The Las Vegas Aces are ridiculously stacked. Their superstar Aja Wilson won her second WNBA MVP award this season, as well as winning the Player of the Year and finishing third in the league in total points. Kelsey Plum is the all-time leading scorer in women’s Division I history, and was one of only two players in the WNBA to score 20 points per game this year. Jackie Young was named the league’s Most Improved Player. Wilson, Plum & Young v. 1 pick in the WNBA draft in back-to-back seasons from 2017 to 2019, and each was an All-Star this year—the other being Aces starter Dearica Hamby. That leaves just one Vegas starter not named to the All-Star Game this year—Chelsea Gray, whose 30-point, 10-assist game against the Seattle Hurricanes sent the Aces to the WNBA Finals in WNBA history on Tuesday night. That performance came two days after the first 29-point, 10-assist game in WNBA playoff history. Her entire conference championship series was non-stop ludicrous, bonkers, crazy-pill clutch shots; It’s the most devastating thing to hit the city of Seattle since the made-for-TV movie 10.5: Apocalypse.
And yet, the biggest star on the Aces might be first-year head coach Becky Hammon. Her coaching prowess was on full display in Game 3 of the semifinals against the Tide. A Vegas loss in that game would have given Seattle the series lead, and would have forced Las Vegas to win back-to-back games to avoid a loss — and the Tide would have led by four points with 11 seconds left. That’s when Hammon made three straight perfect plays to get the Aces out of trouble. First, some screen-the-screen action on Riquna Williams completely from the 3. One hug, one perfect game, one bucket left.
Trailing by one point, Hammon Wilson cleared the way for a clean Iso interception. Two hoops, two perfect games, two buckets.
The Hurricanes answered with what looked to be the game-winning 3 — but Hammon countered. With 1.8 seconds left, her players don’t have time to drive to the basket for a game-tying layup—so Young makes sure the ball goes to the basket when she catches it. She made several moves to get the defender to catch up and away from the bushes, and Young faked a screen to Plum, causing her defender to hesitate—then Young cut the ball with her knees and grabbed the ball. It was the most important possession of the WNBA season, and Hammon Young got an easy layup. Anticlimactic, but effective.
Three hoops, three perfect games, three buckets. It was enough to force overtime, which the Aces ran. And because the WNBA allows cameras in the arena — the NBA doesn’t — Hammon was front and center, as always.
The Aces won Game 4—another thriller—to advance to the WNBA Finals, Sunday in Game 1 against the Connecticut Sun. If they win, it will be Las Vegas’ first championship in any pro sport, not counting the minor leagues. Hammon is the first first-year head coach to make the WNBA Finals since her first year in the WNBA, as well as the first person to make the WNBA Finals as a player and coach.
Yes! Becky Hammon was a great player. Hammon, a six-time All-Star, is still tied for sixth in WNBA history in 3-pointers made and assists. She was named to the W25 team, commemorating the 25 best players in the league’s first 25 years. And before he hired her as a coach, the Aces retired her number, holding a ceremony last September to celebrate her career with the franchise while playing in San Antonio.
In the year After retiring in 2014, Hammon stayed in San Antonio — but in a much more impressive role. Hammon tapped five-time NBA champion and winning coach Gregg Popovich to join the staff of the San Antonio Spurs. Popovich let Hammon sit in on Spurs practices during the 2013-14 season while she rehabbed an ACL injury and quickly realized he wasn’t simply doing her a favor — she had more to offer. (Nobody accused Coach Pop of doing publicity jobs—everyone knows Coach Pope doesn’t do publicity jobs.) Hammon became the first woman to serve as an assistant coach for a men’s team in any major American professional sports league. She was the head coach of the Spurs’ winter league team and won that championship in 2015—a certain quality foreshadowing of her future success in Las Vegas. She rose from the back row of the bench to become one of Popovich’s leading assistants. Popovich When they retire in 2020, Hammon becomes the first female head coach.
Recently, her name began to emerge as an NBA head coach. She has had several interviews with NBA teams over the past few seasons, reportedly with the Magic and Trail Blazers. (Both eventually recruited men and finished near the bottom of the NBA standings.) Hammon said the teams were told there were two concerns: She only coached with the Spurs and managed her own team. (This hasn’t been a problem for many of Popovich’s male assistants over the years—Mike Budenholzer, Jacques Vaughn, and Brett Brown have all landed NBA head coaching jobs outside of Pop’s staff—but alas.) Hammon realized that if she wanted a chance to lead her own team, she would have to return to the league she played in.
Hammon became the first WNBA coach to earn $1 million in December. She ended the 2021-22 season at Spurs, taking over an Aces side that had suffered back-to-back disappointing finishes. In the year After moving to Las Vegas in 2017 (and starting a growing trend of pro sports teams moving to Vegas), the Aces hired three-time NBA champion Bill Laimbeer as their WNBA head coach. Laimbeer got the Aces closer: In 2020, Vegas made the WNBA Finals, but was swept off the court by the Hurricanes, swept by three double-digit losses. Last year, the Aces had the best record in the Western Conference, but lost a heartbreaking semifinal series to the Phoenix Mercury. Laimbeer is expected to return as coach in 2022, but he retired as part of a smooth transition when the team was close to hiring Hamon.
Hammon shows up, and the Aces get their revenge. The Aces won the WNBA Commissioner’s Trophy, had the best record in the league, and had the second-highest offensive rating in WNBA history. In the first round of qualifiers, they defeated the Mercury by 16 and 37 points. By knocking off the Seattle Storm in the second round, Brown became the first team to beat Stewart in the playoffs. The Aces did it against the same team they had in 2021—if anything, they lost talent, leaving Liz Cambage, a troubled 6-foot-8 center, who was dropped from the league because of her general malaise. . (Perhaps we should have known that Cambage Hammon wouldn’t stick with the Aces after he publicly complained that he was being paid too much.) The Aces don’t need a lot of talent to win – they just need a smarter approach.
Hammon finally brought the Aces into the 21st century, because the Aces were basically the last team in professional basketball to hear about the 3-point revolution. Lambert’s Vegas team shot the ball like a bad boy piston. The Aces have finished last in 3-point attempts and by large margins in all four seasons under Limber. In 2021, they shot 13.5 3-pointers per game, while everyone else in the league shot at least 17 per game. In Limber’s four seasons on the Aces, they had the four lowest 3-pointer rates ever attempted by any WNBA team or any NBA team. Wilson did not make a 3-pointer in the first three seasons of her career under Limber, including her first MVP campaign in 2020. In 2021, she hit a 3-pointer 66 seconds into her Aces debut. of the season. Laimbeer should make it clear he didn’t receive it because Wilson didn’t attempt another 3-pointer for the rest of the season.
Under Hammon, this changed very quickly. Even without Cambage on the court, the Aces stopped putting the ball in the post and started to start. The Aces are second in 3-pointers made this season and first in 3-point field goal percentage. Plum led the WNBA with 113 3-pointers; No one in the league had more than 100. Young shot 43.1 percent from 3, sixth in the league. Gray made 3.7 3s per game in the playoffs—the ACs averaged 3.7 3s per game as a team in 2018. Laimber. In a Game 2 win over the Mercury in the first round, the Aces hit 23 3s, setting the WNBA record for most 3-pointers in any game—playoffs or regular season.
Many basketball coaches could have identified that the Aces needed more shooting. (I might as well, and I’m not particularly a basketball coach.) But Hammon’s impact is much bigger than simply hitting the “shoot 3-pointers” button. The Aces are actually shooting better on 2-pointers per Hammon (52.0 percent) than last year (49.5 percent), and have the third-lowest turnover rate in league history. Despite their high speed, it’s mind-boggling that they commit so few turnovers in a single game in the WNBA. Hammon’s rotations have been praised — she’s also starting her best players, something Laimber doesn’t do often — and the rest of the league wants in on it. In an interview with The Associated Press, Plum said other teams are “starting to steal some of it.” [Hammon’s] Things. People are also hating some of our events.
Now, the questions are inevitable: After working for Popovich and developing as a head coach in the WNBA, people are asking if and when she will become an NBA head coach. It’s a pivotal moment in professional sports—a woman, completely in control, leading men in a men’s sports league. Popovich has repeatedly offered Hammon to become an NBA head coach. Pau Gasol shoots down arguments against Hammons in a Players’ Tribune article, “An Open Letter About Female Coaches.” (Pauw is the author of Pro-Level Thinking.) Women’s basketball and men’s basketball are both basketballs, and people believe Hammon’s ideas could work in either league. LeBron James looked at her last-game out-of-bounds call the other day:
Becky Hammond late game ATO is on fkn POINT today!! Wow wow wow
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 4, 2022
But Hammon’s focus on her ability to run an NBA franchise shows a hierarchy: Coaching in the NBA should be her ultimate career goal, because the WNBA is inherently smaller. It’s clearly not something Hammon believes. “I think it’s an expression of ignorance,” Hammon told The Associated Press about people saying taking the WNBA job is a “step down.” “To think I could coach the WNBA is ridiculous.”
Of course, Hammon could one day coach in the NBA. The men’s league may offer big money and the chance to be a trailblazer—but now she’s breaking ground in the WNBA. Hammon has turned one of the best talent teams in league history into a record-setting, must-watch offensive juggernaut, and they’re on the brink of a championship as the league continues to grow in popularity. NBA teams have been hell-bent on passing on Becky Hammon, now they just have to wait.