Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024 | 10:32 a.m.
The Aces are bringing back the woman they call the “anchor” of their defense.
Center Kiah Stokes is re-signing with the back-to-back WNBA champions on a two-year deal, Stokes told ESPN. Free agency for the league opens Thursday.
Stokes, 30, has spent the past two and a half seasons in Las Vegas after beginning her career with the New York Liberty. Stokes has averaged 5.4 rebounds and a block per game during 86 regular season games with the Aces.
The playoffs have shown her value, specifically the past two years. Stokes started 18 of the Aces’ last 19 playoff games. The team is the first since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02 to win back-to-back championships.
Stokes started 22 games last season in place of the injured Candace Parker, who missed the final three months of the season after undergoing foot surgery. Stokes averaged eight rebounds in 26 minutes during last season’s playoff run. When Stokes was on the floor, the Aces had an offensive rating of 126, an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions. Defensively, the Aces had a rating of 93 with Stokes on the floor.
Though the Aces have the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in A’ja Wilson, the reigning Finals MVP and coach Becky Hammon have called Stokes the anchor of their defense. The Aces allowed 80.2 points per game last season, second in the WNBA, and had a league-best 99.2 defensive rating.
Stokes did not play in the championship-clinching Game 4 against the Liberty due to a foot injury. She still sported a boot on her right foot as recent as Jan. 18 when she attended assistant coach Natalie Nakase’s jersey retirement ceremony at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, Calif.
ESPN also reported the Aces are signing center Megan Gustafson to a two-year deal. Gustafson played the last two years in Phoenix, averaging 7.9 points per game last season.