August 29, 2023 

How Kierstan Bell went from the end of the bench to consistent contributor for the Aces

The sophomore wing has taken a big step in her second year and found a consistent role with the reigning champs

As it has been well discussed, the WNBA is the hardest league in the world to play in. With only 130 to 144 roster spots available, very few players can make and stay on a roster. Many players, even first-round picks, are surprisingly cut even before they get a chance to play in a game. Along with that, players that stick can struggle to find a role or improve if they aren’t a star right away. That is especially difficult for a young player on a team full of stars like the Aces. However, Kierstan Bell came into the WNBA as an elite scorer and has grown her game in a way that has taken her from the end of the bench to a consistent contributor.

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Bell came to Las Vegas a year ago as one of the best players in the history of Florida Gulf Coast. She helped lead them to two ASUN titles and upset win over fifth-seeded Virginia Tech in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. She was named ASUN Player of the Year twice, a two-time AP Honorable Mention All-American and twice named the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year.

After finishing her impressive career in Fort Meyers, Bell was selected with the 11thoverall pick in the 2022 draft by the Aces. In her first year, Bell didn’t see the floor a lot. She only played in 21 games, averaging less than six minutes a game and only two points a game. She only scored in double-figures once in her rookie year as well. Despite the slow start, Bell used her rookie year to learn and understand how valuable the opportunities you get are.

“Opportunities, man, when opportunities come your way, you have to take advantage of them,” Bell said. “Last year, I didn’t play as much or at all. So, taking that from last year into this year, I have a different role this year, and I’m going to have to fill some shoes. And so that’s really what my mindset has been. It’s just knowing when my numbers called, being ready and knowing that my teammates trust me and hold me accountable just as I hold them accountable. The difference really has been just opportunities and making the most of them.”

Kierstan Bell guards Minnesota's Nikolina Milic in the Aces' July 22nd game in Minneapolis.
Kierstan Bell guards Minnesota’s Nikolina Milic in the Aces’ July 22nd game in Minneapolis. Photo Credit: John McClellan | The Next

This season, Bell has seen her role on the team grow to a point where she is a consistent contributor off the bench every game. She is usually the Aces’ second player off the bench, playing either the three or a small ball four. She has appeared in 33 of the Aces’ 36 games this year so far.

She has more than doubled her minutes, points and steals per game. She also doubled her 3-point percentage so far. She has played double-digit minutes in every game, except two, over the last 18 games. She’s had three double-digit scoring games, including a career-high 15 against Atlanta on the first of August. Bell has shown her ability to score this year, but her defense has been what has gotten her on the floor.

“She’s put in a lot of offseason work; she played in Athlete’s Unlimited, we had her in the gym a lot in the offseason,” said Hammon of her second-year wing. “Honestly, just when we were practicing…we throw a jersey on her and she would be Jewell Loyd, or she would be Stewie. And you see the ability, when she’s got the green light and she knows she’s not coming out, you see the ability to really kind of be a microwave scorer. That’s kind of what I want out of her. But I have to be able to trust her defensively and I think she’s shown a lot of growth and really a lot of try hard factor because, at the end of the day, a lot of defense is just trying hard. And she’s done that and she’s gonna continue to get minutes and we can we need her to continue to be solid and a contributor off the bench.”

Bell has grown a lot on the defensive side of the ball this season. She has figured out what she needs to do to keep people in front of her and rotate well when she is off the ball. Her ability to rotate into passing lanes has shown through multiple deflections and her getting a lot more steals this year than she did last year. She has spent a lot of time working with the Aces’ strength and conditioning coach on moving side to side and staying on balance to help her stay in front of people and get into passing lanes quickly.

She also has become a lot more confident on the defensive side of the ball as well, taking the time to analyze her play on that side and figure out where she needed to improve. She has talked to the coaches and watched film on her defense. She has been getting advice from her teammates and really focused on that side of the ball during her offseason time playing in Australia and Athletes Unlimited.

Kierstan Bell shoots over the outstretched hand of Minnesota's Bridget Carleton in the Aces' July 9th game against the Lynx.
Kierstan Bell shoots over the outstretched hand of Minnesota’s Bridget Carleton in the Aces’ July 9th game against the Lynx. Photo Credit: John McClellan | The Next

“When I went to Australia to play, it was being a defender first and offense coming second because I know that I can score the ball very well,” said Bell. “It’s my defensive that has to get better. So overseas, when I went over there, then I played AU, I really just tried to pick up on techniques on the defensive end, be more aggressive and really just locking on that thing side of the ball because I know that’s what coach really want is defense. She knows offense will come. So really just working on my defense. And yeah, I have been doing better on defense. And I think that I could progress a little bit more. And it’s always opportunity to get better each day, not just in the games but in practice as well. And I have teammates there to help me, encourage me, and get on me if I’m not doing the right things.”

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During her time at FGCU, Bell was a starter every game. However, since she has come to the WNBA, she has been a bench contributor for the Aces. Despite her lack of experience coming off the bench, Bell has leaned on her fellow benchmates to figure out what is required to be a strong bench contributor.

She has talked a lot to Sydney Colson and Alysha Clark about what it takes to be a strong bench contributor. She has asked questions about staying ready and soaking up all the knowledge she can from them. Bell has greatly appreciated the advice she has gotten from the two of them and will continue to ask them for advice as long as they play together.

On top of that, Bell has spent a lot of time at practice as the Aces’ opposing team’s best player on the scout team. She has spent time this season emulating Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Kahleah Copper to name a few. She knows in those situations, she has the ultimate green light, and it has helped her build confidence in her offensive game.

Bell contest's the 3-point shot of the Lynx's Kayla McBride in the Aces' July 9th tilt with Minnesota.
Bell contest’s the 3-point shot of the Lynx’s Kayla McBride in the Aces’ July 9th tilt with Minnesota. Photo Credit: John McClellan | The Next

“I feel like KB’s always been a gamer, but I feel like she just given more of opportunity now and she’s always made the most of her minutes and she’s very impactful,” Plum said of her sophomore teammate. “I feel like when KB comes in, she makes plays and you get to see that offensively defensively offensive rebounds, she hit shots. You don’t realize how hard it is to come off the bench and contribute instantly and not have to get warm because you don’t have time. You got to bring that type of spark. I feel like I’ve been impressed with her. She’s just continued to get better at that. And she’s been a star in her role and we’re going to need her to be a star in her role for the rest of the season.”

Bell’s growth has been a major necessity for the Aces this season. With the loss of both Candace Parker and Riquna Williams, Las Vegas has needed more scoring from their bench. Bell’s improvement has been a welcome addition to the rotation and her role should only continue to grow as the Aces head towards the playoffs.

Bell is the definition of player development and growth in the WNBA. Not every player is ready right away. Some need some time to adjust and figure out how they fit on their new team. Bell has done just that in her second year in Las Vegas and will look to continue to grow as she hunts her second WNBA championship.

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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