August 12, 2022
The Point Gawd is peaking at just the right time
Why Chelsea Gray's strong post All-Star break play has helped propel the Aces towards the playoffs
Athletes can find motivation from a lot of different things. Sometimes it’s something as big as missing a game-winning shot or losing a playoff series. Sometimes it’s something as small as making an and-1 in a blowout loss.
For Chelsea Gray this season, it was being left off the All-Star roster. If you have been living under a rock for the last month, she has played like a woman with something to prove to All-Star voters.
Gray had a great first half of the season and many thought she, along with the rest of her fellow Aces starters, would be named to the All-Star team. Gray averaged 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 6.0 assists while shooting 45% from the field and 91% from the free throw line during the first half of the season. So being snubbed, while playing as well as she had been, hurt. She has used that to fuel her second half.
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“Yeah, there was a little bit of a chip on my shoulder for me not getting selected, but also getting more into a flow and in a rhythm with a lot more time in between. Just reading the defenses honestly, just taking what the defense gives me. It’s kind of like similar shots, I’m just knocking them down now,” Gray told The Next.
Since the All-Star break, Gray has been on a tear, averaging 14.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game. She is shooting 53% from the field, 39% from three, and 87.5% from the charity stripe. She’s had her season-highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals all come in the second half of the season, including a 14-point, 12-assist double-double against Indiana, her only double-double of the year.
This strong second-half performance by Gray has helped push the Aces to a 10-3 record since the break and allowed them to regain control of first place in the WNBA. Two of the biggest reasons for her second-half improvement are her three-point shooting and turnovers.
She has shot 10% better from beyond the arc in the second half of the year. She’s also dropped her turnovers from 2.4 to 1.9 in the second half of the season.
Chelsea Gray has always been known as a great point guard, but she has dropped some ridiculous dimes in the second half of the season. In the past two weeks alone, she has had two different behind the back assists, one from an out-of-bounds play for a layup. She now also holds the franchise’s single-season assist record.
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Her court vision is on another level and it’s shown in her ability to get the ball where only her teammates can get it. She also has a gift for passing the ball ahead in transition for her teammates to run into it and get a wide-open layup. She has vision that all coaches dream of for their point guards.
“You know, Chelsea Gray has vision that you cannot teach. Chelsea Gray has an arsenal maybe a little bit more diversified offensively. She has things that you cannot teach. She is a masterful reader of whatever the defense is doing and taking the other thing.” Hammon said. “She has a Ph.D. in pick and roll. She threw a couple dimes the other day there were really just crazy. Really fun to watch when she gets in those kinda zones.”
Gray has been on a lot of incredible teams and played with a lot of incredible people throughout her career. She has played on the US national team and won an Olympic gold medal this past summer in Tokyo. She has also won a WNBA championship with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Through her success, her passing abilities have been on display for all to see. It is through these experiences that she picked up the nickname of Point Gawd. She actually got it from a former Sparks teammate.
“Candace (Parker) actually gave it to me. It was for my birthday. One time she was like ‘happy birthday Point Gawd’ and then it just stuck. So she’s the one that actually said the name for the first time,” Gray said. “It’s something I’ve embraced, for sure. It’s on my shoe that I had. And so it’s kind of like me now.”
Gray’s strong second half has pushed the Aces into a good spot as they head towards the playoffs, and Gray knows the importance of playing your best basketball at this time of year. Gray is the only player on the Aces who has a WNBA championship ring.
She knows to win a championship it takes every player being locked in and wanting to play for one another. These are the kind of things Gray is focusing on with her teammates to help get that elusive first championship for the franchise.
This second-half push hasn’t just been about being left off the All-Star roster for Gray. In late June, Gray had to miss a game due to a personal matter, stepping away after the passing of her grandfather.
The couple of weeks that followed were very difficult for Gray, but her teammates helped to pick her up and she has really been trying to keep herself focused on the task at hand. She also has been able to have her grandmother come to a lot of her games as well.
Kicking off her second half on a strong note, she had a phenomenal game in the Commissioner’s Cup championship and was named the MVP of the game. It was a big moment for her and something that helped put it all in perspective.
“That was an amazing feeling. It’s been a hard couple of weeks for me. I lost somebody close to me. My teammates have been there for me along the whole journey. Constantly checking in. I’ve had basketball and I’ve had them,” said Gray. “There’s a lot of emotion coming to a head. But these teammates, they’re my dogs, man. They have my back.”
After a difficult stretch in June and July, she has understood the importance of games down the stretch. Her teammates know how important she is to their success and everything she brings to the court every night.
“I just want to say for the record, set it straight: She’s the best point guard in the world. She’s starting point guard on the Olympic team. She’s an All-Star, All-WNBA player. She’s the clutchest player in the WNBA,” Kelsey Plum said of Gray. “She’s a competitor and she leads our team, and when we need plays down the stretch, Chelsea consistently makes big plays. At the end of the day, you can talk about the numbers and this and that, but she wins games, and that to me should be the most important thing.”
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.