The Las Vegas Aces played the Minnesota Lynx on June 16. And I don’t want to tell you about all of the game, but I definitely want to tell you about four minutes and 20 seconds of it. More specifically, I want to tell you about the stretch in the fourth quarter from the 4:38 mark to the 0:18 mark.
What happened was: The game was tied at the start of the fourth quarter. And it mostly stayed that way until Dearica Hamby sat down with 6:56 to go. She wa—
Hamby, by the way, was drafted out of Wake Forest in 2015. She’s a bench player for the Aces, but she’s the most important kind of bench player, which is to say one who can do everything and is often asked to do everything. She’s a troublemaker, is what she is. She comes in, fucks things up for the other team for several minutes, and then goes and sits back down and waits to do it again. She bangs on opponents and she pushes opponents and she sets hard screens on opponents and she rebounds over opponents. It’s always great to watch. I like those “Hard Hat” players. The ones who are built from iron and anger. The ones who seem to enjoy hard labor. The ones who come in the game and set off a bunch of dynamite all over the court. The ones who play basketball with the same kind of dogged intensity that a coal miner chips away at the earth with. Hamby is one of those players. (Whenever I write a thing about the WNBA, I message a few different people to get insights. In this case, I buzzed @Hoopism, @HerHoopStats, LaChina Robinson from ESPN, and Arielle Chambers from Bleacher Report to ask about other Hard Hat players in the league. Some of the names that came back: Amanda Zahui B., Ariel Atkins, Briann January, and Sami Whitcomb.) At any rate …
The game was tied at the start of the fourth quarter. And it mostly stayed that way until Dearica Hamby sat down with 6:56 to go with the Aces down just two (62-64). She took a two-minute break and things went upside-down for the Aces. They couldn’t score, they couldn’t defend, and they couldn’t keep hold of the ball. It was a mess. It seemed like the Lynx, playing in front of their home crowd and fully ravenous by that point, had taken the Aces, stuffed them into a burlap sack, and then thrown that burlap sack into the deepest, coldest part of Lake Superior. (I was watching the game on my laptop, and it was right around this point that I got up out of my seat, quietly said to myself, “Man, fuck this shit,” and then went and got some ice cream out of the freezer.)
But that’s when Hamby checked back in. And listen, the point of this is not to say that Dearica Hamby is the player on the Aces whom other teams should fear the most. (That’d be Liz Cambage.) And the point of this is not to say that Dearica Hamby is the player on the Aces most capable of catching fire from deep. (That’d be Kayla McBride.) And the point of this is not to say that Dearica Hamby is the player on the Aces who turns the team into something truly devastating when she decides she wants to be the best perimeter player on the court. (That’d be Kelsey Plum.) And the point of this is not to say that Dearica Hamby is the player on the Aces who has the greatest chance at becoming a generational player. (That’d be A’ja Wilson.) The point of this is to say that Dearica Hamby is fucking super important. Because here are the facts:
The Aces were down eight with 4:38 to go in the game (64-72). And then Dearica Hamby checked in. And then the Aces scored 14 points in a row, while the Lynx scored zero points in a row. The Lynx didn’t score again, in fact, until there were just 18 seconds left and the game was already over.
And, truth be told, if you just scroll through the game log for that stretch, you’d hardly know Hamby was even there (she had one assist and one rebound during the run), but that’s kind of the whole reason I’m writing this article.
Dearica Hamby has been my favorite player to watch this season. And sometimes she might go nuts offensively, sure, like when the Aces played the Dallas Wings last week and she scored 27 points in just 21 minutes. And sometimes she might go nuts defensively, yes, like when the Aces played the Sparks last month and she posted 14 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in just 27 minutes. But mostly it’s the stuff that she does in between those plays that seems the most important. It’s the times that she outsprints everyone down the court, or the times she closes the lane off to a driving guard, then jumps back out to guard her player, then bulldozes her way into the paint to get a rebound. She’s a mayhem causer. She’s an unsettler. She’s a disruptor. And more than that: She’s the biggest disruptor in the league.
Because here are some facts, and this time they’re advanced stats, all of which come from Basketball-Reference dot com (as of June 27):
- Among players who have played 100 or more minutes this season, Dearica Hamby is second in the league in win shares per 40 minutes. (Only Tianna Hawkins from the Washington Mystics is above her.) (Third place, FYI, is Cambage.) (Any time you can finish above Cambage in something, that’s how you know you’re doing a good thing.)
- Dearica Hamby has the best defensive rating in the league among players who have played 100 or more minutes. (Hers is 85. Only four players in the WNBA have a defensive rating below 90 right now. The other three: Cambage, who is a fucking powerhouse; Seattle’s Natasha Howard, who is a fucking powerhouse; and Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones, who is a fucking powerhouse.)
- Dearica Hamby has the seventh-highest player efficiency rating of every player in the league who has played 100 or more minutes. (All six of the names above her are MVP-level players.)
- Dearica Hamby is averaging 22.1 points and 13.2 rebounds per 40 minutes played. Only eight players total in the league are doing that. And when you add in that she’s also averaging 3.4 assists, she becomes one of only four players who are doing that (it’s her, Washington’s Elena Delle Donne, Cambage, and A’ja Wilson). And among that group of four, Hamby gets 2.8 steals per 40 minutes. None of the other three get more than 1.1. (And just for fun: Hamby also has the best eFG% of the group.)
The run that I mentioned at the start of this article: It was actually the second run like that in the game. The first run happened in the third quarter. Dearica was on the bench, the Lynx jumped out to a nine-point lead with a little more than three minutes to go, and then Dearica came back in and the game was tied by the end of the quarter. (Technically, she came in when the Aces were down seven. But she entered while a player from the Lynx was headed to the free throw line. That’s how they got up nine. But you get the idea.) And, again, the point of all of this isn’t to say that Dearica Hamby is the sole reason that the Las Vegas Aces are going to win a championship this year. It’s just to say that no team has ever won a championship without having a Dearica Hamby on it.