Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson on pace for a historic season

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Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson on pace for a historic season

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson walked off the court once again leaving no room for doubt.

In a game June 21 against the Connecticut Sun, one of the best teams and top defenses in the WNBA, Wilson showed, as she has in each game this early WNBA season, why she’s the league’s most dominant force.

Wilson finished the game with 26 points (9-of-17 field goals), a career-high tying 16 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 34 minutes of play. It’s the kind of stat line that for many could be seen as an outlier but for Wilson, this season, it’s the mean.

The performance marked Wilson’s 19th consecutive game in which she scored 20 or more points, the longest streak in WNBA history. The previous record was held by Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi with 13 straight games from 2006-07.

With the high talent level in the WNBA, Wilson has managed to separate herself from the pack in 2024. To do it, she’s currently building what could become one of the most impressive individual seasons in WNBA history.

“She’s one of the best, if not the best, player in the world,” Connecticut Sun coach Stephanie White said. “She’s taken her game to another level.”

Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson grabs the rebound during the game against the Seattle Storm on June 19 at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

Here is a primer on Wilson’s dominance this season:

  • Wilson is averaging 27.8 points, on pace to be the most in a season in WNBA history. Should she continue at this pace, Wilson would break Taurasi’s record of 25.3 points set in 2006.
  • Wilson is averaging 11.6 rebounds, which leads the WNBA, and is on pace to be fourth-most in a season in WNBA history. She currently trails only Sylvia Fowles (11.9 in 2018), Jonquel Jones (11.9 in 2017) and Tina Charles (11.7 in 2010).
  • Wilson ranks second in the WNBA in blocks per game (2.4), behind Ezi Magbegor (2.5).
  • Wilson’s 1.9 steals per game are tied with Seattle Storm forward Nneka Ogwumike for sixth-most in the WNBA.
  • Wilson has held opponents to 37.3% shooting when she’s the closest defender this season, sixth-lowest in the WNBA (among 58 players to defend at least 100 shots), according to Second Spectrum.

Wilson is averaging a career-high in minutes (33.4) this season for the Aces. Last season, she played fewer than 30 minutes in 17 of Las Vegas’ 40 regular-season games. In five of those games, she played fewer than 26 minutes. Of those 17 games, the Aces won 13 of them by more than 15 points.

A look at Wilson’s production in 2024 begins with her ability to meet an increased need from Aces coach Becky Hammon compared to years past.

“Her willingness to do whatever I ask of her or the team asks of her – even the things we don’t ask of her – she still does them,” Hammon said after the Aces’ win over Connecticut.

Through 14 games this season, Wilson hasn’t played fewer than 30 minutes. 

“I told you last year, if I played her a full game, she would have been averaging 28 and 13 or something like that,” Hammon said June 21 after the Aces beat Connecticut 85-74. “She’s playing more because we haven’t had those blowout 30-, 40-point wins. Now you’re seeing the numbers and how efficient she is.”

It’s not just Wilson’s increased minutes that have led to her league-leading production. How Wilson has produced this season has changed compared to a year ago. That begins with Wilson’s willingness to be even more of a creator for the Aces, particularly by putting the ball on the floor.

“Her game continues to grow and blossom. Her game is becoming a little bit like a rose petal,” Hammon said May 29 after a road win against Minnesota. “She keeps peeling off these petals and layers to her game and getting really comfortable with ballhandling and … being more of a playmaker and decision-maker for us.”

At 6-feet-4, Wilson’s ability to create in space is, in part, what makes her a matchup nightmare. It’s why the Aces emphasize getting Wilson the ball in the middle of the floor, and allow her to make plays, whether that’s creating for herself or finding an open teammate.

As a passer, Wilson is averaging an additional assist per game than she did a season ago, while lowering her turnover percentage. As a scoring threat, Wilson can comfortably take defenders off the dribble, shoot without the dribble, or drive and either elevate for a pull-up jumper or finish at the rim.

“Her reading the defense is getting so much better – her reading in space,” Hammon said June 21.

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson plays against the Seattle Storm on June 19 at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

Wilson’s 69 isolations this season, defined by Second Spectrum as when the teammates surrounding the ball handler purposefully give space so that the ball handler has additional room to create a play, are the most in the WNBA. Not among frontcourt players – the entire league. She’s the only primary center or forward in the top 10 of that list. The next primary forward or center on the list is Napheesa Collier, with 37 isolations (as of Monday).

Wilson has 151 shot attempts that did not have an assist opportunity, which ranks fifth most in the WNBA, according to ESPN Stats & Information. She is, again, the only post player in the top 10 of the list. Wilson is shooting 47% on those unassisted attempts, which ranks sixth among 33 players who have made at least 75 attempts.

Wilson’s shot chart has shifted from a season ago as she continues to expand her game. She is taking fewer shots in the restricted area this season compared to 2023, and more from in the paint (but outside of the restricted area) and the midrange, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

A’ja Wilson shot attempts per game (FG percentage in parenthesis)

SHOT RANGE 2023 2024
Restricted area 4.4 (71%) 4.0 (68%)
In paint (non-restricted area) 6.6 (49%) 9.1 (51%)
Midrange 3.3 (53%) 5.1 (47%)
Source: ESPN Stats and Information

When looking at where Wilson is creating her opportunities, a point of focus is in the midrange. This season, 24% of Wilson’s made shots from 10-14 feet have been unassisted, more than double her rate of 11% last season from that same distadnce, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It’s worth noting, Wilson has played 12 of 14 games this season without Aces point guard Chelsea Gray, who returned June 20 from a foot injury. It’ll be worth watching how Wilson’s method of production may change with the presence of Gray, who ranks ninth in WNBA history in career assists.

When opposing teams don’t want to rely on single coverage against Wilson, and instead throw multiple defenders at the All-WNBA forward, Wilson has shown that even that at times isn’t enough to slow her down. 

Wilson is shooting 55% this season on layups, floaters and post field goal attempts when there is more than one contesting defender, according to Second Spectrum. That’s the best field goal percentage in the WNBA among 24 players who have attempted at least 25 of those shots. Wilson has a WNBA-high 56 attempts on those shots.

“At the end of the day, she’s just elite. Doesn’t matter if you put 5s on her, 1s on her. You’re going to have to bring people because she’s just too much 1-on-1,” Hammon said June 13 after a win over Phoenix.

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson (center) is greeted by teammates Kelsey Plum (left) and Jackie Young (right) during player introductions before a game against the New York Liberty at Michelob Ultra Arena on June 15 in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Despite Wilson’s individual success, as a team, the previously shorthanded Aces have had to overcome some early season struggles. After beginning the season 4-1, Las Vegas lost four of its next five games. This is a team that didn’t lose its fifth game last season until late August and lost six games in total in 2023.

Following a loss to the New York Liberty on June 15, Wilson was quick to take accountability on behalf of her team. For Wilson, being great is not defined solely by being the top performer, but also by being the leader who can bring out the best in her team.

“I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try and be the best – I get y’all saying ‘best player in the world’ and that’s great, it looks great – but I want to be the best person. I want to be the best teammate. That’s how I get the best out of my team,” an impassioned Wilson said postgame. “I don’t want to be great for you guys [media, general public], no offense, but I want to be great for my team. I want to be great for this franchise.”

The energy and care Wilson has shown publicly for her teammates is reciprocated by the locker room. When asked how she felt about extending her streak of 20-point-plus games after defeating the Sun, Wilson replied modestly, saying that while the numbers were great, the streak is just a matter of taking what the defense gives her.

“It is what it is,” said Wilson, who was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the 18th time Tuesday. “It’s something that I’m not trying to do.”

As Wilson wrapped her response, Aces center Kiah Stokes, seated to the right of Wilson, leaned into her mic to give her teammate the kudos she believes Wilson left on the table.

“OK, she’s a little too humble,” Stokes said. “I don’t think people realize how hard she works. To have your franchise’s best player be the hardest worker, I think that sets you above the rest. … When A’ja is going, we’re all going. She’s the one – extra workouts, always in the gym – trying to get better for this team.”

Wilson will play her 15th game of the season Thursday against the Chicago Sky, where she’ll become the first player in league history to average at least 25 points and 10 rebounds through the first 15 games of a season. Wilson has already clinched those averages regardless of her stat line versus the Sky, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It’s just another indicator of her blazing trajectory.

Excellence from Wilson has been something those who have followed her ascent since she was taken as the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 have come to expect. Wilson, a two-time WNBA regular-season MVP and the 2023 Finals MVP, is just doing what she does.

Since she came into the league, Wilson has stated that her goal is to leave as a great. It’s a space achieved by few, but as Wilson moves at another MVP pace in 2024, she continues to chart her chase.

“When you’re talking about greatness, it starts with consistency. Everybody can be good here and there, but who can be great every single game? Every possession? That’s what I’m striving for, and it’s hard as s—. I promise y’all, it’s hard as s—,” Wilson said June 15.

“But I promise you – I’m not going to back down.”

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