Season Preview: The Las Vegas Aces are improved, but are they ready to contend?


The Aces are bringing excitement to Las Vegas, and success should soon follow.

A team in a new city needs a reason to get fans to the arena. To start building a fanbase. To get people excited about following the team for years to come.

Even if the Las Vegas Aces don’t win a ton of games, they should be able to generate interest in their new home.

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Last year, as the San Antonio Stars, they went just 8-26. But the roster had some promise and after an offseason highlighted by the addition of rookie A’Ja Wilson, there’s no reason to think the Aces can’t be much more competitive.

It’s been a youth movement for sure in Vegas. The core of their team figures to be made almost entirely of high draft picks over the last five years:

2018: Wilson (No. 1 overall)
2017: Kelsey Plum (No. 1), Nia Coffey (No. 5)
2016: Moriah Jefferson (No. 2)
2015: Dearica Hamby (No. 6)

The team seems to have been put together with purpose, assembled so that the undeniably talented pieces can complement each other and grow in time to a cohesive unit. Here’s a quick look at the team…

Key Additions: A’ja Wilson, Morgan William, Kelsey Bone, Carolyn Swords, Tamera Young
Key losses: Kayla Alexander, Alex Montgomery

The Backcourt

If it all works out, it will be leading returning scorer Kayla McBride along with Jefferson and Plum anchoring the backcourt.

McBride posted 14.5 points per game last year and started 29 of the 30 games she played in. That’s the good part. On the other hand, for the team’s leading scorer, she was inefficient in doing so. She shot 38 percent from the field and had an effective field goal percentage of 41.9. Not awful numbers by any means, but not what you’re looking for from your leading scorer.

That leaves Jefferson and Plum. Jefferson, despite coming to the team with a little less fanfare than Plum, may be the key to the whole thing. After a strong rookie year, she started only nine games last season and was inconsistent offensively, though she was still a double-digit scorer and led the team in assists per game. If she can return from injury and mesh immediately with the newcomers — Wilson in particular — then the Aces will be in good shape.

The problem comes with trying to figure out what to expect from Plum. It sounds weird, I know. Plum is insanely talented and is the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer. She earned her spot as the No. 1 overall pick last year. But her rookie season was hampered by injuries and a bizarre lack of playing time. When she was on the court, however, Plum made a difference:

This year, it will be interesting to see how Plum actually works into the fold. Bill Laimbeer is now the head coach, but Vickie Johnson is an assistant on his staff. Johnson was the head coach last year and took heat for her distrust in Plum.

The frontcourt

Up front, all eyes will be on Wilson. With Isabelle Harrison out for the time being for personal reasons, Wilson is the only frontcourt player for the Aces whose role is clearly defined.

She’s ready for it.

The national champion was dominant inside for South Carolina, averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds a game. Wilson is smart, can pass, and can finish, and she has the makings to be the league’s next great big, with Laimbeer planning to play her mostly at the four. Might there be an adjustment period for her? Sure. But the Aces are incredibly young and should be ready to deal with growing pains from her and the other young players as they try and build up a contender for years to come.

Dearica Hamby, who came off the bench last year to play a huge role after being a starter in 2016, should also have a major impact. Depending on what happens with Harrison, Hamby may begin the season starting alongside Wilson. If not her, then perhaps Tamera Young, who came over from the Dream via free agency. Young is a veteran who played about 25 minutes per game last year, averaging eight points and three boards.

Regardless of what Young’s minutes look like, her and Carolyn Swords (provided she makes the team) will be veteran presences on this exceedingly young team. Also watch out for Kelsey Bone and Nia Coffey in the frontcourt. Laimbeer has himself a ton of talent and too few spots to fill the final roster, which should make the rest of training camp intriguing to watch.


Listen, the Aces went 8-26 last year. Laimbeer is a great coach but he’s not a miracle worker. The team is undeniably better, particularly with Wilson in the fold. With the WNBA structure as it is, you don’t have to be a great team to make it. The Aces may find themselves in the conversation for the eight seed longer than you think, before ultimately falling short.