Aces guard Kelsey Plum committed to becoming a better individual defender in the offseason and, more important, a better team defender within the structure of coach Bill Laimbeer’s schemes.
“I think for the last two years in the league I’ve been a complete liability,” Plum said after practice Wednesday. “Scouting report, who is the mismatch. Bam. We’re going to go right at her.”
That’s not the case anymore.
Las Vegas (4-3) is the WNBA’s best defensive team, allowing 89.4 points per 100 possessions amid the fastest offensive pace, 102.2 possessions per game. Laimbeer specifically praised Plum and fellow guard Kayla McBride and said their improved ability to help and recover is the most drastic difference in the team’s defensive makeup.
The Aces also are holding opponents to a league-low 38.1 percent shooting from the field while rebounding a league-high 76.5 percent of their misses — metrics Laimbeer values.
And metrics, he says, that define a quality defensive team.
“We’re going at it by committee,” he said. “We don’t have the most individual great defenders, but I think they’ve made a commitment to play defense. They know we’re going to score. If we can stop people, our offense will take care of itself.”
The Aces were among the league’s worst defensive teams last season, allowing 105 points per 100 possessions and 44.7 percent shooting en route to a 14-20 record.
A new coaching staff, youthful roster and limited practice time prevented the Aces from developing a sense of cohesion, and they struggled to make stops in close games.
“Things were happening so quickly that we couldn’t get time in the gym to focus on certain areas where we need to be to understand that,” said Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson, who averages a team-high 8.0 rebounds. “This year, we have a lot of time to break it down for us all. We have a better understanding of where we need to be and why we’re there. That’s the biggest difference.”
This season, the Aces are more disciplined in their execution and more united in their rotations and recovery. Their guards pressure the perimeter, their bigs protect the paint and clean the glass, and they boast the depth and roster flexibility to match up with different lineups.
Plum is a part of that now. And determined to become even better.
“I’m not saying I’m over the hump yet, but I definitely want to make it a lot more difficult than it’s been in the past. That was my job coming into this season,” she said. “Anything I can do to at least make it hard, that’s my job.”
Who: Washington Mystics at Aces
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center
Tickets: Starting at $24 on axs.com
TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network, KVMY-12; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
About the Aces (4-3): Las Vegas hasn’t had a winning record this late in the season since 2014 as the San Antonio Stars. Shooting guard Kayla McBride is averaging a team-high 18 points on 52.6 percent shooting, including 52.2 percent from 3-point range. Kelsey Plum scored 19 points against the New York Liberty on Friday and 21 against the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday. She’s averaging 10.7 points and shooting 43.3 percent on 3-pointers.
About the Mystics (5-3): Perennial league MVP candidate Elena Della Donne averages a team-high 14 points and 8.6 rebounds. Five other players score in double figures for the Mystics, who lead the WNBA in offensive rating with 106.6 points per 100 possessions.