April 16, 2021
Aces add depth to a championship-ready roster with three draft picks
Team culture and chemistry were top priorities for Las Vegas
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The Las Vegas Aces set out to bolster their championship-level roster in Thursday’s WNBA Draft, and they did just that.
Vegas rounded out its squad with three new pieces: 19-year-old forward Iliana Rupert from France (No. 12 overall), guard Destiny Slocum from Arkansas (No. 14) and guard Kionna Jeter from Towson (No. 36).
This draft had more than its fair share of twists and turns along the way, with top prospects dropping lower than many expected. But the Aces stuck with their game plan and head coach Bill Laimbeer felt the team got exactly what they needed, not just in terms of position and play level, but from a chemistry perspective as well.
New owner Mark Davis was even in the war room last night to experience the madness of the draft night.
“It’s great to have an owner that’s engaged and wanting to learn about our game,” Laimbeer said. “He’s been a longtime women’s basketball fan. He’s putting his money where his mouth is, building a practice facility … the players respect him and every time they meet him, he’s fun to be around.”
No. 12: A talent too good to pass up
With their first-round pick, the Aces went with 19-year-old Iliana Rupert from France. She just wrapped up her third (yes you read that right) professional season playing for Bourges in the Euroleague and was even named the league’s Young Player of the Year in both 2020 and 2021.
Having professional-level experience doesn’t change her approach to the opportunity to play in the WNBA, though. Rupert still feels she can learn a lot from greats like A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, and Dearica Hamby.
“I don’t fully realize how lucky I am to be able to practice with those girls and learn from them,” Rupert said. “It will be tough, but this is what I like and this is why I came to the league — to play against amazing players. It will be a really amazing experience.”
This season, Rupert averaged a career-high 10.2 points in the French League, while connecting on a career-high 63.0 percent of shots from the field. And that’s not all. She also set career highs in Euroleague play, with 9.3 points per game on 66.7 percent shooting.
Currently, Rupert’s team is in first place in the LFB with a record of 21-2.
Laimbeer believes Rupert should’ve gone higher in the draft, but thinks his team was in a special position to be able to add her on with her Olympic commitments.
“It was clear we couldn’t pass up a talent like Iliana … A lot of them [other teams] are in win now modes and trying to figure out how to compete for the championship,” Laimbeer said. “They couldn’t afford to take a player that’s probably going to be a year or two out for contributing. We’re very fortunate to be positioned that we were able to do that and not affect our core nucleus.”
Indeed the Aces are in a unique position to be able to stash talent overseas, thanks to some big off-season moves combined with the return of players like Cambage and Kelsey Plum. Especially with the Olympics this year, Rupert won’t be able to dedicate time to her new squad for a while, but clearly, the organization thought she’s well worth the wait.
No. 14: The fast-paced facilitator
One thing the Aces needed to get out of this draft was a sharpshooter, and they found that in Destiny Slocum.
Since she first stepped foot on the collegiate courts, Slocum has drained 37.5 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc, never shooting below 36.8 percent in her four years.
Among her collegiate honors: 2017 National Freshman of the Year, SEC All-Conference, Pac-12 All-Conference, and Big Ten All-Conference.
She’s also known for being a strong facilitator and she’s quick on her feet to boot, helping push the ball forward and create scoring opportunities around her.
“I think throughout my college career I’ve improved my willingness to play at a slower pace, but I think genuinely as a player that my game is best suited for someone who loves to run,” Slocum said. “I think my maturity as a player throughout college basketball would fit in any system, but obviously I would love to play on a team that plays with pace, and Las Vegas fits perfectly.”
A huge draw for Laimbeer was Slocum’s efficiency as a passer. She led her team in assists every year of her career, including 106 assists as a senior — the 15th highest single-season total in Arkansas history.
“She understands the game of basketball from start to finish,” Laimbeer said. “She’s a great passer … She’s also not afraid to take a shot. This is a pick and roll guard that can go create for others. And with our talent level that we have, that’s what we’re looking for: creating for others and making players better.”
Slocum’s fast pace and aggressive play-making will fit right in with a physical and energetic Vegas team.
Picking Slocum really highlights the Aces’ prioritization of chemistry in this draft. They didn’t compromise in these picks — they were able to get top-tier talent while making sure they were also getting good fits for their team culture and play style.
No. 36: Earning her stripes
With their third-round pick, the Aces went with Kionna Jeter out of Towson. She’s the first Tiger in program history to ever be drafted in the WNBA.
Jeter was a bucket machine this season, draining 23.0 points per game on her way to her third straight All-CAA First Team selection. She went out with a bang, finishing her career ranked third in school history in scoring (1,582), third in three’s (186), and fourth in steals (237).
“Kionna finished in the top ten in the nation in scoring this year at Towson, and we’re excited to see what she can do against WNBA competition come training camp,” Laimbeer said.
Oh, and it’s not just offense. Jeter excels on the other side of the ball and has not one, but two All-Defensive selections. This kind of versatility will be welcome in Las Vegas.
Rupert, Slocum, and Jeter will join an already loaded Aces roster this season as they go after the championship title that slipped through their fingers last year. Other new acquisitions in the off-season include Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams via free agency, and the 2020 late-season addition Emma Cannon signed a training camp contract.
Familiar faces returning to the court in black and red include 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson, five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry, three-time All-Star Liz Cambage, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, and former No. 1 overall picks Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young.
The deck is stacked.