The Athletic has live coverage of the WNBA Finals featuring the Las Vegas Aces against the New York Liberty.
In SuperSquads, the Athletics trail the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces in their quest to win the WNBA Championship. Our reporters examine the stories of players from two of the most star-studded teams in league history and how their paths will shape the future of the WNBA.
LAS VEGAS – With less than a minute to play in the first game of the WNBA semifinals, the Las Vegas Aces led the Dallas Wings by 17 points. With a comfortable win in hand for the defending champions, Aja Wilson tried to steal an inbounds pass from Crystal Dangerfield, and her rush sent her out of bounds. She has to jump court seats to avoid falling.
After avoiding danger, Wilson gave a quick response to her fans behind the bench before returning to the floor, where she was greeted with laughter by Kelsey Plum and Alisha Clarke, but given a stern word from Chelsea Gray. He leaves for the rest of the afternoon.
On a day that showed Wilson at his best on the basketball court, that moment encapsulates what makes the superstar so great for the Aces and the league: No one plays more and no one has more than the two-time MVP. Have fun while you do it.
Chelsea says she respects the pace but hey sit down 😂@cgray209 // @_ajawilson22 pic.twitter.com/XAmdVh0SfD
— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) September 25, 2023
In the year There’s no reason Wilson can’t have fun in 2023. In a year Sunday, he was another guiding force. She started the game with a bucket on one end and a block on the other to go with 34 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two steals. Las Vegas won 34 minutes by 26 points and lost the remaining six minutes by 14. The game ended with Wilson receiving her second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award, but every performance of Wilson showed that she is the best player of the tournament. The game – season.
“She does everything,” says teammate Jackie Young. “She can score at all three levels, she defends for us. She can guard everyone from one to five, and she brings it every night. She’s a leader for this team. We all believe in her and get off on her.”
Wilson began the season by heading to Australia for a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, earning MVP honors in the process. In addition to the best defense in the regular season, she also ran the WNBA’s best offense. She put together the best statistical campaign of her WNBA career, posting career bests in points, rebounds and game averages and her highest shooting percentage in six seasons. Despite playing the 24th-most minutes per game in the WNBA, reaching those levels has left the Aces without much to spare.
The 3-pointer has been missing from her arsenal somewhat this season, but Wilson has been her bread and butter. No matter where she brings the ball to the arc, she has expanded her forehand game to drive to the basket, improving with both her left and right hands. She also stays on target with her mid-range jumper — connecting on 53.4 percent of those attempts, which is better than the league average of 36.6.
“She looked very comfortable,” Mystics coach Eric Thibault said of Wilson’s then-high 40 points, including a 3-pointer against Washington. “The numbers she puts in and everything doesn’t seem forced, it doesn’t seem rushed. She plays with her time and her time. He doesn’t force her. You don’t take too many bad shots. And I think that’s one thing about the great players in our league — she’s obviously on that team — you don’t feel like you can out-speed them. You don’t think you can upset them, and she seems very calm.”
Aja Wilson 50 ball 🔥
53 PTS7 REB20/21 FT4 BLK
SHEESH (via @WNBA) pic.twitter.com/Xz5ZetaoOx
— Overtime (@overtime) August 23, 2023
When Wilson is on the court, she achieves her highest level of effort every game, forcing everyone to match that intensity. Becky Hammon lets her teammates train hard because she wants to continue to grow as a player and leader.
“We all talk about her and her talent and the way she plays the game, but I don’t think we talk enough about her effort,” Plum said. “I think she plays harder than anyone else. When you have a superstar who always plays hard, it’s never off guard.
Plum, who was Wilson’s teammate for six WNBA seasons, thinks Wilson’s efforts are a sign of her selflessness. Wilson plays hard on both sides of the ball, not expecting easy matchups on one end to focus on the other. Even if she doesn’t touch the ball, she runs the floor hard in transition because it opens up 3-pointers for her teammates. Wilson doesn’t call for extra plays to score, but rather works within the flow of the offense. Aces veteran Candace Parker says Wilson is the best she’s ever seen doing theater.
That quality extends Wilson’s courtship. She signed an extension that was below the highest she could get in free agency (below the supermax) to keep the Las Vegas major in the position. Kiah gave Stokes credit for winning Player of the Year and brought Stokes up to the stage to accept the award, allowing her front court partner to play with the trophy.
Aja Wilson accepts the @WNBA DPOY award pic.twitter.com/jqBXK0yGDz
— espnW (@espnW) September 24, 2023
“She’s an unselfish superstar, and we don’t appreciate that quality very often,” Plum said. “It’s nice to play with someone who is competitive and has no ego and wants to win. And you see, wherever she goes, she wins.
Winning makes it easier for Wilson to have a good time while competing. As a third-time All-Star captain, she can joke about curfews or mishandling water supplies on weekends. Hammon calls it active in the locker room as she pours energy into her teammates. Alaina Coates, who played with Wilson on the youth team and in South Carolina before joining the Aces in August, said Wilson is the same old golf ball.
The schedule is up because Wilson has designs on being an all-time great. Just as she is not playing by the outcome of the game, she is running her own race to leave a legacy.
“Of course it’s entertainment, but this is my job,” Wilson said. That’s what I do, and the last thing I want to do is disrespect the game and be complacent about who I am and where I’m at in my career.
She wants to continue to grow the fan base of women’s basketball in Las Vegas. As a rookie, Wilson could sneak into a target unnoticed, and now people cheer her on and show off their Aces gear when they see her. But there is more room to grow.
Since she doesn’t play overseas, Wilson looks to Parker as a role model in building her business off the court. Like Parker, Wilson is now in the national spotlight, and has written a book to be published on the 2024 season. She wants to be a role model for young black girls and children with dyslexia. Because the deck was stacked against her as a child, she feels uniquely positioned to help her readers and fans be proud of who they truly are.
While she’s proud of who she is, that doesn’t mean Wilson is satisfied with the accolades she’s received so far. She doesn’t fully embrace the “super team” moniker and is hesitant to compare herself to the all-time greats because she hasn’t won enough yet. She told the media that she won’t consider the Aces super in the NBA until they surpass Bill Russell’s Celtics.
That means there is a lot of work to be done. Learning more about the game, more teammates to grow with, and more obstacles to overcome.
Considering the fire she brings every time she steps on the court, it would be foolish to resist Wilson fulfilling those goals. She chases her goals like she chases an errant pass out of bounds. No one will outpace Wilson on her path, and a WNBA title in 2022 will give her no peace on her journey.
“I want another one, I’m greedy,” Wilson said. “I’m a pretty glutton. I mean, I’d give anyone the shirt off my back, but I’m greedy when it comes to my career and my legacy. I want them all.
She is five wins away from the next stage.
(Image: Ray Orr/The Athletic; Photo of Aja Wilson: Jeff Bottari/NBA via Getty Images)
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