Las Vegas Aces rookie guard Jackie Young walks the ball over half-court during an August 13 win over the Atlanta Dream.
Initiating the offense with a pass to Dearica Hamby at the top of the key, the Aces have star center Liz Cambage sealing her defender in front of the basket. Hamby bullets a pass to her.
Help comes defense comes from the Dream’s Tiffany Hayes, but Cambage is not looking to shoot. On the catch, she pivots with the ball in her hands for less than a second and fires into the corner.
Hayes’ help came at a cost: She left Kayla McBride, the Aces’ best perimeter shooter, all alone.
In the three steps it takes Hayes to recover, McBride catches, sets herself on the balls of her feet, and releases, holding her high arc follow-through:
Courtesy of WNBA.com Advanced Stats
FROM SAN ANTONIO TO THE VEGAS STRIP
Though McBride has spent her whole career with the same franchise, the team itself has changed.
In 2014, McBride was drafted third out of Notre Dame by the San Antonio Stars. The Stars made the playoffs with a 16-18 record during her rookie season, getting bounced in straight games by the Minnesota Lynx. From there, they would spend the next three seasons at the very bottom of the standings before moving to Las Vegas in 2018.
While they missed the playoffs by a game that first year in their new home, the Aces secured their third straight number one pick, building a strong core of Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson and Young to play alongside McBride while also acquiring Cambage. Las Vegas made a leap this past season, finishing at 21-13 with a four seed and a first-round bye.
They went on to knock off the Chicago Sky in their one-game playoff (on the miraculous Hamby Heave) before falling in four to the eventual champion Washington Mystics.
Though 2019 saw the sixth-year pro named to her third All-Star Game, McBride also saw her points drop to their lowest since her rookie year. Nonetheless, her efficiency numbers climbed across the board.
She bested her career averages in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds, assists and steals. Her 42.8 percentage from deep was good for fifth in the W, and her 62 makes were good for eighth.
McBUCKETS STILL FINDING HER SHOTS
McBride played a critical supporting role for a team that retooled by adding starters Cambage and Young ahead of the 2019 season. In a terrific play-by-play breakdown from Ben Dull for BBall-Index, McBride talked through her reads, giving access to her thinking both offensively and defensively on a given possession.
In sum, her looks came on backdoor cuts off high-post passes and elusive double-screen weaves, effort plays that keep defenses on their toes and free up the rest of LV’s talented roster. McBride’s usage rate of 19.0 percent was fourth on the team (behind Cambage, Wilson and Hamby), and 55th in the league. She accounted for 22.1 percent of Las Vegas’ points.
Prior to 2019, her usage rates had ranged between 21.8 and 29.4 percent.
Las Vegas was one of the most complete teams in the W this past season, ranking 3rd in scoring (82.2 PPG), first in rebounds (38.8 RPG) and third in assists (20.9 APG). The imposing twosome of Cambage and Wilson, coupled with the aggressive transition game of Hamby, led to open looks around the perimeter.
The only problem is that those passes were not made frequently enough.
Although the Aces ranked first in 3-point percentage (36.7), they were dead last in threes attempted (509). The next closest team in attempts was the Indiana Fever (569), and both were well off the record pace set by the Mystics, who took 864 tries from beyond the arc.
Playing Within the Offense
Unlike the Aces’ other guards that were primary ball-handlers—Sydney Colson, Plum and Young—much of McBride’s game came within the flow of the offense. Of all her made field goals, 73.7 percent came off an assist; that number slots in between Wilson and Cambage.
McBride converted the largest number of her baskets from Young, scoring 33 times off the latter’s setups. As displayed in the shooting chart below, there were a variety of plays that Vegas ran to create this cohesion.
Many of the finds were top-of-the-arc threes, often screen-based, off either curl rubs or down picks that drew attention to the cutting bigs. Others were out-of-bounds plays in which McBride’s quick release took advantage of the smallest of late closeouts. The last majority came in transition, where the two guards filled the lane to perfection, playing off each other while duping the retreating defenders in full speed:
Kayla McBride FG Makes off Jackie Young assists, courtesy of WNBA.com
McBride saved her best performances for my New York Liberty, scoring 25 and 24 in her two visits to Westchester—her highest point outputs of the season. (In New York’s lone visit to Vegas, she put up 18 on 3-of-6 shooting while knocking down all 11 of her free throws.)
She was decisive and aggressive in these three games, beating opposing guards like Kia Nurse and Tanisha Wright off the dribble for open looks, both on drives and sidestep jumpers.
McBride was a catalyst for Las Vegas all season long, seeing the largest disparity in performance during the team’s wins and losses.
She scored 15.1 points per game in the Aces’ 21 victories on 46.4 percent shooting, good for a +10.2 plus/minus. In their 13 defeats, she averaged 10.5 on just 36.0 percent from the floor, stumbling to a -9.8. The team as a whole shot nearly eight percent lower on three-point attempts in losses, and that 31.7 percent would land them behind all but the Dream.
How can K-Mac be the best version of herself in year seven? What can she do to catapult Las Vegas from contender to champion?
With a full year of experience for that core, the Aces are primed for growth. McBride will continue to be a perimeter threat with a green light, and it’s imperative for Coach Bill Laimbeer to get the teams more looks from deep.
It would indeed be a philosophical overhaul if he can make that scheme adjustment: During his 15-year coaching career, his team has finished ninth or worse in three-point attempts in all but one year (the 2017 Liberty finished 6th).
But by adding the second part of a true inside-outside approach, next year’s Aces team will be nearly impossible to defend in the half-court.
McBride will play a huge part in that as a player who can make more of those looks while also setting up others to do the same. The more space, the easier Las Vegas’ front line will be able to dominate.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.