Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson is a rookie forward roasting everyone more experienced than her off the dribble. The WNBA’s second-leading scorer at 21 points per game is just 21 years old. She’s the future and present of the league all at once, one rip-through to the bucket at a time.
Better yet, she’s taking over with her own on-court style, too. Sylvia Fowles made a name for herself with moves in the low post. Diana Taurasi’s iconic pull-ups from deep built her legacy. Sue Bird’s ability to thread the needle on impossible passes will define her Hall of Fame career.
Now, Wilson is proving 6’5 bigs can rip through and turn on the jets like wings.
There’s no forward in the “W” quicker with her first step than Wilson, who takes on slower defenders or stars like Candace Parker all the same. The game feels slower to her than the average veteran, as she’s able to size up her opponent, rip the ball through, and burst to the rim in one dribble.
Everything she does comes out of a triple-threat position, and it all happens so fast.
She thrives catching the ball anywhere around the foul line and going to work with her simple, but effective, tool set. Wilson can rock anyone to sleep and power through them to get where she needs to be. That’s why she’ll be Rookie of the Year, and that’s why the worst team in the league last season suddenly has playoff potential.
Wilson’s fundamentals get her to the free-throw line more than anyone.
Wilson’s a strong finisher around the rim, but she’s become the league’s second-leading scorer because she lives at the line. She goes to the free-throw line eight times per game, which is easily the most of any player — Dallas Wings star Liz Cambage is behind her, trailing by a full attempt.
Wilson’s frequency at the stripe is a product of the ridiculous agility she has for a player of her size. When she locks in, ball-fakes in one direction, then gets a half-step in front of her defender while going the other way, it’s over. Her defender is forced to foul or give up the bucket. It’s the same type of play on repeat, and sometimes doubling isn’t even enough to stop her.
When she gets those and-1 calls, she capitalizes on them. She shoots 78 percent from the line, which is how the points keep pouring in.
You can’t give Wilson room, either.
Her game doesn’t stretch out to the arc yet, but Wilson has range anywhere inside it. That’s why defenders are stuck in the conundrum of getting burned off the bounce by playing her close, or watching her drop buckets in their face if they take a step back. Wilson constantly keeps defenses honest, which makes her so tough to defend.
The threat of what she might do off the dribble gets her open shots from the elbow. Everything she succeeds in is helped one way or another by the quickness of her first step.
Wilson’s emergence is giving the Aces unexpected playoff hope.
Wilson joined the worst team in the league from a season ago, and is now leading it towards the final playoff spot. She’s had help, especially from teammate Kayla McBride, but this is A’ja’s team.
The Aces trail the Connecticut Sun by just 1.5 games for the final spot with 13 left to play. The team is hitting its stride, as is Wilson, who’s posted 22 points or more in four of her last six games, even dropping 34 on 24 shots in Las Vegas’ win over the Sun. It’s been a remarkable run.
Wilson’s time is now and later. Her team might not be ready for championship contention, but she’s close. Way closer than anyone thought they’d be. She’s looked the part of an all-star from the jump, and her first step out of the triple threat position has guided her there. And it’ll only get better from here.
Square up, pump fake, fake right, one hard dribble left towards the bucket.
That’s the A’ja Wilson special that’s quickly become one of the most iconic moves in the WNBA.