A’ja Wilson is fulfilling Dawn Staley’s prophecy — Talking Dallas Wings with Arie Graham

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 10, 2024

Happy Basketball Wednesday, presented by The BIG EAST Conference. It’s been the kind of year for A’ja Wilson no one other than Dawn Staley could have seen coming.

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Back in the fall of 2017, I asked Staley as we sat at a preseason women’s basketball media day what her goal was for Wilson as the two of them embarked on Wilson’s senior season at South Carolina. Staley said that day that the model for Wilson was Candace Parker.

I keep thinking about that here, in a season that somehow both models and exceeds what Parker did in the league. Because I am not sure Parker, or anyone else, has played at the level Wilson is right now.

In her first 12 games of 2024, Wilson was asked to do even more than she’d done in 2023, leading the Aces to a championship, due to the absence of Chelsea Gray. This is where the Parker comps were particularly relevant — Parker herself had served at times as a primary playmaker for the Los Angeles Sparks, and the amount of work Wilson was doing as a facilitator, even as she was asked to score more, should have led to a tradeoff between efficiency and volume.

Instead, in the 12 games Gray missed, Wilson shot .517/.438/.856, averaging 28 points, 11.5 rebounds, and north of two assists, two blocks and 1.7 steals per game. Since Gray returned? Not only is Las Vegas 7-1 — sorry, make that 8-1, their win over Seattle just went final — but she increased her field goal percentage to 54.1 percent overall, and improved her assists, blocks and steals numbers.

Her turnover percentage entering Wednesday is a minuscule 6.8 percent — put another way, she’s taken on more, yet is making fewer mistakes than even she does typically, with a career mark of 8.3 percent. That’s good for second all-time in WNBA history, behind only Elena Delle Donne. Now she’s protecting the ball like Delle Donne, too.

I haven’t run the numbers out of the Seattle game yet, but: Wilson’s got 20 rebounds. So you’re probably not looking at a game that’s going to take away from the 2024 season she’s having.

But the Delle Donne comparison is apt, too, because there have been stretches in which EDD was the most dominant player on the planet. But I’m not sure she’s ever had a stretch like A’ja Wilson’s 2024, which is now more than half of the entire season.

Stathead Stat of the Week

A’ja Wilson has 540 points through the first 20 games of the season. That’s the most points any WNBA player has scored in the first 20 games of any season.

Stathead is your all-access pass to the Basketball and College Basketball Reference databases. Our discovery tools are built for women’s basketball fans like you. Answer your questions in a matter of seconds.

Wilson’s true shooting percentage is now north of 60 percent for the second straight season, all while playing a maximum number of playoff games in a title run, rebounding and defending as well as anyone in the league in the process.

Candace Parker’s best true shooting percentage game in 2011, at 59.2 percent. Her assist percentage that season was 17.1, her rebounding percentage 16.1 percent, her block percentage 3.9 percent. Wilson in 2024? Assist percentage 16.4, rebounding percentage 18.4, block percentage 6.7 entering Wednesday’s games. Those would all be career highs if she sustained that over a full season.

I don’t really know how else to say it: Dawn Staley was right. But if anything, she may have understated it. A’ja Wilson 2024 is somehow doing things in the shape of Candace Parker’s production, but at a higher level than Parker or even Wilson herself ever managed to do it.

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This week in women’s basketball

Lucas Kaplan on the Liberty offense is well worth your time.

Aw man, this is the stuff: Ari Chambers in The Cut.

Alexa Philippou on Angel Reese’s double-double record is well worth your time.

So is Matthew Walter on A’ja Wilson setting the all-time Aces scoring mark.

A triple-double as a rookie seems good.

Cassandra Negley’s got your all star snubs. (Alanna Smith particularly stands out!)

Jackie Powell on Ellie the Elephant, obviously.

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Five at The IX: Arie Graham on Dallas Wings

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Written by Howard Megdal

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