Is it time for more of the Aces’ big lineup?
Dearica Hamby has given the Las Vegas Aces a big lift off the bench this season behind starting bigs A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage. But could playing all three together more often become a viable long-term goal for Bill Laimbeer and the Aces?
The trio has played together twice this season, closing out a road win in Minnesota against the Lynx and Tuesday’s home win over the Seattle Storm.
The Aces outscored the Lynx 16-3 in nearly five minutes with all three bigs on the floor and outscored the Storm by four in the final three minutes on Tuesday night.
Hamby has been in Laimbeer’s ear to give her more of an extended look in that role. The (very) early returns have been promising.
“I’ve been waiting for that moment to happen, honestly,” Hamby told High Post Hoops after a recent practice. “I’ve been in Bill’s ear, ‘Coach, let me play the 3!'”
The big lineup opens more minutes up for Hamby, who the team re-signed to a multi-year deal this past offseason as a restricted free agent.
Acquiring Cambage prior to the start of the season meant the pool of available frontcourt minutes would dry up, even for a reserve as important as Hamby.
Pencil both Cambage and Wilson in for 30-ish minutes—sometimes more—per night in any competitive game. Even in a perfect world with a tidy stagger featuring those three, Laimbeer will struggle at times to find 15 to 20 minutes for his top reserve.
“Last year I could get a lot of my minutes at the 4,” she said. “And now with Liz and A’ja at the post position, I think we’re gonna have to find a way to get my energy consistently. If that’s at the 3, then I’m okay with that.”
The defensive end of the floor is hardly a concern for Hamby in that alignment. She closes down space well and can chase guards and wings on the perimeter. Offensively, the playbook may look much different. But Hamby is confident in her ability to make it work.
“We kept it kind of simple, but we have plays that are meant to be for the bigger guards like [Tamera Young] and Jackie [Young] if there’s a mismatch. I know those plays and we have a system.
“At the end of the day, they all run back to the same thing and I can sit in the corner sometimes. It works out. I think if we were to use this solution long-term, I think it’d be good. I can guard guards but a lot of guards can’t guard post players, so we’ll see.”
Hamby’s energy and stellar transition play has been so much more than a luxury. It’s been necessary for the Aces, still trying to strike a better balance with all of their weapons.
“[Laimbeer] can put me anywhere and I’d fit in fine with my athleticism,” Hamby added. “I’m working on hitting my shot a little more consistently. I’m confident with that. And that way I can play the 3 more to help space the floor for A’ja and Liz. If we have three post players, that gives us tremendous upside on the glass, and I can guard 1 through 5.”
Best of all, post players know where and how to deliver entry passes—a bit of a struggle for the Aces early this season—to other post players, right?
“We make jokes like that,” Hamby said. “We’ve turned the ball over a little bit trying to get the ball into the post. I think a lot of that had to do with me just being a lot bigger than the other player and being able to see right over her head. Guards are usually thinking low. Post players usually want the ball up high, especially for someone of Liz’s size.”
The biggest question facing Hamby and the viability of a higher dosage of this three-big lineup may come down to her spot-up shooting. She missed her first nine 3-pointers of the 2019 season then made her next five. She shot 13-of-45 last season, setting a career-high in both makes and attempts.
Cambage and Wilson won’t have trouble drawing double teams in any matchup this season. Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum are knock-down 3-point shooters. Who will step up as the Aces’ fifth scoring threat?
Jackie Young is still working to pick her spots and step into open looks with confidence. Tamera Young started at the 3 spot last year, but isn’t much of a threat from deep, either. Sugar Rodgers is, but different questions would come into play on the other end against some of the league’s bigger wing scorers.
Hamby understands the importance of proving that she’s a threat from the perimeter. She doesn’t get many chances to sharpen that part of her game, though, when she plays overseas.
“I think I have to do a better job of working on it on my own,” she said. “But it is tough, especially coming from overseas where you’re block to block because you’re just bigger than everybody. Naturally, I’m strictly a post player overseas and then I come back.
“If you’re not hitting it in games, that’s when it matters. It’s hard to get in a flow. I don’t like to come in and just shoot the first shot I get. I like to score off transition, play off my energy first. And then I’m more confident with taking those shots.”
If those shots continue to fall for Hamby, the Aces will have a very potent lineup at their disposal. She gives them such a boost defensively, on the glass and in transition. Another big player on the floor will also force opposing guards into more mismatches, which could open more doors for Plum and McBride to get loose from deep.
“A few teams wanna switch pick and rolls. Naturally, everybody wants to switch. If you have the right parts, it creates a lot of havoc on defense, but with us, I think we have so much size. If you switch, who do you help from?”
That’s a tough question to answer. The Aces play the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday, the team many expected to find success with a three-big lineup.
Now is the time for the Aces, who then play their next three games at home, to jell. And Hamby, juggling two hats as backup big and sometimes-wing, just might represent their best path forward in doing so.
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