block.

A’ja Wilson, F, 6-4: Five seasons into her career and A’ja Wilson has already won two MVP awards. The South Carolina product has been dominant since her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, but the 2022 season was her best yet. Wilson led the Aces to their first WNBA title, averaging 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Chelsea Gray, G, 5-11: After being snubbed for the All-Star game last year, Gray’s second half of the season became a revenge tour. Her play earned the point guard the Finals MVP trophy, as Gray averaged 21.7 points and 7.0 assists per game through the postseason while shooting 61.1% from the field and 54.4% from beyond the arc. Gray showed off her skills as a playmaker for others, and a shot-creator for herself, making over 60% of her contested looks.

Kelsey Plum, G, 5-8: Plum has gotten better every season since she was drafted No. 1 in 2017, and in 2022 she took a major step forward. The guard finished second in the WNBA in scoring with 20.2 points per game while also averaging a career-high 5.1 assists. After coming off the bench in 2021, coach Becky Hammon moved Plum back to a starting role and heavily relied on the guard throughout the season. She played 32.8 minutes per game, which ranked second in the league.

Jackie Young, G, 6-0: Young started the 2023 season on a high note, scoring 23 points in 26 minutes during the Ace’s first game of the season. Young is looking to build on a 2022 season that saw her named the league’s Most Improved Player. That’s largely because of the addition of a 3-point shot to her game. Young shot 25% in 2021 and 23.1% in 2020, but after dedicating herself to the craft, she shot 43.1% from long range in 2022. Young’s ability to shoot 3s adds another weapon to the Aces’ arsenal.

New York Liberty

Betnijah Laney, F, 6-0: Laney has been in the league since 2015 but had a breakout season in 2020 for Atlanta. She’s been a key piece for the Liberty since 2021, and while she missed most of last season with an injury, she’s back in top form and could end up being the unsung hero of this superteam. With big names around her, Laney likely won’t receive the same type of attention, but she will be impactful. The 29-year-old averaged 16.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 2021. She also brings toughness, a scorer’s mentality and established chemistry with Ionescu.

Breanna Stewart, F, 6-4: The offseason’s most sought-after free agent landed with the Liberty after playing six seasons with the Storm. Stewart wasted no time establishing herself, setting a franchise record with 45 points in New York’s home opener. She already has won two WNBA titles and was named Finals MVP in both instances. When she signed with the Liberty, the UConn product instantly catapulted the team to the top of the WNBA.

Jonquel Jones, F, 6-6: When Jones was traded to the Liberty back in January, the move set off the superteam era. The opportunity to play with the 2021 MVP enticed Stewart and Vandersloot to sign with the Liberty, and it likely motivated Parker to sign with the Aces in order to give her a chance at a title as well. Jones is a versatile scoring threat who plays both inside and beyond the arc. In her last season in Connecticut, Jones led the Sun to the WNBA Finals and averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.

Courtney Vandersloot, G, 5-8: The one thing the Liberty needed after signing Jones and Stewart was an elite, pass-first point guard. They got that in Vandersloot, who is third on the WNBA’s all-time assists leaderboard and holds the record for most assists in a single game with 18. Vandersloot played all 12 of her WNBA seasons with the Sky and won a title with Chicago in 2021 before joining the Liberty.

Sabrina Ionescu, G, 5-11: The 2020 No. 1 pick transitioned seamlessly into the league, but last season was telling for the star guard. She plays best off the ball, which is why Vandersloot was such a key addition. Ionescu averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 2022, while also posting her lowest turnover mark yet at 3 per contest. Known as the triple-double queen in college, she continues to do a little bit of everything in the WNBA.

Bench Players

Las Vegas Aces

Key players: Alysha Clark, Kiah Stokes, Riquna Williams

The one knock on the Aces last season was their lack of bench. It didn’t end up mattering, as the team secured a title, and Riquna Williams ended up playing big minutes in the Finals, but Becky Hammon & Co. still bolstered the bench unit in the offseason. They added an elite defender in 10-year WNBA veteran Alysha Clark. The Aces also retained Kiah Stokes, who brings rebounding and rim protection.

New York Liberty

Key Players: Marine Johannès, Kayla Thornton, Stephanie Dolson, Han Xu

Everyone off the bench for the Liberty brings something different to the court, which is what you want from secondary players. Johannès could easily be a starter for another team, and she’s an elite passer and crafty shot-creator. Thornton is an experienced vet who played six seasons mostly in a starting role for the Wings, and Dolson brings experience as well with nine WNBA seasons under her belt. Han Xu is a question mark for the Liberty, as she hasn’t seen much time in their first two games, but her size (6-10) and unique skill set (which includes 3-point shooting) make her a threat off the bench.

Head Coach

Las Vegas Aces

Becky Hammon set the bar high in her first season with the Aces, leading them to the franchise’s first WNBA title. She’s an experienced coach who spent years as an assistant for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs before taking the Aces job. Hammon also played 15 years in the WNBA and was a 6-time all star. The signing of Candace Parker put the Aces in position to compete for the title again, but it didn’t come without controversy. The Aces traded Dearica Hamby to the Sparks in order to make space for Parker, but a WNBA investigation found that Hamby was mistreated during the trade due to her pregnancy. Hammon denied the claims, but she was suspended for the first two games of the season.

New York Liberty

Sandy Brondello, like Hammon, has experience playing in the WNBA as well as coaching. She played professionally from 1992-2004, and she also represented the Australian National team, winning two silver medals in the Olympics. She got into coaching in 2005 as an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars, the franchise that became the Las Vegas Aces. Brondello made her name as a coach with the Mercury, coaching in Phoenix from 2014-2021 and winning a WNBA championship in 2014 before taking the Liberty job in 2022.

Team History

Las Vegas Aces

The Aces joined the WNBA in 1997 first as the Utah Starzz, then became the San Antonio Silver Stars (later just the Stars) before moving to Las Vegas in 2018. The franchise had one conference title in 2008, and then the Aces secured the first title last season.

New York Liberty

The Liberty joined the WNBA in 1997 as well but have stayed put in the New York City area (if not always in their current home borough of Brooklyn). The team has won three conference titles, in 1999, 2000 and 2002, but has yet to win a WNBA title.

The WNBA on Sunday announced the 10 players — four guards and six frontcourt players — who will start the 2023 All-Star Game.

For a second straight year, the Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson and the New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart will serve as team captains after receiving the most fan votes of any All-Star starter.  Wilson received a grand total of 95,860 fan votes, while Stewart clocked in at 87,586.

In addition to Wilson and Stewart, the other frontcourt starters include Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Satou Sabally (Dallas Wings), Aliyah Boston (Indiana Fever) and Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks).

The four starting guards are Jackie Young (Las Vegas Aces), Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm), Arike Ogunbowale (Dallas Wings) and Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas Aces).

Boston, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2023 WNBA Draft, is the eighth rookie selected to start an All-Star Game but first since 2014. She is also the only first-time All-Star of the group, while Griner is the starter with the most All-Star appearances (9).

Wilson and Stewart will draft their teams during a special WNBA All-Star selection show on Saturday, July 8 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN). The WNBA All-Star Game will be played at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 15, with the game airing on ABC (5:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. ET).

How does WNBA All-Star voting work?

WNBA All-Star starters were determined by a combination of fan voting (50%), media voting (25%) and current player voting (25%).

Twelve reserves will be selected by the league’s head coaches, who each vote for three guards, five frontcourt players and four players at either position — though they are restricted from voting for their own players.

2023 WNBA All-Star Starters

See below for two tables that show the breakdown of All-Star voting by fans, media members, and current players for the top-10 athletes at each position. Starters are indicated with an asterisk (*).

The polls are closed for 2023 WNBA All-Star voting, and the game’s starters will be announced Sunday. From there, the WNBA’s 12 head coaches will select the 12 reserves, and the two top vote-getters will serve as captains and draft their respective All-Star teams on July 8.

For the first part of the process, media members were tasked with selecting four guards and four forwards/centers on their ballots. Whoever receives the most votes will start in the All-Star Game on July 15 in Las Vegas.

Here’s how I voted.

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Jackie Young has been one of the best players on a star-studded Aces team. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Guards

Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces

Young took home the Most Improved Player award last season, and so far this year, she’s been even better. Las Vegas is bursting with talent, but Young has often been the best player on the court for her team and has turned herself into one of the best guards in the league. The Notre Dame product is averaging 21 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game. She’s shooting 50% from beyond the arc, making 2.3 3-pointers per contest, and has also been aggressive on the attack and in transition.

Young has been consistent in her play since she opened the season with 23 points in a win over Seattle. Of all the guards, she was the easiest All-Star selection for me.

Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm

The Storm may be struggling, but Loyd certainly isn’t. She’s leading the WNBA with 26.2 points per game and leading Seattle with 3.7 assists per game. The 29-year-old guard is a prolific shot creator, and without Breanna Stewart in Seattle this season, she’s taken on a bigger scoring role. Last year, Loyd was one of the league’s top guards, averaging 16.3 points per game. This year, she’s increased that number by 10 points. So far, Loyd has recorded four 30-plus point games, including a career-high 39 in a 109-103 win over Dallas on June 17.

Chelsea Gray, Las Vegas Aces

Last season’s Finals MVP is picking up right where she left off. The Aces rank first in the league in scoring, and their offense starts with Gray. She leads the team and is third among all WNBA players with 6.3 assists per game. Gray can also create shots for herself, averaging 13.6 points per game. Of all those qualities, it’s the veteran’s efficient scoring that makes her stand out to me. Gray is making 51.8% of her 2-point shots, 51.2% of her 3-point shots and 92.3% of her free-throw attempts.

Allisha Gray, Atlanta Dream

After playing her first six seasons with the Dallas Wings, Gray is wasting no time establishing herself with the Dream. The guard is averaging 17.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, all of which are career-high marks. Gray is also an excellent on-ball defender, meaning she impacts nearly every aspect of the game for Atlanta.

Gray is aggressive when both driving to the rim and attacking the glass. She’s the third-best rebounder among guards in the WNBA and has recorded two double-doubles this season. This is the best season of Gray’s career, and she is certainly worthy of making her first All-Star appearance.

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Brittney Griner was playing at an All-Star level until she got hurt on June 13. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Forwards/centers

Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

I expected Griner to take some time getting reacclimated to the WNBA after she returned home in December from wrongful detainment in Russia, but that was not the case. She opened the season with 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the field and four blocked shots. Since then, the Mercury center has been consistent on both ends of the floor. She’s averaging 20.1 points per game, which is sixth in the league, and 2.5 blocks per game, which is first.

Until getting injured in an 83-69 loss to Seattle on June 13, when she played just nine minutes and scored two points, Griner had scored at least 18 points in every appearance.

Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun

Connecticut coach Stepahnie White calls Thomas the “most underrated superstar in the WNBA.” While Thomas may fly under the radar, her impact on the court cannot be overstated.

Thomas does everything for the Sun. She averages 14.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.1 steals per contest, leaving her just two assists shy of averaging a triple-double for the season. She recorded the fifth triple-double of her career on June 20, with 15 rebounds, 13 points and 12 assists in an 85-79 win over the Storm. Thomas is also efficient with her decision-making, averaging just three turnovers per contest.

Satou Sabally, Dallas Wings

Injuries plagued Sabally in the first few seasons of her career, but now the Oregon product is healthy and playing her best basketball. Sabally is a versatile scorer who, at 6-foot-4, can get points from inside or outside, off a post-up or off the dribble. She’s averaging 20 points (up from 11.3 last season), 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Sabally is one of just three players in the WNBA averaging a double-double on the season. The forward should be a shoe-in All-Star selection.

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks have battled injuries so far this season, but with different lineups nearly every night, Ogwumike has been the consistent bright spot. In her 12th season in the WNBA, Ogwumike is averaging a career-best 19.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, nearing a double-double. She is also averaging a career-high 3.6 assists per game, showing off her ability to read defenses and find open shooters. Ogwumike also has six double-doubles so far this season.

A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces

The reigning WNBA MVP has continued her dominance for the Aces, leading her team to a league leading 11-1 record so far. Wilson has led her team in either points or rebounds in 10 of those 12 games. She’s averaging 18.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest, while also making a difference on the defensive end with 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.

Wilson has been held to single-digit scoring just once this season, with eight in a win over Minnesota on June 18. But in that game, she proved her ability to impact the Aces in multiple ways, recording season-highs in rebounds (14) and blocks (four).

Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty

It’s taking the WNBA’s newest superteam time to develop chemistry, but through the growing pains, Stewart has been one of the league’s best players. In her first home game for the Liberty, Stewart recorded a double-double with 45 points and 12 rebounds, setting a new franchise record. She’s averaging a team-high 23.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.7 steals per game, while also dishing out four assists per game. Stewart is second in the WNBA in scoring and first in rebounding.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

No. 6 Iowa women’s basketball needed a bit of late-game magic Sunday against No. 6 Indiana. So the Hawkeyes decided to borrow from the best.

Trailing by 2 points with 1.5 seconds remaining, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder took a page out of the Las Vegas Aces’ WNBA championship playbook to set up Caitlin Clark’s game-winning buzzer-beater, which clinched an 86-85 win over the Hoosiers.

Clark received the in-bounds pass from teammate Kate Martin, then leaned to her right to send up the game-winning 3-pointer. Yet while the shot worked out for Clark and for Iowa, the star junior guard was not the first option on the play.

“That’s a play we work on every single day in practice,” Clark said after the game. “And to be honest, our first look was to get a layup at the rim.”

McKenna Warnock slipped into the lane for the would-be layup, but Indiana’s Sydney Parrish stuck with her, which left Clark’s long-range shot as the best option for the Hawkeyes.

The Aces used the same play in Game 3 of their WNBA semifinal series against the Seattle Storm in September, but in their case, the layup worked out.

Storm legend Sue Bird hit a 3-pointer to put her team ahead by 2 points with less than 2.9 seconds remaining. Then 2022 Most Improved Player Jackie Young scored a layup as time expired to push the game to overtime, and the Aces took over from there. Las Vegas grabbed a 110-98 win in overtime, then wrapped up the series in Game 4 and went on to win their first WNBA title.

Jackie Young won the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award after a career year for the Las Vegas Aces.

The No. 1 pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, Young averaged a career-high 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals for the Aces this season as she helped the team clinch the top seed in the WNBA playoffs.

The guard earned an All-Star roster spot for the first time in her career. She also improved her 3-point percentage from 25% in 2021 to 43.1% in 2022, and she ranked 14th in the NBA with 3.9 assists per game.

Young received 32 of 56 votes for the award from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu finished in second place with 10 votes, while Phoenix Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham received seven votes.

Aces guard Kelsey Plum, Dallas Wings center Teaira McCowan, Seattle Storm forward Gabby Williams and Liberty center Han Xu also received votes.

Young joins her coach Becky Hammon in garnering national recognition. Hammon received Coach of the Year honors for leading the Aces to a 26-10 record in her first season at the helm.

The Aces dropped the first game of their WNBA semifinals series against the Seattle Storm, but they’ll get back on the court at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday for Game 2.

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at backyard barbecue? That’s the kind of vibe I’m aiming for with And One — a new regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions with a WNBA player. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the athletes of the WNBA a little bit better.

When I first connected with Jackie Young for the inaugural edition of And One, she was calling from the Las Vegas Aces team bus. The team was heading from the airport to a hotel in the midst of a WNBA whirlwind travel day, and the background chatter was boisterous and loud. A’ja Wilson’s signature laugh stood out from the rest. Young laughed in amusement — we could barely hear each other — before calmly finding a different seat, closer to the front of the bus and away from the merriment.

I couldn’t help but think how such a simple move actually mirrored Young’s basketball game: calmly and confidently finding an open space to take a shot, and nailing it seamlessly.

In Young’s first WNBA season, after she went No. 1 overall to the Aces in the 2019 draft, she averaged 22 minutes and six points per game. Over the course of her four-year career, Young’s game has evolved in every facet. She has developed a deadly midrange jumper, improved her shot and extended her range. But perhaps the biggest evolution has been Young’s on-court confidence.

This season, under first-year head coach (and longtime NBA assistant for the San Antonio Spurs) Becky Hammon, Young has emerged as one of the top players in the WNBA. Though sidelined recently with an ankle injury, she’s averaging 32 minutes and 19.2 points per game on 54 percent shooting (45.7 percent from 3), making her a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player and even league MVP.

We talked about all of this and more in the first And One.

1. Why does Becky Hammon’s run-and-gun system fit this team so well?

I think we just have a lot of talented players on offense, so everybody’s pretty unselfish. Since training camp started, we knew what she wanted from us, and that’s just being unselfish, making the extra pass, making the right play. So, I think that’s why it’s been fun to play for her and it’s been fun for fans to watch.

2. How have you individually been able to thrive under Hammon?

I’ve just been able to play my game, be confident, be aggressive and just take the open shots. I think it extended my range out to the 3 and actually taking the wide open ones that I’m getting. I think that’s the biggest thing — just make sure I’m taking the shot.

3. You have consistently improved in every statistical category as a player since you entered the league. What have you worked on specifically over the past few years to make your game better?

A lot. When I first got into the league, it was developing a midrange game. I’ve been able to get to the basket my whole life, but when I got into the league I was like, OK, there’s people that are 6-8 here and they’re big defenders, good defenders. So, I had to just expand [my game], and with Bill [Laimbeer]’s offense, a midrange game suited me and us, really. I developed that my second and third year. Going into my fourth year, I knew I needed to work on my 3. I knew, to become the player I wanted to be, I had to have a 3 ball. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that and working on myself so I’d be confident to shoot whenever I did get it.

4. How has your confidence grown?

Just doing a lot of work. My teammates always had faith and confidence in me. I just had to have the same trust in myself, just working on myself off the court. Still putting in a lot of work on the court, but just making sure I was good mentally was the biggest thing. Once I saw my mindset change, I was just thinking better, feeling better, and I started playing better.

5. This Aces team always looks as though it’s having fun out there. How has team chemistry impacted that?

Yeah, I mean, it’s so much fun. I think it shows. We’re all friends on and off the court. I think that’s what makes us so good when we do step on the court. I think it’s just making sure that there’s a balance. When we come to work, we know we have to get the job done. But at the same time, we’re gonna be joking around and stuff whenever the time fits.

6. What’s something WNBA fans would be surprised to learn about you?

I have a street named after me back home in Princeton, Indiana — Jackie Young Way. That happened when I was in high school, I want to say. It’s the street turning into the high school.

7. What’s your favorite non-basketball thing to do?

Honestly, I just like to hang out with my friends and family. Just chill and honestly, watch basketball (laughs). Or go shopping.

8. If you weren’t a professional basketball player, what would you be doing?

Ooooh. I mean, I was a high jumper in high school for a little bit. I ran track. So, I probably could be doing that or, I don’t know. Maybe I should have tried tennis? I love watching tennis.

9. What’s your go-to pregame warm up song?

I don’t really have any. We have music in the locker room, but I don’t really have my headphones in. I just like to get ready for the game, watching film and reading the scout [report]. Stuff like that to get my mind right.

10. Who’s the biggest jokester on the Aces and why?

Probably Sydney Colson. I feel like she’s just always saying something funny, almost at the wrong time so that it just, like, really stands out, you know? Her Instagram is pretty funny.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Nearly two and a half weeks into the WNBA season, we are getting more clarity on the makeup of the league. Key players returned to their teams in the past week, like Kayla McBride to Minnesota and Kahleah Copper to Chicago, giving us a better understanding of how those sides will look closer to 100 percent.

We’re also seeing a clearer separation between the consistent rosters — Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky — and the organizations that are still figuring out their team dynamics — Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury.

Here are my biggest takeaways from the past week of WNBA action.

Jackie Young is playing like an MVP and MIP

I have always considered Jackie Young to be the X-factor for the Aces with the way she can impact the game offensively and defensively. Young is playing the best and most efficient basketball of her career so far this season, leading the 7-1 Aces in scoring and sitting third in the league with 19.3 points per game.

The 6-foot guard, with her quiet demeanor, often flies under the radar on a flashy Las Vegas team, and what she does on the floor does not always show up on the stat sheet. But when you look at the numbers, Young has cemented herself as a focal point of an offense that’s thriving under first-year head coach Becky Hammon.

One of the biggest differences with Young’s play in her fourth WNBA season is her production from beyond the 3-point line. Prior to this year, her offensive game centered on getting into the paint and creating shots closer to the rim. She averaged under one 3-point attempt a game a year ago. Now, she’s showing off an expanded skill set and a scorer’s mentality, with the confidence to be a major threat from the perimeter.

2021 vs. 2022 Stats

Scoring: 12.2 — 19.3
3-point %: 25 — 50.0
3-point attempts: 0.6 — 3.0
FG %: 50.5 — 56.4
Assists: 3.2 — 3.9
Steals: 1.1 — 1.8
Minutes: 31.8 — 33.4
FG attempts: 9.6 — 11.8

Young’s offensive evolution is evident when looking at her shot chart in the Aces’ 93-87 win over the Lynx last week versus one from a game against the Lynx last season. On Thursday, she finished with a season-high 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field and 3-for-5 from the 3-point line.

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The Connecticut Sun haven’t skipped a beat

The Sun dropped their first game against the New York Liberty without Courtney Williams and DeWanna Bonner but have been rolling ever since, winning their last four in a row to move into second place in the WNBA standings.

With their roster now fully intact, the Sun are showing how hungry they are for their first championship. For Connecticut, it always starts with discipline on the defensive end of the floor. The Sun lead the league with 11.6 steals per game and a 90.5 defensive rating, and they are holding their opponents to a league-low 72.2 points per game.

While their stingy defense has become their identity, the Sun’s offensive production through five games impresses me the most. Playing at a much faster pace this season, Connecticut leads the league with 27.4 points per game off turnovers and is second with 86.8 points per game. They also lead the league with 11.4 offensive boards per game and are second with 14 second-chance points a game, indicating how important it is for their half-court execution to score in transition.

The Sun have a wealth of weapons who can go off on any given night, but much of the offensive firepower we are seeing early on can be attributed to Alyssa Thomas. Returning at full strength this season after having surgery on a torn Achilles tendon last year, Thomas currently leads Connecticut with 19 points per game and is shooting a career-best 60.7 percent from the field. Thomas’ reemergence combined with Courtney Williams’ return to Connecticut have helped the Sun thwart their opponents with an up-tempo game.

Here is a look at the Sun’s production in a few key areas this season compared to last.

2021 vs. 2022 Stats

Points per game: 79.7 (8th) — 86.8 (2nd)
Offensive rebounds: 9.7 (3rd) — 11.4 (1st)
3-point %: 35.7 (4th) — 39.3 (2nd)
FG %: 44.4 (5th) — 45.1 (4th)
Steals: 7.8 (3rd) — 11.6 (1st)

Play of the week

Kayla McBride had been in the U.S. for less than 32 hours after flying from Istanbul to Los Angeles to join the Lynx for tipoff against the Sparks last Tuesday. McBride exploded for 24 points, going 4-for-7 from the 3-point line to lead the Lynx to their first win of the season. This was the final play drawn up for McBride in a timeout that ultimately put Minnesota ahead by three.

The Lynx executed this action to near perfection, and McBride did a great job of reading the handoff. Depending on how Brittney Sykes and Nneka Ogwumike defended it, Minnesota had several quick options out of the action.

Option 1: Dribble handoff to drive or open pass. Option 2: McBride reads how the defense is playing them and can flare back for an open look. Option 3: If the defense over-commits to McBride, Shepard might be able to face up and attack off the dribble herself, draw the defense and potentially kick it to open shooters.

Ultimately, Sykes and Ogwumike hesitated for a brief second when Shepard had the ball, leaving McBride with an open cut to the rim. She handled the pass and finished a reverse layup to avoid a trailing Sykes block.

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Week 3 Power Rankings

  1. Las Vegas Aces (7-1) +1
  2. Connecticut Sun (4-1) +2
  3. Chicago Sky (3-2) —
  4. Washington Mystics (5-2) -3
  5. Seattle Storm (3-3) +4
  6. Dallas Wings (4-2) +1
  7. Atlanta Dream (4-2) -2
  8. Phoenix Mercury (2-4) -2
  9. Minnesota Lynx (1-6) +3
  10. Los Angeles Sparks (2-5) -2
  11. New York Liberty (1-4) —
  12. Indiana Fever (2-6) -2

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.