The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, September 2, 2020
Dearica Hamby, indispensable Bill Laimbeer puzzle piece — Must-click women's basketball links — Interview with Bill Laimbeer
(Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.
Those of you who are our satisfied subscribers, tell the world! We are grateful for your support. And we have a discount code below you can share with those who would love The IX as much as you do. New subscribers this week can even win this Portland Thorns jersey!
Our ask today: can you share The IX on Facebook or Twitter, and tag us? We don’t have a huge conglomerate behind us, so it’s up to you to help us spread the word! Thank you for making sure that whatever happens next, women’s sports coverage always has a home.)
Dearica Hamby is more than a Sixth Woman
Last year, Dearica Hamby of the Las Vegas Aces won the 2019 Sixth Woman of the Year Award. She’s the runaway leader to win the award again in 2020.
That’s a bit surprising, since the Aces are missing Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum. The general belief was that we’d see Hamby in the starting lineup, given her ability and the more modern configuration that follows naturally from, say, a lineup with A’ja Wilson at the five and Hamby at the 4.
But Bill Laimbeer is insistent that Wilson is a four, just as he did with Tina Charles in New York, and so he explained that Hamby “plays the same position as A’ja Wilson” when asked about Hamby’s role.
“She can just keep running, keep running, keep running,” Aces guard Lindsay Allen said of Hamby. Laimbeer said much the same thing, focusing on her motor that can go for 40 minutes.
Which brings us to what she’s doing, coming off the bench. She’s averaging 27.9 minutes per game, which would be the biggest workload of any Sixth Woman of the Year in WNBA history.
She’s eighth in the league in win shares entering tonight’s game, second on the Aces in minutes played, and fourth in the league in effective field goal percentage among the 38 players with at least 400 minutes played this season. All 37 others have started at least nine games.
To Hamby, the Sixth Woman moniker does apply to her, and she defines it differently than playing less than others.
“I’m pretty much [playing] starter minutes,” Hamby told The IX this week. “[I have] starting mentality, I just feel like, for me, Sixth Woman embodies something different. I think that it’s the player that does the little things, whatever it takes for the team to win. They bring energy. They do the things that they may not get really recognized for. So I take pride in that aspect. Sixth Woman, and I love it.”
And this is what Laimbeer does. It is as central to his identity as a coach as it is to go big or go home (and he’s seldom among the first to do that, his teams keep on making the playoffs) to keep some of his best players in reserve, to batter opponents with waves, rather than all at once.
He noted his former teammate Vinnie Johnson — my go-to reference for quick offense off the bench to this day as well, though Vinnie somehow never won the award — and said it speaks to his best skill as a coach.
“I think that you find combinations and and you find patterns and locations,” Laimbeer said of his lineup alchemy. “But I’m a big rotation person. Everybody knows when they’re coming in again… it’s what I do best. And in all my coaching years of all the years I do best at rotation of players. X’s and O’s, I do a little bit of that, but that’s the assistants’ job, they go work their asses off on that stuff, and I’ll take all the credit. What I do best is is manage rotations, and the players appreciate that.”
You can find players who fit that bill — starter minutes, no starts — on just about every Laimbeer team, from Kiah Stokes in 2016 to Plenette Pierson in 2007. As you can see, it tends to be a big, someone who can come in and outwork opponents, someone young and tough.
That’s Hamby, though that’s not entirely Hamby, who has turned into one of the best offensive players in the league, simultaneously the elite rebounder and floor spacer at once. Hamby told me Laimbeer has given her the green light to shoot it from anywhere, which it is safe to say he didn’t give to, for example, 2016 Stokes.
It’s enough to turn a Las Vegas team with the twin engines of A’ja Wilson and Angel McCoughtry into a legitimate title contender. Laimbeer has figured it out. But it sure helps when one of his bench players can do it all, and play all night.
This week in women’s basketball
Katie Davidson shares this raw moment with Cheryl Reeve.
Maggie Mertens takes a more macro look at the current WNBA moment.
Zoe Vernon created a tool to compare NBA teams, statistically, to WNBA teams in style and efficiency.
Erica L. Ayala with the reminder, the WNBA came first on everything the NBA now gets credit for doing.
Good tick-tock from PJ Brown on how Lauren Ware chose basketball over volleyball.
Chasing Perfection talks over the news of the Big East tournament heading to Mohegan.
And I wrote about Courtney Vandersloot’s four-year reign of terror for FiveThirtyEight.
The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom
Introducing The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
Tweet of the week
Five at The IX: Dearica Hamby
Let’s hear more from Dearica. Click on her picture to listen!