September 20, 2020 

How can Emma Cannon help the Aces?

How the late-season signing has changed her game, and what she brings to the Aces

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Emma Cannon woke up to a text one morning from her agent. She knew something was up but wasn’t quite sure as to what would happen next. Shortly after that, she was on the phone with Aces general manager Dan Padover.

The Aces signed Cannon heading into the final weekend of the regular season, filling what had been a vacant 12th roster spot for nearly a month after the team waived Megan Huff back in August. Cannon has appeared in 38 WNBA regular season and playoff contests, all in the 2017 season with Phoenix. After training camp stints with Phoenix and Connecticut in 2018 and 2019, she has her foot back in the door in the WNBA. 

“I came into a team that’s already really established, so I am supposed to come in and bring energy for one,” Cannon told reporters this week. “Bring a physical presence, be able to play defense, get rebounds, do the little dirty things. I am a physical player; I set hard screens. I think I’m the best screener in the W. I’m just supposed to do that, do the little things.” 

Cannon is now the fourth big on the roster behind A’ja Wilson, Carolyn Swords, and Dearica Hamby. That spot has been in flux this season. Avery Warley-Talbert was signed back on July 4, the same day the team announced All-WNBA center Liz Cambage was expected to miss the 2020 season. 

Warley-Talbert logged 24 minutes in three games and was waived on August 8 as the team made room to sign Megan Huff. Huff started the season with the Minnesota Lynx but was waived to make room for Odyssey Sims on the active roster. Huff was waived on August 17 after logging 11 minutes in four games. About three weeks later, the Cannon signing was announced, filling the team’s 12th roster spot once again. 

What does Cannon bring to the table for the Aces as they prepare for the playoffs? Don’t expect to see the same player from 2017. Cannon has been working diligently to become more of a stretch-4 option in addition to the toughness, physicality, and rebounding presence we saw back in her rookie season.

“I haven’t been in the league since 2017 with the Mercury,” Cannon said. “My game has totally changed. I was about 208 with the Mercury; I’m 185 now. I worked on my game where now I’m a stretch 4; I shoot the 3.”

Measured expectations are needed for any late-season signing. No WNBA team had much practice time this season as they have largely been playing every other day. As a top-two seed, though, the Aces got multiple chances to hit the practice floor in preparation for the semifinals—time that gives Cannon a chance to get acclimated while the coaching staff gets to know her game up close within their system and schemes.

The Aces have rolled with a three-player post-rotation all season with Wilson and Swords as the starters. Hamby, the reigning Sixth Woman of the Year, essentially plays starter’s minutes each night. In the playoffs, head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer could also occasionally look to slide Angel McCoughtry up to the 4 in some smaller lineups, especially when one of Wilson or Hamby is resting. 

Las Vegas won’t need many minutes from the other big(s) with Wilson and Hamby likely playing 30-plus minutes per game in the playoffs. But Cannon can give them a different look. They’ve done more switching defensively with Wilson and Hamby. Swords is not as effective guarding out near the 3-point line, and opponents can find more seams to attack when they put Swords in pick and roll defense. If Cannon does get some run in the playoffs, the Aces should have a little more optionality with their defensive coverages across all 40 minutes. 

Here are some looks at Cannon switching onto Cappie Pondexter and Skylar Diggins-Smith back in 2017. At least having the option to meet guards further from the basket gives a team another way to mix things up if an opponent’s top perimeter options get rolling with pull-up jump shots. Switching can be equally helpful in keeping ball-handlers from turning the corner, forcing them to instead make a tough contested shot. 

Cannon’s experience playing with Brittney Griner can be useful if and when she logs any minutes next to Wilson, another dominant scorer that often commands multiple defenders. 

Cannon also gives the Aces a slightly different presence offensively. Both Swords and Cannon are low-usage players that do most of their damage on catches around the basket, on the offensive glass, and with the occasional midrange jumper. But Cannon can also add some value taking one hard dribble knifing to the basket. So if an opponent is, say, doubling Wilson or trapping Angel McCoughtry, a drive and finish like this can be a big swing play for the Aces. 

When the defense accomplishes its goal of forcing one of your best players to give it up, the other players on the floor must attack the advantage and convert. 

The playoffs call for a higher reliance on your best players. As Laimbeer forms his playoff rotation, the Aces will still need solid minutes from some of their reserves even if the minute totals of their core players rise. Will Cannon factor into that mix at all? That’s to be determined. But there are at least a few things you can point to that can mesh with how the Aces have been playing in 2020. 

Written by Ben Dull

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