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

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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.

Cheryl also shared her thoughts on her latest podcast.

Bailey Johnson on the difficult night for the Atlanta Dream.

Candace Parker writes about women’s suffrage in TIME.

Natasha Cloud discussed her thoughts on the week.

Maggie Mertens takes a more macro look at the current WNBA moment.

Terrika Foster-Brasby profiles Chennedy Carter.

Lindsay Gibbs captured the week in WNBA.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo caught up with Ticha Penicheiro.

Larry Stone goes in-depth on Dan Hughes’ summer away.

Zoe Vernon created a tool to compare NBA teams, statistically, to WNBA teams in style and efficiency.

Good look at the week in WNBA from Chantel Jennings.

Erica L. Ayala with the reminder, the WNBA came first on everything the NBA now gets credit for doing.

The 19th News caught up with Renee Montgomery.

Breanna Stewart appeared on the Just Women’s Sports podcast.

“Plan P” as Paige Bueckers’ nickname sure works for me.

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.

Loved this from Dorothy Gentry on Arike Ogunbowale.

Pepper Persley’s latest pod is with Tianna Hawkins.

And I wrote about Courtney Vandersloot’s four-year reign of terror for FiveThirtyEight.

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Five at The IX: Dearica Hamby

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Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.