April 12, 2022
On WNBA Draft Night 2022, threes were the key for the Las Vegas Aces
As the new Aces GM stated "Becky wanted lots of shooters" and that's what the Aces got in the 2022 WNBA draft
With a first-year head coach and a brand-new general manager, the Las Vegas Aces went into the 2022 WNBA draft with many unknowns. Becky Hammon is a star in the basketball world but has never been a head coach before. Natalie Williams was just named the franchises’ general manager on Friday but has already made a trade that may define the short-term future of the Aces. For a franchise that has made it to the WNBA semifinals the past two seasons, there were a lot of questions surrounding the Aces. However, after three rounds and five picks on Monday night, Hammon and Williams made a statement about the style of play the Aces will have under their leadership. Three-point shooting and versatility will be key.
The Aces took the lowest number of threes and made the second-fewest shots from beyond the arc of any team in the WNBA last season. The Aces didn’t need to take a lot of threes with A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage manning their frontcourt. However, with Cambage gone, new head coach Hammon has stated that her team will take more threes this season. To do that, Las Vegas was going to need to add more shooters and four out of the five Aces draft picks filled that mold.
With the eighth overall pick, the Aces drafted Mya Hollingshed. Three picks later, Las Vegas drafted Kierstan Bell. With the first pick of the second round, the Aces grabbed Khayla Pointer and Aisha Sheppard with the 23rd pick. With their final pick, the Aces snagged Faustine Aifuwa.
“I felt like I’d been there for 20 years. It was so much fun. And we, as a coaching staff as an administration, we are so excited. You know for the players that we got,” said Aces GM Natalie Williams after the draft. “We’re just ecstatic for everybody we got and we’re looking forward to get ready and to go to training camp.”
Hollingshed, a 6’3 forward from Houston, Texas, was an All-Pac-12 performer this year for Colorado. She averaged 14 points and seven rebounds while shooting almost 40% from three for the Buffaloes. Hollingshed put up a season-high 28 points, including four made threes against Utah earlier this year.
Hollingshed brings a lot to the table at the power forward position. I watched her play multiple games in the Pac-12 tournament and was impressed with her toughness and grit. Even though she wasn’t always finding success on the offensive end, she plays extremely hard and grinds at both ends of the floor. Her post-moves are great and her ability to pick and pop makes her very difficult to guard. Hollingshed loves to do the dirty work as well, grabbing offensive rebounds and scrapping for loose balls. She is an incredible defender and has great instincts and IQ on that side of the ball. Her ability to be a help defender is off the charts and she makes opponents score over her length.
“Mya Hollingshed, I can’t say enough about this kid. A stretch four who can shoot the three as well as she can, defend probably one through five,” said Williams of Hollingshed. “Her three-point shooting and her athleticism is something that Becky Hammon really loved.”
With their second pick in the first round, Las Vegas snagged Bell, a 6’1 wing from Alliance Ohio. She was the ASUN player of the year this season for Florida Gulf Coast, averaging 23 points and seven rebounds while making 62 threes this year for the Eagles. Bell scored 32 points against LSU while making five threes and grabbing 10 rebounds earlier this year. She won the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Award two years in a row and will now be coached by Hammon herself, quite a small world.
Bell was possibly the most versatile player in Monday night’s draft. She can play the three through five positions. She will be better suited in the WNBA as a wing player but can play in the post. She can score in many ways and moves extremely well without the ball. While she isn’t an incredible three-point shooter, she shoots the deep ball well enough that opponents will have to respect it.
Where she may struggle is the defensive end since she hasn’t been playing against top-level competition the last few seasons. If Las Vegas has her guarding wing players more often than post players, she will be more successful on the defensive end of the floor.
“I’m versatile, so I can play many positions, and then just giving me an opportunity to learn from the best of the best,” said Bell on what she brings to the Aces. “She (Becky Hammon) can move me around and play me in different positions, and just being open-minded like I said before. It’s going to be difficult at first, of course, because you’re going to go into the next level, but when you have great players on the team that you can learn from, that’s just an opportunity to grow.”
Pointer, a 5’7 guard from Marietta, Georgia, was the first pick of the second round. This year, an All-SEC performer for LSU, Pointer averaged 20 points and 5 assists this season for the Tigers. She had a triple-double earlier this season as well, scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing 10 assists against Mississippi.
Pointer is the prototypical backup point guard/sixth woman. She is an incredible scorer at every level who has a ton of dribble moves in her bag. A good three-point shooter and a willing passer, Pointer does a good job finding open teammates. Her defense is tough and gritty at the point guard position, and she does a good job of fighting over screens. Her free throw shooting isn’t the best for someone who attacks the basket at the level she does. Lastly, while she is a great scorer, it can sometimes take her a lot of shots to get to her high-scoring totals.
“A great backup point guard from LSU under Kim Mulkey; we know she’s tough and distributes the ball well,” said Williams of Pointer.
The Aces finished out their draft, grabbing Aisha Sheppard and Faustine Aifuwa. Sheppard, a 5’9 guard from Alexandria, Virginia, is the definition of a knockdown shooter. She knocked down 98 threes last year while shooting 39% from beyond the arc and scoring 13 points per game at Virginia Tech. For her to succeed at the WNBA level, she will need to continue to be a high-volume, high-efficiency three-point shooter.
Aifuwa, a 6’5 center from Dacula, Georgia, is a defensive post presence. In her five years at LSU, Aifuwa never had less than 40 blocks in a season. She also rebounded at a high level, averaging seven rebounds per game in the 2021-22 season. Aifuwa will need to develop an offensive game to match her defensive capabilities if she wants to last in the WNBA.
Coming into the 2022 draft, the Aces had some holes to fill. However, they knew with only 10 players on their roster; they would be able to find draftees who could contribute right away. The Aces did just that on Monday night, drafting players who filled the majority of their needs. The Aces needed a quality big to replace Cambage, who could also give Wilson a break during games. Enter Hollingshed. They needed a backup wing for Jackie Young, who has some versatility. Enter Bell.
They needed a backup point guard for Chelsea Gray. Enter Pointer. They desperately needed three-point shooting. Enter not one but four different players who can consistently knock down the outside shot.
The Aces answered most of their roster questions and some on Monday night. Now for new head coach Becky Hammon its time to see how this roster can best fit together. She has a lot of weapons to play with and a lot to sort out between now and when the Aces open their season on May 6th.
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.