WNBA Shootaround: Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson have made the Aces a monster

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images /

In the latest WNBA Shootaround, a look at the dominant pairing of Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson for the Las Vegas Aces, the latest on Chennedy Carter, Nneka Ogwumike’s Olympic snub and more.

The Las Vegas Aces’ dominance should frighten every team in the WNBA heading into the Olympic break. The team, loaded with superstars at every position (including the bench), is every bit as good as we thought they’d be — and that’s even without future Hall of Famer Angel McCoughtry.

With two games left before the month-long hiatus, Vegas sits at 14-5, good for the second-best record in the league. Most importantly, they won their series (2-1) against the Seattle Storm, who pose the biggest threat to the franchise’s first-ever title. The No. 1 seed and homecourt in the WNBA Finals is the Aces’ to gain if they can narrow the one-game gap.

What’s been so striking about the Aces’ ascension isn’t merely the number of games they’re winning, but how convincingly they’re doing it. They lead the league in net rating, out-scoring opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions, which is closing in on where the last two champions — Storm (15.0) and Washington Mystics (14.8) ended their seasons. Nine of their wins have come by double-digits, and seven have come by 20 or more points.

A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage have been dominant together for the Las Vegas Aces

There were legitimate questions for whether two low-post scoring bigs could operate in the same space at the same time but so far the diminishing returns of the Wilson-Cambage combination in 2019 haven’t been seen.

In two-player lineup metrics, the All-Stars are out-scoring opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions, which is far better than the 2.9 points per 100 possession mark in their last season together. Bill Laimbeer’s finding success staggering them mid-game and playing them together at the start and finish of games. Need more evidence? The Aces starting five is out-scoring teams by 14.4 points per 100 possessions.

Wilson, last year’s MVP, is averaging 19.6 points per game on 46.1 percent shooting with 9.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Cambage is averaging 14.6 points on 54.3 percent shooting from the field with 8.9 rebounds per game.

Jackie Young has stepped up, too

I was surprised to not see Young’s name on the list of 36 potential All-Stars coaches were able to select from for the game next week because she’s been damn good this season. The 2019 No. 1 pick has found her sweet spot from mid-range and is more decisive as a ball-handler than ever. The 23-year-old is averaging a career-high 12.8 points from the field on 49.2 percent shooting with 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

There was a point earlier in her career where she was the obvious weak link and a welcome addition for opposing defenses to double team off of. Now, every player the Aces deploy is a threat to score.

Chelsea Gray was the missing piece

A’ja Wilson’s growth into an MVP, Jackie Young’s development as a scoring guard, Kelsey Plum’s confidence as a shooter, and more have contributed to the Aces’ rise. But Gray has been a tremendous addition leading point, and is filling the exact role Vegas needed in last summer’s Finals sweep.

She’s tossing passes behind her back, no-looking with precision, and finding open cutters just like she did in Los Angeles for so many years. Gray is averaging 12.1 points on 46.1 percent shooting with 6.4 assists. And of course, there’s this go-ahead clutch overtime bucket she hit to beat Seattle.

The time to hop on the Aces’ bandwagon is right now. They’re just heating up.

Now let’s talk about what else is happening around the league.

What’s going on with Chennedy Carter and the Atlanta Dream?

The Dream’s star point guard was noticeably absent for all but five minutes of the team’s game against the Aces on Sunday. After her first-quarter stint, the Dream announced she wouldn’t play for the remainder of the game, but that she wasn’t injured.

After an action-packed few days of Twitter speculation, The Next’s Spencer Nusbaum detailed Carter’s non-physical riff with teammate Courtney Williams that started on the sidelines and ended in the locker room. Per Nusbaum, Williams told Carter to improve her attitude in the first half of the game, and afterward in the locker room, “Carter made noises about wanting to fight her teammate.” Williams de-escalated the situation from there.

The future for Carter and the Dream is unclear, but with the guard sidelined “until further notice,” you can fire up the trade machine.

Nneka Ogwumike is trying to compete for Nigeria at the Olympics after she was snubbed by Team USA

If you haven’t heard by now, Ogwumike’s omission from Team USA was highly controversial. She’s the only WNBA MVP to not compete at an Olympics (yet), and that’s despite winning MVP for Team USA at the FIBA Olympics Qualifying Tournament just last year.

On Tuesday, Ogwumike spoke out for the first time not to disparage the program, but to instead state her intentions to play for Nigeria. According to ESPN, she and her sister, Chiney, have been released by Team USA upon request as a first step to competing in Tokyo. The Ogwumike’s are awaiting word from FIBA to hear if they’ll be allowed to make the switch. Typically, players who compete for a country at age 17 or older are bound to that team, but the rules present an opportunity for change if the secretary-general believes it’s best for the growth of basketball.

For now, we wait. If Nneka is given the green light, she could face Team USA in an exhibition game in Vegas on July 18 or in the group stage at the Olympics on July 27.

All-Star roster

The game is creeping up! In just six days you’ll see Team USA face the All-Stars. Here are the rosters.

Team USA
Ariel Atkins
Sue Bird
Tina Charles
Napheesa Collier
Skylar Diggins-Smith
Sylvia Fowles
Chelsea Gray
Brittney Griner
Jewell Loyd
Breanna Stewart
Diana Taurasi
A’ja Wilson

DeWanna Bonner
Liz Cambage
Kahleah Copper
Dearica Hamby
Brionna Jones
Jonquel Jones
Betnijah Laney
Arike Ogunbowale
Candace Parker
Satou Sabally
Courtney Vandersloot
Courtney Williams

See you in two weeks!

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