A'ja Wilson and the Second-Year Players With Star Roles for Their Teams
It seems like we’re always waiting for the next big thing as sports fans. It’s why we devote so much of our attention to the draft and the tantalizing prospect that just might land on our favorite team. The promise of something new almost always blinds us to what we have right in front of us.
And for as many incredible rookies as we have in the W this season, this week's column spotlights the players putting a stamp on the league in their sophomore season. Specifically, let's focus on the seasons A’ja Wilson, Diamond DeShields, Kia Nurse and Jordin Canada are putting together.
You all know where we have to start. When you drop 39 points in an OT win, ballooning your points per game to 17.2, you get the right to be talked about first. A’ja Wilson has been an absolute monster this season.
She’s currently averaging more points than MVP contender Jonquel Jones despite having to format her game to play with Liz Cambage. And while the runner-up for last year’s MVP has been solid during her first season in Las Vegas, it’s Wilson that’s been the Aces’ rock so far.
Simply put, when Vegas needs a bucket, they toss the ball into A’ja. And she’s been equally as impactful on defense, with her 1.5 blocks per game putting her in the top 10 in the league. Wilson’s game is smooth and watching her operate within a team that also has Cambage, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young is thrilling when the team is in a groove.
The Aces have been inconsistent this season yet still sit in third place as of Monday morning. If Bill Laimbeer can stabilize his team’s results and get them to play their best basketball on most nights, Vegas could make good on all the preseason hype that surrounded it. And the biggest factor for them will likely be just how much Wilson—my MVP favorite before the season started—can produce as the calendar turns to September.
Look, I can’t lie. When the season started and it looked like the Storm would be without the services of Breanna Stewart for the whole season and without Sue Bird for most of it, I was ready for Seattle to struggle just to make the playoffs.
Now we’re nearly halfway through the season and the Storm sit fourth in the standings with an impressive 8-6 record. And while much of the credit will go to the incredible season Natasha Howard is having and Jewell Loyd continuing to show out, we need to have a serious conversation about how good Jordin Canada has been this year.
It’s no easy task to take the place of Bird as the Seattle player with the ball in her hands most of the time, but Canada has stepped up admirably. When she went down with a left knee injury against the Mystics, my first thought was “Not again, not another Storm injury.” It turned out not to be serious and, while she didn’t quite look like herself in her first game back, her second—in which she recorded 17 points, six rebounds and three assists—against the Sky showed us that she’s hardly lost a step. This Seattle team isn’t the same as the one that won the championship last season and Canada may not be Bird but she’s done an incredible job in a nearly impossible situation. This team was supposed to fall apart without its talismanic players, instead, it’s business as usual in Seattle and Canada is the eye of the Storm.
DeShields is quickly emerging as one of the best young players in the W. She’s unafraid to pull-up in your face, whether it be in transition or within the flow of the offense, and scores 14 points per game this year after averaging 14.4 last year.
Watching her operate on every level of the floor while being flanked by Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot is appointment television. And her awesome goggles, that she wears to correct keratoconus, make her stand out on the court just as much as her eye-popping athleticism.
The Sky suffered a tough week of results after their biggest win of the season last Sunday against the Sun. But this team appears to be much-improved from the unit that had the league’s worst defense in 2018. New coach James Wade has been a huge plus and Chicago has the capability of breaking into the playoffs for the first time since Elena Delle Donne left for Washington. And if DeShields can keep building on her strong season, a lineup featuring her, Vandersloot, Quigley, Jantel Lavender and Stefanie Dolson could prove to be a potent one down the stretch.
Now we need to talk about Kia Nurse. The No. 10 (!!) pick in last year’s draft has been absolutely balling this season. The UConn product only has two games in which she’s failed to score in double digits this season and has two 26-point games already. Her 16.2 points per game is nearly double her output from last year and she remains a gunner who has shot the third most threes in the league, making them at a 33.8% clip.
Simply put, Nurse has become one of the most important players on a team that also features Tina Charles, Asia Durr and Amanda Zahui B. For the most part, you know what you get from Charles, which is to say a lot of points in the post and a fairly consistent stream of midrange buckets.
Durr came into this season as one of the most hyped rookies of the 2019 class after an incredible few years at Louisville and Zahui B got on casual fans' radar by dropping 37 points in her last game before departing for EuroBasket. The Liberty have the pieces to try and sneak into the playoffs after only winning seven games last season and Nurse—and her dope kicks—will be needed if New York wants to keep winning games.
If y’all come for the Aces’ frontcourt, you best come correct because they will flame you. I present to you, my favorite clapbacks of the week.
And allow me to share with y’all possibly the best response video I’ve seen from a team account.
And the biggest of shouts to Kara Lawson for getting a job with the Celtics. It’s awesome that there’s been more movement from women's game to the NBA and here’s hoping we see more of it in the months and years to come.