What we know, and don’t, about the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces now — Must-click women’s basketball links — Greg Bibb talks Wings
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Aug. 16, 2023
Happy Basketball Wednesday! Following Tuesday night’s Commissioner’s Cup win, we don’t know anything definitive on how the 2023 WNBA season will turn out for either the New York Liberty or the Las Vegas Aces. But we do have a better sense, combining this result with the one earlier this month at Barclays Center, of what the floor and ceiling for each of these teams are, and what will determine the 2023 WNBA championship aspirations for each.
Back before the season, I described the Liberty as having “the Noah’s Ark of rosters” — that is to say, two of everything. And we saw why that matters so much over these past two games.
The Las Vegas Aces are supremely talented. But they simply don’t have a fallback plan for battling New York on the boards without Candace Parker, whose timeline for returning is still unknown. They have an MVP candidate in A’ja Wilson, but no fallback plan on nights she shoots 2-for-10 (as she did on Tuesday) or 2-for-14 (as she did back on August 6). They have a knockdown shooter to come off the bench in Riquna Williams, but no fallback plan for her now that she’s in limbo once again over domestic violence charges. And perhaps most concerning, they have a head coach in Becky Hammon who is a Gregg Popovich acolyte, a coach who pioneered minutes regulation for his stars in the NBA, yet all four of her biggest contributors are north of 30 minutes per game, while she hasn’t developed confidence in most of her bench. (By contrast, look at the minute distribution Cheryl Reeve utilized for the 2011 Lynx. Not one player north of 30 minutes per game.)
That mattered less last year, when there wasn’t a team built like the Liberty to exploit this. But as we saw again Tuesday, New York has a fallback plan for everything.
Breanna Stewart is suffering an off night from the field, shooting just 4-for-16? No problem, the Liberty have another recent MVP in Jonquel Jones to pick up the scoring slack. Sabrina Ionescu is slow to find the shooting form that buried the Aces back on August 6? No problem, Courtney Vandersloot is around to provide a double-double. Betnijah Laney, who killed the Aces on August 6, struggles to find her shot Tuesday night? No problem, Marine Johannès is there to bury four threes, and Kayla Thornton probably decided the game with her two threes late in the third quarter.
You’re not supposed to have backup plans for any of these players. The Liberty can deploy them for everyone.
None of this means the 2023 WNBA title is settled, any more than it was back in May, when the Liberty were still struggling to figure things out and the Aces were fully intact. Jonquel Jones’ offense may be the difference-maker when Stewart is struggling, but we don’t know yet whether Stefanie Dolson and Han Xu can be the necessary Plan Bs in the event Jones gets into foul trouble down low. And Parker may yet return and loom large when it matters most.
But if only one scenario ultimately matters when it comes to winning a WNBA title, the best way to evaluate what is likeliest is by measuring which team has the most paths to that one scenario. And it is clear, after Tuesday night, that more of those paths run through New York.
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