What's the problem with the Aces on offense?
By Nicholas LeTourneau
To say that the Aces struggled offensively against the Sun on Sunday would be an understatement. Las Vegas connected on just 26 percent of its shots from the field, 14 percent from three and handed out only 8 assists. Head coach Bill Laimbeer has never been known as an offensive guru, but even by his standards, this was a terrible shooting performance.
What went wrong?
You could break the Aces’ offensive possessions down to three categories: quick jumpers, jumpers with the shot clock winding down or watching No. 1 pick A’ja Wilson play isolation ball.
Let’s take a look.
Early in the shot clock jumpers
There is little movement and very little passing when the Aces have the ball. You would think this would breed a lot of back-to-the-basket plays in the post, but a stunning amount of their shots are mid-range jumpers.
In this collection of clips, it’s pretty much isolation, a screen or two then everyone goes somewhere to stand out of the way while the person with the ball makes a move and forces up a shot from just inside the three-point line.
In the first clip, Nia Coffey takes a highly contested jumper with 13 seconds left on the shot clock after getting a handoff at the high-post. In the next clip, Tamera Young brings the ball up the court, get two screens (although she didn’t do the best job of running her defender into the first one) and forced a jumper as Connecticut closes out on her with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. In the final part of the clip, we see Young fail to create anything off the dribble, then force a contested jumper with 17 second left on the clock which ends up being an airball.
In this collection of clips, we see more of the same. The offensive scheme appears to be: bring the ball up the floor, get a screen and shoot or make a pass and that person shoots almost immediately. The shots come from just inside the three-point line with ample time left to find a better shot. Also, almost all of them are highly contested.
What is the most concerning is that this isn’t just one player or because of anything Connecticut has forced the Aces to do.
Bad shot attempts, late in the shot clock
When the Aces aren’t taking forced shots early in the clock, they are holding onto the ball way too long and unable to find an open shot or a good shot. This results in the ball going to a spot on the floor that isn’t ideal, a bad game of hot potato or someone having to chuck up a shot to avoid a shot-clock violation.
In the first example in the string of bad shots, we see JiSu Park and Shoni Schimmel both hold onto the ball for almost five seconds before passing, then Coffy trying to make something happen late in the shot clock, which ends in a missed jumper. Notice how much Connecticut sagged off of Coffy? They picked up on what Las Vegas was about early on in this game.
In the next example we see a lot of passing, which is promising, but very little movement away from the ball. This totally defeats the purpose of the passing and ends up with Young taking a highly contested floater in a very clogged lane.
Lastly, we see a set that is again promising. The Aces start with both the four and five in the high post and then make a pass to Wilson. As the ball goes to Wilson, Jaime Nared moves from the corner to the wing as Lindsay Allen sets a screen for her. Wilson passes to Nared then sets a screen for her, creating space for Nared but then Nared takes a bad, contested shot.
Again, we see a lot of inconsistency. Either the Aces hold onto the ball far too long then force a shot, they pass the ball around without a lot of movement and take a bad shot, or the ball goes to a player at a spot on the floor that doesn’t play to their strengths and they force a long-two. Some of this can be chalked up to youth, but more often than not it is an example of Laimbeer not coaching this team properly. When the ball is moving, the Aces don’t take good shots. When the ball is stuck (which happens most of the time), this offense is pretty much dead in the water.
Tossing it to A’ja Wilson and hoping something good happens
There is no denying that Wilson is already one of the most talented players in the league. It reminds me of when Karl-Anthony Towns entered the NBA as a rookie. But much like Towns with Tom Thibodeau, Laimbeer clearly has no idea how to properly utilize the supremely talented Wilson. She has a lot to offer on offense, but throwing it to her at a standstill in the post and hoping she can fight her way to the rim isn’t how to capitalize on what she can really offer a team.
In these clips, Wilson is barely moving before getting the ball, posting up and taking shots that are double or triple teamed or forced into a bad shot because of how well covered she is. The lane is clogged because Las Vegas has another post player in the paint and the Sun knew the Aces weren’t going to spread out for three-point shots.
A lot of this could be resolved by Kelsey Plum and Kayla McBride returning, but it doesn’t inspire much hope. A lot of the long-two’s could be turned into three-point attempts and having the threat of a possible three-point shot will force teams to not drop four or five players into the box.
Plum is going to have a big year, McBride is looking to get back into all-star form and Wilson has the talent to be an all-star as a rookie. But none of that is going to happen if the offense looks anything like it did in the season opener.