Kelsey Plum embracing role as Hammon’s ‘un-guardable’ guard

LAS VEGAS (AP) — First-year Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon told Kelsey Plum before the season began that she would be the hardest guard in the league to defend.

Plum’s offensive prowess is no secret. But her versatility in being able to thread passing seams in the Aces’ new system led Hammon to believe Plum’s ability to run Las Vegas’ high-powered offense could make her the WNBA’s most dangerous guard.

“She has such a high level, a skillset obviously scoring the ball,” Hammon said after Friday’s 96-73 win in Atlanta. “Now when teams are just focused on taking away her scoring, her willingness to pass kind of makes her un-guardable.”

One year after being relegated to the bench as a reserve under former Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, Plum is averaging 17.5 points per game and is second-best in the league with 6.8 assists per game for an offense that leads the WNBA with 90.8 points a contest.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Plum said. “We’ve only been together a couple of weeks. I think I’m in a different place and I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and how to deal with different things that come my way.”

Like overcoming an Achilles tendon injury that caused her to miss the 2020 season. Or coming off the bench in 2021. But also in leading the inaugural Olympic 3×3 competition in points per game (6.2) while helping the United States to a gold medal.

While Laimbeer had some of the harshest criticisms of Plum over the years, she was quick to credit the foundation he laid for her to become the player she is today. Whether it was learning how to run the floor defensively, or learning how to get certain people the ball by enhancing her decision-making, or getting in different shape to be the best-conditioned athlete in the league.

And though it was one of the first times in her playing career that she came off the bench, the fan-favorite knew she had no choice but to play the hand she’d been dealt.

“It was either a decision that I could make the most of it, or I could be a brat. I felt like if I want to win like I say I want to win, and this is what coach thinks is best for the team, I’m gonna buy in. And I’m gonna be better than anyone to ever do it and I did. I learned a lot, I learned a lot about myself, and I feel like I’m better for it,” said Plum, who won Sixth Woman of the Year last season. “And I’m never coming off the bench again.”

It’s not only her teammates who have taken notice and appreciate the player she’s become, praising her for growth and maturity to go along with her talent.

“The one thing you know about Plum is she wants to be great,” said Seattle star Sue Bird, the WNBA’s all-time assists leader. “She’s hungry for that. She’s motivated for that.”

A’ja Wilson said Plum is capable of challenging for league MVP.

“I think KP’s really worked at this year to have this moment for her,” Wilson said. “I think coming in it was tough for her but now she’s starting to form into herself, and I think that’s the beauty of it. When you watch it behind the scenes it’s amazing to see because you know what she’s capable of. She’s starting to get her confidence back.”

Confidence that in her fifth year, Plum is brazen about having a target on her back.

“I think it’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I feel very comfortable in my own skin — on the court, off the court. I feel like I’m ready for that. I’m gonna continue to play at the level that I’m playing at, and continue to learn and get better and grow, be the best player I can be for this team offensively and defensively. And it’ll all work itself out in the end.

“I want it. I want it so (expletive) bad … and that’s what you’re gonna see from me.”

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More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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