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Aces guard enjoying offensive resurgence, but she wasn’t worried

Updated June 21, 2023 - 12:34 pm

It’s probably fair to say Kelsey Plum has broken out of her shooting slump.

The first-team All-WNBA guard shot just 20.5 percent from beyond the arc during the Aces’ first seven games. Her struggles were highlighted by a 1-of-9 outing from 3 against the Minnesota Lynx on May 28, followed by a three-game stretch during which she made just one of her 13 attempts from distance.

During the past four games, however, Plum has shot 50 percent from 3 (11 of 22). She broke the 20-point threshold for just the second time this season and made a season-high four 3s to help the Aces beat the Lynx 93-62 on Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

“I think I’ve played really well,” Plum said after the game Sunday. “The numbers might not express that at times, but I don’t think this was a better game.”

Plum and the Aces (10-1) are traveling again for a one-game road trip to face the Phoenix Mercury (2-8) at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Aces can extend their winning streak to four games before returning to Las Vegas, where they are undefeated this season, for their next five games.

Getting Plum back on track offensively will be huge for the Aces. But the reigning All-Star MVP, who was second in the WNBA in points per game last season, isn’t alone in her belief that she’s had a strong start to this season, regardless of her scoring.

Aces coach Becky Hammon said teams have aggressively blitzed Plum, prioritizing getting the ball out of her hands at almost any cost. Point guard Chelsea Gray has seen similar defenses this season. Plum admitted the constant pressure as soon as she touches the ball has made it difficult for her to gain an offensive rhythm.

But Plum’s shooting is a constant threat for opposing teams, which helps the Aces space the floor. Hammon previously said Plum has consistently given up the ball and played within the team’s structure when required.

“At the end of the day, her shooting the ball is the least of my worries,” Hammon said. “Whenever she shoots, I always believe it’s going to go in, as do all of you.”

Hammon said Plum’s real growth this season has come inplaymaking and defense. In the past, Hammon, a former point guard, has described Plum as a probing playmaker who seeks to create disadvantages with her first step and drives to the rim.

These attacks lead to something the Aces call rim reads, as the driving player decides to either go for a layup or find a kickout to an open shooter as the defense collapses. Hammon said Plum has evolved into an elite rim reader, and her numbers back that up.

Plum had four consecutive games with five assists to start the season, including the Minnesota game when she went 1 of 9 from 3. She’s averaging 4.1 assists per game, second on the team behind Gray, and her turnovers are down significantly from the past season. Plum is also shooting a career-best 54.8 percent on two-point field goals.

While her playmaking and rim reads are a significant part of the Aces’ offense, Plum is most proud of her defensive improvements. She was occasionally targeted by teams during the playoffs, so Plum spent the offseason working on her strength and fitness.

Hammon praised Plum’s “tenacity” on defense, and said the coaching staff has given her special defensive assignments this season. She’s also been able to contain larger guards at the point of attack and has helped funnel drives toward the Aces’ forwards in the paint.

“I might not get steals or blocks or anything,” Plum said, “but I just try to get people really annoyed.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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