Jackie Young Is Coming Into Her Own
“She’s playing at an elite, elite level.”
This is what Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon had to say about Jackie Young. On a star-studded Aces team with big personalities, the often quiet and reserved guard can sometimes fly under the radar. Yet she has been an absolutely crucial part of leading the Aces to victory and an 8-1 record this season.
The 2019 number one draft pick has blossomed this season and is playing the best, most efficient basketball of her career. Her game previously consisted mostly of mid-range shots and getting to the rim. This year, she’s added the three, already attempting 27 three point shots through nine games, seven more than she did throughout the entirety of last season. She’s not just attempting them, she’s making them too, shooting 48.15% from beyond the arc compared to just 25% last season. Even with this addition, she has still found ways to get to the free throw line more than ever before, averaging two more free throw attempts than last season. She has also upped her average points from 12.2 to 18.2 on, tying her with Kelsey Plum as the Aces leading scorer and placing her sixth in league scoring.
Young’s skills extend past just her offense, as her defense has been consistently elite. Each game she is assigned with guarding the opponents toughest perimeter player. In recent matchups she has held Kayla McBride scoreless and Diana Taurasi averaging 10.3 points through three games, compared to her average of 16.6 points against other teams.
“You don’t want Jackie Young guarding you,” said Becky Hammon. “I mean her physical presence, she’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever seen. So, she’s so sturdy, she’s so athletic, she’s just hard to get around.” Her value to the team cannot be understated as her 2.2 win shares lead the league.
Her performance this season has not gone unrecognized. Young was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the week of May 16-22. This is her first Player of the Week honor, but if she continues playing the way she has it won’t be her last. It has also earned her a contract extension, keeping her in Las Vegas through the 2024 season. The growth in her game has her as an early frontrunner for Most Improved Player, and her name has even started to pop up in conversations about league MVP.
Young spent the offseason playing for Perth Lynx in Australia where she was named the team MVP. It's no doubt that the confidence she established there has carried over and fueled her stellar performance in the W. "I think Australia was good for me...I worked on myself mentally so when I came back I'd be confident," she said.
When asked about the difference in Young's game, Chelsea Gray answered definitively "Confidence...I tease her all the time about her release but it's just her confidence and not hesitating to take the three." Young also spent her time overseas working on getting in shape, from doing boxing to using a heat chamber, in hopes of being the best conditioned player on her team and in the league.
Since taking over as Aces head coach, Becky Hammon has already helped bring out the best in Young. Her next step, she says, is encouraging her to be more vocal. "What I've really just tried to do is encourage her to talk. I need her to use her words because she knows what she's doing, share some of that knowledge....I kind of think she's just coming into her own...now I just need her to tell everybody about it."