Dearica Hamby and Kelsey Plum have created a problem.
They’ve both been vital cogs in the Las Vegas Aces machine this season, disrupting opponents off the bench all year. Plum, a 5-foot-8, 145-pound ball of energy, is a sparkplug who offers a change of pace at point guard of a deadly perimeter threat. And Hamby, deceptively strong at 6-foot-3 and 189 pounds, can bang with the league’s bigs or stretch the floor, whatever her team needs.
But neither one has started a game all season. Despite this, Hamby and Plum rank 54th and 47th in minutes per game,1 the lone players in the WNBA’s top 80 this season who haven’t made a single start.
Hamby is no stranger to this role, a two-time Sixth Woman of the Year winner. But Plum started 80 of her first 96 games in the league before Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer put her in this supersub role this season.
And so here’s the problem: The WNBA confirmed that award voters — and full disclosure, I am one — can vote for only one Sixth Woman of the Year.
Olympians, surgeons and even toddlers have used this technique to improve their focus
But Hamby and Plum, who describe each other as best friends, and Laimbeer all think us media folks ought to pair up and make sure votes go to one or the other in equal measure, something I also confirmed with the league is entirely within bounds. (Slide into my DMs, as the kids say. Do the kids say that?)
“As her best friend? I got the All-Star nod,” Hamby said, referring to her overdue appearance in this year’s WNBA All-Star Game. “So if she was Sixth Woman of the Year, I would not complain — I would cheer her on.”
The argument for Hamby is not dramatically different than it was in her successful 2019 and 2020 campaigns. But she’s refined a few elements of her game. Her strength plays up even more this season; her average shot distance is the closest to the basket it’s ever been, and she’s making 65.3 percent of her chances at the rim. But given the need to space the floor on a team with both A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage, she’s also shooting well on her attempts from 3 to 10 feet and 10 to 16.
“I’m a driver,” Hamby said. “I think that’s what people play me for, as a rim-runner. … I think it catches a lot of people off guard because I don’t look the strongest, just because I’m super slender. … So I think my strength does kind of catch people off guard.”
related: A’ja Wilson And Liz Cambage Are Elite On Their Own. This Season, They’re A Force Together. Read more. »
Hamby said she’s even surprised her teammates, who have seen her grab the second-most rebounds per 100 possessions of her career this season.
Even so, Plum is the one an opposing assistant spoke about recently with weariness at having to game-plan against her, pointing out that “she just keeps on coming.”
And it’s true — Plum is taking more shots around the rim and hitting 69.4 percent of them. But she hasn’t forsaken the long-range shooting that’s made her so successful in the WNBA, either, hitting 38.2 percent of her 3-point attempts.
Her defense has also reached another level. The Aces sport a defensive rating of 95.8 when she’s on the floor, right in line with Las Vegas’ overall defensive rating (which is second in the league) despite being given, frequently, the most difficult opposing guard as her assignment more this season.
“I don’t know, defensive statistic-wise, I probably will never lead the league in steals or blocked shots or anything like that,” Plum said. “But I know that I’m giving up nothing easy, I know that I’m physical, and I’m just tough — I’m just going to be annoying, and I hope people feel that.”
The result has been, among true bench players,2 that Hamby and Plum are lapping the field.
By win shares, Hamby is first, at 3.1, and Plum is second, at 2.8, among players without a WNBA start this season. No other player has as many as 1 win share in that role this season — Beatrice Mompremier of the Connecticut Sun is third, at 0.6.
But this is nothing new for a Laimbeer team. Of the top 20 player seasons with the highest win shares recorded among players without a start, eight of them happened on a Laimbeer team:
Laimbeer’s bench players just keep shining
WNBA players with the most win shares in a season without starting a game, with players coached by Bill Laimbeer in bold
|Player||Season||Team||Minutes per gm||Win shares|
|Plenette Pierson||2007||Detroit Shock||25.2||3.6|
|Plenette Pierson||2008||Detroit Shock||23.2||3.5|
|Chamique Holdsclaw||2006||Los Angeles Sparks||29.5||3.4|
|DeWanna Bonner||2009||Phoenix Mercury||21.3||3.2|
|Kara Lawson||2007||Sacramento Monarchs||22.8||3.2|
|Dearica Hamby||2021||Las Vegas Aces||24.6||3.1|
|Dearica Hamby||2020||Las Vegas Aces||28.3||3.0|
|Penny Taylor||2001||Cleveland Rockers||17.5||3.0|
|Kiah Stokes||2016||New York Liberty||24.1||2.9|
|Kelsey Plum||2021||Las Vegas Aces||25.4||2.8|
|Kara Lawson||2003||Sacramento Monarchs||22.6||2.6|
|Cheyenne Parker||2019||Chicago Sky||19.7||2.6|
|Alexis Hornbuckle||2008||Detroit Shock||22.0||2.4|
|Becky Hammon||2001||New York Liberty||19.3||2.3|
|Kelly Mazzante||2006||Charlotte Sting||21.2||2.3|
|Kelly Miller||2002||Charlotte Sting||17.3||2.3|
|Plenette Pierson||2006||Detroit Shock||16.6||2.3|
|Jessica Davenport||2010||Indiana Fever||14.2||2.1|
|Allison Feaster||2000||Los Angeles Sparks||14.7||2.1|
|Jantel Lavender||2016||Los Angeles Sparks||19.4||2.1|
Hamby had to play herself into Laimbeer’s rotation through the 2018 season — as she put it, “Initially, it was not in Bill’s plans to play me. And then we went back and forth a lot that year. And I was like, “Look like I deserve to play. And I mean, obviously the year after, it showed.” But Plum’s new bench role came from a conversation between player and coach.
“Kelsey is a starter on many, many teams,” Laimbeer said. “… I asked her, [as we] began the year, very clearly … to please come off the bench for us, and to sacrifice for the good of the whole. And she embraced it. No player likes to do that, they have ambitions of being starters. … She accepted it, she’s thrived in it.”
The same is true of Hamby, who acknowledged the truth of what Laimbeer said.
“Do I want more sometimes? Yes,” Hamby said, “But I understand the way this league is set up and also, I mean, I want to win a championship. So, I’m sticking around.”
Like I said up top, fellow voters: Slide into my DMs.
Check out our latest WNBA predictions.