Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said at the start of the season that forward Dearica Hamby is an outstanding bench player on a championship caliber team. The kind of player all great teams want and need, who can swing regular-season and playoff games with her versatility and energy.
Turns out she’s a lot more than that.
The 25-year-old Hamby, in her fifth WNBA season, has started the past three games in place of injured A’ja Wilson and is averaging 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds and shooting 65.7 percent from the field in those outings.
The Aces are 3-0 without Wilson, who sprained her left ankle July 19, and in her absence, Hamby has proven that she can handle whatever role the team needs.
“I think my role is still the same, just more minutes,” said Hamby, who is averaging 10.9 points and 6.9 rebounds as one of the WNBA’s top candidates for Sixth Woman of the Year. “I come in, I play hard, I give energy, I play defense and I run the floor. I just continue to do that but for a longer period of time.”
Hamby was the team’s top reserve last season, averaging 7.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game. The Aces signed her to a contract extension in the offseason and prepped her for a bigger role in the frontcourt behind Wilson and center Liz Cambage, who was acquired in May from the Dallas Wings.
The 6-foot-3-inch Hamby came off the bench in the first 17 games, logging minutes at power forward and small forward alongside the other reserves and starters, with whom she’s finished several close games.
She can handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter, post up smaller players and guard multiple positions for the league’s top-ranked defense. And the Aces are taking full advantage of her skill set without Wilson.
“I’m put in a position right now where I have to start her, and you can see that she can go out and score,” Laimbeer said. “(Statistically), she’d be among the top five, 10 in the league if she’s the starter and gets the minutes and gets the shots.”
Hamby, when paired next to Cambage in the frontcourt, helps the Aces present a different offensive look with her ability to make 3-pointers and stretch the floor. She’s shooting 40 percent on 3s and has made six 3-pointers in her starts, helping to provide additional spacing for Cambage to function in the interior.
“We can put multiple combinations out there when they’re all healthy … which is the strength of our team in the long run,” Laimbeer said. “Right now, between (Cambage) dominating on the inside and Hamby on the outside, we’re difficult to guard.”
Who: Aces at Los Angeles Sparks
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
About the Aces (14-6): They’ve won 12 of their past 15 games to seize the WNBA’s best record. Liz Cambage averages 15.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, and Kayla McBride scores 14.8 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting. Tamera Young came off the bench Tuesday and scored a season-high 18 points against the Dallas Wings.
About the Sparks (11-8): Forward Nneka Ogwumike averages 16.6 points and 9.4 rebounds and guard Chelsea Gray 13.2 points and 4.4 assists. Longtime Sparks star Candace Parker has missed several games with injury but might play against the Aces.