Jackie Young prepares to shoot a free throw against the Chicago Sky

Jackie Young Is Becoming Unguardable

In a Game 1 blitzing of the New York Liberty, the Las Vegas Aces romped to a 17-point victory and series lead in the WNBA Finals on their home court.

The Aces are seeking to repeat as WNBA Champions, potentially the first team to repeat since the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks, and a statement victory at Michelob Ultra Arena was the first step.

Both teams are made up of star-studded rosters, but no one shined brighter or was more impactful than Jackie Young, finishing with a career-playoff-high 26 points.

All points are not created equal, something Young showcased in this game.

The game opened up extremely competitively, with the Liberty taking a 49-46 lead to the locker room. But, that lead evaporated in the third quarter where Young scored nearly half of her points (12), throwing New York’s defense into rotation repeatedly.

Much has been made of Young’s growth as a shooter, and rightfully, and that got proven to the highest degree in Game 1. She ripped and ran off of the defensive glass and canned an early pull-up three. The Liberty went under a pair of staggered screens set for Young and she canned another.

The lack of hesitation, pure confidence, and her willingness to make the right read and let it fly spurred her on all game, and ultimately put New York in a bind.

The angle from the screen by Kiah Stokes effectively takes Sabrina Ionescu out of the play, forces a switch from Jonquel Jones, and whether by mistake (miscommunication), or design (wanting to prevent the drive), they gave Jackie the wide open shot which she obliged to take and make.

A few possessions later, the same empty corner pick and roll, this time with A’ja Wilson instead of Stokes. The Liberty opted to blitz Jackie to take away the shot and the drive, forcing the ball out of her hands….but Jackie handled the hard hedge well and swings the ball to a wide open Chelsea Gray.

While the Liberty miscommunicated on this possession and were slow to rotate, that’s part of the point and the difficulty they face by putting two defenders on the ball; the Aces move the ball so damn fast.

Notice how even if the Liberty had defended this differently off the ball, the Aces are cognizant of how the Liberty want to play off of Stokes (note how far into the paint Jonquel Jones is off of her). The Aces use Gray as the second screener off of Wilson, but she doesn’t even need to screen, and she pops out to open herself up, and Stokes sets a flare screen that ends up not even needing to be used.

If the defense were playing her closer, it adds an extra wrinkle of needing to be aware of her.

Las Vegas was rarely second to the punch, particularly in the second half of the game.

Jackie’s play displays the quandary she presents when she’s at her best; who on the Liberty can guard her one-on-one?

Basketball is rarely defined by strictly one-on-one battles, but if New York cannot find an answer, it’s going to be tough sledding defensively.

She was too strong and quick for Sabrina Ionescu. Too big for Courtney Vandersloot. She’s too good a shooter off the dribble and off the catch to give her space. But, play her too tight and she’s amongst the best at playing through contact.

On the plays that the Liberty tried to outright switch, she made lightning-fast decisions to swing the ball and move herself, her and Chelsea Gray putting on a give-and-go clinic.

Betnijah Laney, New York’s best perimeter defender, spent most of her time on Gray, understandable given her size and strength. Who guards Gray if Laney takes Jackie as her primary assignment?

It would be unfair to expect a clean 26 from Young every game in the Finals, but the skillset, confidence, quickness, and composure she brings will prove the ultimate test for Sandy Brondello and New York’s staff as they look to change the course of the series on Wednesday night.

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