It's been a productive few weeks for Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum. On July 10, she played in the first All-Star Game of her career and was awarded the game's (comically small) MVP award after scoring 30 points. One week after that, she signed a two-year contract extension with the Aces. Last night, she paced the Aces to a 84-66 win over the Los Angeles Sparks, clinching a playoff berth for Las Vegas, which now has a sparkling 20-8 record.
The Sparks were up 53-46 with about five minutes left to play in the third quarter when the Aces decided that they were just going to blow their opponents out of the building. A'ja Wilson got things started with a 7-0 solo run to tie things up. Then the baton was handed over to Plum, who made two free throws and converted a tough driving layup to make it 57-53. She went on to lead her team in scoring in the fourth quarter with eight more points, which gave her a game-high 29. and by the time it was all over, what had looked like a scrappy win for the Sparks ended up as just another blowout in favor of the Aces.
The ability to lock in and turn a bothersome deficit into a yawning lead is the mark of any great team, and also a confident one. Perhaps nobody embodies the self-assurance of Becky Hammon's fast-paced, trigger-happy Aces than Plum, who did to the Sparks what she's been doing to most teams this season: attacking the rim without fear, pulling up from three without hesitation, and darting around the court like a supremely confident wasp. She's now scoring over 20 points per game, just a hair behind Breanna Stewart for pole position in the scoring title race, and leads the league in three-pointers made.
The 29-point outbursts and pull-up threes have been great fun to watch, but what has made Plum's season so satisfying, for both observers and herself, is that it has finally made manifest something that could previously only be described in thought experiments: Kelsey Plum as a legitimate WNBA superstar.
There is perhaps nothing that sucks more fun out of professional sports than wasted potential, and for quite some time it looked like Plum's career was doomed to be defined by such waste. Plum went from averaging over 31 points per game during her senior season at the University of Washington to becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA draft. From there she went on to average fewer than 10 points per game in each of her first three seasons in the league. Things started coming together a bit last season, when Plum averaged 14.8 points off the bench and won the Sixth Woman of the Year award. But still, there remained a nagging question: Is that really all Kelsey Plum can be? A reliable source of bench scoring?
Thankfully, Hammon and her forward-thinking style of play arrived this season to help provide a definitive answer to that question: Hell no! There will of course be more questions to answer in the future as Plum tries to establish herself as a perennial all-star and maybe even an MVP candidate, but for now we can all enjoy witnessing one of sports' greatest pleasures: that first season in which a star player truly, finally, comes into her own.