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Aces vs Dallas Wings

Wade Vandervort

Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young (0) shoots the ball past Dallas Wings Teaira McCowan (7) during a WNBA basketball game at Michelob Ultra Arena Wednesday, July 5, 2023.

• July 20 at Seattle: 7 p.m., Prime Video

• July 22 at Minnesota: noon, ESPN

• July 25 at Chicago: 4 p.m., ESPN+

• July 30 vs. Dallas: 3 p.m., CBS Sports Network

• August 1 vs. Atlanta: 7 p.m., Silver State Sports and Entertainment Network

• Tickets to home games at Michelob Ultra Arena $10-$100, axs.com.

It’s impossible to put a number on how many three-pointers Aces guard Jackie Young shot in the offseason. Aces coach Becky Hammon estimates several thousand, and Young doesn’t think that figure is too far off. “Tons” is the best Young could do after a recent game in describing her shooting regimen in preparation for her fifth WNBA season.

That offseason work following the Aces’ WNBA championship has paid off for Young. The 25-year-old No. 1 overall pick from the 2019 WNBA Draft is in the midst of a career-best season and has looked like Las Vegas’ best player in several games.

Through 17 regular-season contests—almost halfway through the WNBA’s 36-game schedule—Young had averaged a career-high 19.5 points per game with a 57% field goal percentage and a 47% three-point field goal percentage.

The Notre Dame product averaged less than one three-point attempt per game during her first three seasons in the WNBA, but upped that to around three last year within Hammon’s outside-shooting heavy scheme. That helped Young win the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award and contribute to the Aces’ first franchise championship. And she clearly hasn’t stopped leveling up in helping the Aces start this season with a 16-1 record.

“I always put the work in, but I think the biggest thing is coming out with an aggressive mindset and being confident,” Young says.

Young is part of the Aces’ core four alongside A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray. Each of those All-Star selections has a defined role—Wilson is the two-time league MVP and double-double machine, Plum is the crafty guard with the ability to take defenders off the dribble and Gray is the consummate orchestrator and go-to player in the clutch.

Young previously fit in as perhaps the Aces’ best on-ball defender. Her scoring had been more of a luxury on the Aces’ stacked roster, but it has upgraded to essential this season.

Young has routinely come through at timely junctures. During the Aces’ 89-82 victory over the Dallas Wings on July 5, for instance, she scored a team-high 28 points. Plum was a late scratch due to illness, leaving Young running the offense from the top of the key. She didn’t flinch with the increased responsibility falling on her.

“I think it’s more mindset,” Hammon says. “The way you shift in mindset is when you know you’ve put in the work. I think she knows her teammates and the staff have the utmost confidence in her.”

The Aces benefited from balanced scoring during last year’s championship run, and it has continued this season. Las Vegas leads the league in scoring with an average of 93.7 points per game and has eclipsed the 100-point mark on three occasions. Young is one of four starters—alongside Wilson, Plum and Gray—to average at least 14 points per game as part of an offense that’s converting on more than 50% of its shots from the field.

Not since the days of the original Houston Comets, which won the first four WNBA championships from 1997 to 2000, has an offense produced at such a rate.

Despite Young’s breakout campaign a year ago, she struggled with her shot during the playoffs. In the semifinals against Seattle, she went 1-for-9 in Game 2 and 3-for-8 in Game 3. But she showed a knack for coming through in crucial moments, making a game-tying basket as time expired in Game 3 before breaking out for 18 points in the Game 4 series-clinching victory.

Young was also tasked with guarding the Storm’s best scoring guard, Jewell Loyd, throughout the series. “It’s not all about scoring for me,” Young says. “I do whatever I can to help my team win.”

Young appeared to be the Aces’ most likely MVP candidate early in the season, but she has since been surpassed by Wilson, who has already claimed the WNBA’s top individual trophy twice. Wilson recently overtook Young as the Aces’ leading scorer at 19.8 points per game through 17 contests.

Young is staying sharp offensively, though. After every practice, she puts up an additional 50 to 100 three-pointers to make sure her rhythm is intact. She might now be in the tens of thousands of three-pointers attempted since the end of last season.

“It’s growth. It’s maturity,” Hammon says. “But I’m constantly trying to flip the switch in her brain for her to realize how great she is.”

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

Article written by #LasVegasSun

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