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Tip-Off Analysis: Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty


The 27th WNBA season kicked off to a raucous start with its first weekend, showcasing the sheer depth and competitiveness of the league. After a long-awaited ramp-up, the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty graced the court.

What can we take away from their initial forays in the 2023 campaign? 

Las Vegas Aces 

We need to start with Vegas’ defense, which acting Head Coach Tyler Marsh called their “calling card for the season” after the victory. It popped and then some. 

Adding one of the most versatile defensive players the game has ever seen in Candace Parker, makes sense! Her length and mobility bring an extra dynamic to Vegas’ switchy defense, providing the room to be more aggressive and apply extra pressure on the ball with additional help on the back end. 

Watching that layer continue to imprint on the Aces’ defensive infrastructure will be a blast. However, it’s in the consistent minutiae and details that the Aces’ have impressed.

The Storm flow into a pitch play between Sami Whitcomb and Ivana Dojkić, with Jordan Horston ready to set the pindown.

Kelsey Plum jump switches (jumps out ahead of the ballhandler on the switch) and ICEs the screen (pushes the ball to the sideline and denies the screen). Whitcomb dumps the ball to Horston and cuts through the slot, a 45 cut, the natural read off of Plum’s defense.

Note how Plum gets a hand on and sinks into Horston after she and Jackie Young switch again. It’s small, but takes away the easy pass to Whitcomb while also mucking up the pass to the corner, the next read for Horston as Young picks up the cutting Whitcomb.

Horston ends up threading a nice pass (a fun part of her game), and Young gets hit with a foul I wouldn’t call myself, but the point is how hard the Aces make something simple. The Storm live through off-ball actions and movement, and the Aces negate much of it early, easily, and in sync.

Offensively, the variation in screens has been notable, something that stood out last year, but intrigues me even more with Parker joining the fray.

Parker is the preeminent transition playmaker and point forward in basketball; she adds a different kind of zest to Vegas’ early offense.

They’ve thrown in looks with Parker ripping and running, grabbing an early screen from her guards, Parker setting a quick high screen, ghosting into the slot to open up as a pop threat, and quick slips as well. The versatility is staggering and will be worth monitoring all year.

New York Liberty

The Liberty split their opening weekend, dropping game one to the Mystics and battering the Fever two days later. That loss says more about who the Mystics are rather than who the Liberty are. The loss was disappointing, but shouldn’t detract from their potential. 

Figuring out how five All-Stars fit together and how to stagger the rotation is going to take time.

Against the Mystics, it felt like the Liberty put out a sort of Superman ice cream offense: there’s a lot of flavor there, but just too much going on, and it winds up a bit of a mess. It’s game one! That makes sense!

That’s what made game two such a fun follow-up. Breanna Stewart went off, her utilization and a feature role in the offense pivotal to her setting a new career-high 45 points.

The Liberty have tremendous size and shooting across the board, but outside of Courtney Vandersloot, they lack a consistent way to pressure the paint off drives.

Blending together their shooting and generation of clean and easy looks will be fascinating to watch all year when considering their end goal of a deep postseason run and title.

So much of creating a good offensive flow is done through early work and intentionality. 

The Liberty attack early with a high ball screen for Vandersloot, drawing two, quickly swinging the ball back to Stewart, and flowing into a handoff.

Jonquel Jones comes up to screen for Sabrina Ionescu, who just received the ball, NaLyssa Smith tags up the rolling Jones, and Stewart lifts to the slot simultaneously as Ionescu whips the ball to her shooting pocket. Splash.

Let’s consider this:

  • Stewart was top five in spot-up points generated per possession per Synergy (3 more than or more attempts per game, 1.22 ppp).
  • Jones was top ten in the league in points per possession generated at the rim (4 more than  more per game, 1.292 ppp).
  • Ionescu ranked 4th in the league last season in Pick and Roll points per possession amongst high-volume ballhandlers (10 possessions or more per game, .915 ppp).

The New York Liberty are still finding their footing, but the foundation they’re starting with is one the kind GMs and coaches wish for. Strap in, because we have one heck of a season ahead of us!

WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

By Mark Schindler

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