LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young has made tremendous strides in her five years as a pro since going No. 1 in the 2019 draft.
The Aces and the New York Liberty play Game 2 of their WNBA Championship series Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay. Las Vegas leads 1-0.
As a rookie out of Notre Dame, Young was a dynamic and predictable drive-to-her-right, mid-range specialist. She averaged 9.7 points per game over her first three seasons and improved progressively each year under then-coach Bill Laimbeer.
But when Becky Hammon arrived, and assistant Tyler Marsh was added to the coaching staff, little did Young know her game was about to take a long-range turn.
She went from being a 28.6% shooter from 3-point territory, to 44.3% the past two seasons.
“A lot of hard work, just trying to get better each offseason,” Young said after scoring 26 points in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday. “Spent a lot of time in the gym working on my game, but I have to give a lot of credit to Tyler. I mean, whenever he came here that really changed my game – my career really.
“The most obvious one was shooting 3s. I was able to tweak my shot a little bit last year and it’s made the biggest difference.”
In Las Vegas’ 99-82 win Sunday over the Liberty, Young hit 9 of 15 (60%) from the field, including 5 of 8 (62.5%) from beyond the arc. It marked the 15th time she’s hit for 60% or better from the floor, and 11th time from 3-point range.
After Hammon told Marsh what she envisioned, Young became his first project.
With physical attributes, athleticism and a strong work ethic already in place, he immediately went to work on her shooting.
“From a skills standpoint, that’s more of the realm we paid attention to,” Marsh said. “With her mentality and mindset in place, we wanted to make her as efficient as possible. We spent countless hours in the gym, created a plan, worked on her form shooting, getting her shot off quicker and doing it so she didn’t feel uncomfortable.
“She just trusted me, Becky’s vision, and the work we put in, all of which helped establish a relationship moving forward.”
It goes beyond her offense, though, as Hammon and star A’ja Wilson pointed out. Young held New York sharpshooter and reigning 3-point champion Sabrina Ionescu to just seven points on 2 of 7 shooting, including 1 of 5 from beyond the arc in Game 1.
“I think Jackie is just scratching the surface of how great she can be,” Hammon said. “She does so many things that help you win the game. She’s just one of those people that just keeps her nose to the ground. She’s a great decision-maker. She’s a big strong guard that has defense first … if you go back and you look at our games, go see what cuffs she put on, I can only remember maybe four or five times where a perimeter player got off on her. Out of 40 games, I’ll take that.”
Young’s growth in her five years as a professional has garnered a reputation of being a relentless two-way player, while also earning her a pair of All-Star nominations and the WNBA 2022 Most Improved Player award.
Her opponents know what she’s capable of.
“Obviously she’s scoring on different levels, being able to shoot 3, being able to get downhill … a player that can affect the game in different ways and she plays aggressively and is able to score on multiple levels,” Liberty forward and former MVP Jonquel Jones said.
As for the shy demeanor that is generally exemplified by a quick smirk when her teammates are fired up in her face after she’s electrified 10,000-plus frenzied Aces fans, Wilson said she’s working on it.
“I’m going to make sure that I am pulling that confidence out of her,” Wilson said. “Because Jackie is a little shy. She likes to beat around bushes, but I’m like, ‘Absolutely not. That’s not you. I know you have it in you.’
“And I love pulling it out of her because when you see that, you get the best Jackie.”