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August 19, 2019

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18 questions for Aces’ first season in Las Vegas

A'ja Wilson

Jessica Hill / AP

In this Feb. 13, 2017, file photo, South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, top, is guarded by Connecticut’s Saniya Chong (12) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn.

With the Las Vegas Aces’ season set to tip off on Sunday against the Connecticut Sun, let’s answer some questions about how the campaign will shake out for the WNBA’s newest team and whether the city will have another inaugural-season success story.

Who will be the Aces’ rival?

The Los Angeles Sparks seem like a natural enemy. They are one of the WNBA’s flagship teams, with three championships in the league’s 21-year history, and the geographic proximity makes the Vegas-L.A. thing seem inevitable (see the budding but already fierce rivalry between the Golden Knights and the L.A. Kings).

What will be the most anticipated games on the schedule?

The WNBA’s 34-game schedule leaves little time for filler. The Aces will play 17 home games, highlighted by a pair against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx (June 24, Aug. 9) and two against the Los Angeles Sparks (June 29, July 15).

How good will the Aces be in Year 1?

The Aces were pretty terrible in their previous incarnation as the San Antonio Stars, finishing last in the Western Conference for three straight seasons before relocating to Las Vegas. But the good news is, those losing seasons allowed the team to continually pick at the top of the draft, and that has the Aces’ roster pretty stocked with talent. In addition to A’Ja Wilson, the team will also count on last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Kelsey Plum, to provide scoring, and 2016 No. 2 overall pick Moriah Jefferson to run the point. It’s a nucleus that should grow together while also competing now.

Just how good will A’Ja Wilson be?

Real good. Wilson averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two preseason games, and that includes an outlier 4-of-17 shooting performance against the Dallas Wings last week. That won’t happen again all season. Wilson will be the Rookie of the Year.

What style of basketball will the team play?

Head coach and team president Bill Laimbeer says his team is going to prioritize defense and rebounding (shocker). On the other end of the court, the offense is going to be molded in Wilson’s image. The 6-foot-5 power forward/center is a bully in the low post, with the quickness to face up and score against slower defenders. The Aces offense will run through the rookie.

Who will be the team’s leading scorer?

Wilson may be a rookie, but she’s ready to play. She’ll lead the way with 15.8 points per game.

When will the team be complete?

Soon. Due to commitments to their European club teams, guards Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum were not with the Aces during training camp. With the Euroleague season wrapping up last week, both players should be ready to rep Las Vegas for the team’s first home game against the Seattle Storm on May 27. For now, McBride and Plum will open the season on the “suspended” list.

What will Laimbeer’s impact be?

Laimbeer has proven he knows how to build winners in the WNBA, and it usually doesn’t take very long. He took the Detroit Shock from worst-to-first and won a championship in his first full season there, and he turned the New York Liberty around from a bottom dweller to the top of the eastern conference in just one season. After three straight dreadful finishes, the Stars/Aces are ripe for some of Laimbeer’s turnaround magic.

Who could be the team’s breakout star?

Kelsey Plum is well known to women’s basketball fans as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, so calling her a “breakout” candidate is kind of a cop out. But she wasn’t an instant success in the WNBA, as she averaged just 8.5 points as a rookie last year while making 34.6 percent of her shots from the field. With a season of WNBA experience under her belt (and a successful Euroleague campaign providing momentum), Plum is poised to emerge as the perimeter scorer the Aces will need to complement Wilson.

Who will lead the team in rebounding?

Wilson averaged 11.8 rebounds as a senior in college, then pulled down 9.5 in two WNBA preseason games last week. She’ll flirt with double-digit boards this season and finish with a team-leading 10.1 per game.

Who will be the team’s top 3-point shooter?

Plum struggled with her shot last season, but all the tools that helped her hit 343 triples in her college career are still there. With Wilson drawing attention from opposing defenses, Plum should have plenty of space to fire away from 3 this year. She made 42.8 percent from long distance as a senior in college, then dropped off to 36.5 percent as a rookie last year. Somewhere in between — let’s say, 39.5 percent — would make her the Aces’ top sniper in 2018.

Could we be looking at another Golden Knights situation?

The Aces aren’t a true expansion team, but fans are already anticipating a Knights-type postseason run. The Aces opened at 100-1 odds to win the WNBA championship this season, but have already dropped to 18-1. That gives them the sixth-best odds in the 12-team league. So while they may win like the Golden Knights, any success won’t be as much of a surprise.

Will they enjoy a homecourt advantage?

Mandalay Bay Events Center is going for something different. Courtside seating is arranged as a section with lounge-style tables (as opposed to the normal Gucci Row style), and a rock band performed live behind the baseline before the team’s only home exhibition game. It will certainly be a unique setting. If fans show up, the Aces may have something going on their home court.

What will be the highest attended game?

The capacity for the Mandalay Bay Events Center is listed at 12,000, and there are some WNBA teams that draw in that range. The Aces drew 2,091 for their exhibition against the Chinese National Team on May 6, but I think they can break 10,000 for the home opener against the Seattle Storm on May 27.

Who will lead the team in assists?

Moriah Jefferson averaged 4.4 assists last year, and Wilson will be her new best friend. Look for Jefferson to feed the post often and bump her team-leading assists to 5.5 per game.

What will be the Aces’ longest winning streak?

Las Vegas will win four straight from July 1 to July 10, defeating the Los Angeles Sparks, the Connecticut Sun and the Chicago Sky (twice).

Will the Aces have any All-Stars?

No one on the roster made the All-Star team last year (except Bill Laimbeer, who was named coach of the East team by virtue of the Liberty having the best record in the conference, though a family issue prevented him from coaching the game), but the Aces have a good shot at representation this season thanks to Wilson. She’ll make the team, and Kayla McBride will draw strong consideration.

Will the Aces make the playoffs?

Yes. Eight of the 12 teams make the playoffs, and Laimbeer isn’t about to miss the cut with all the young talent on the Aces roster. Look for Las Vegas to qualify for the postseason as the No. 6 seed.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

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