The irony in voting awards is the implication that something just past, and no reward is more symbolic of this notion than the most improved player. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Jackie Young’s sweater wasn’t built in a single offseason.
Young has an incredibly comprehensive skill set: her versatility is rooted in her foundation as a player, but the continued growth and expansion is a testament to the work she puts into her craft. She can handle the ball, she’s a playmaker in addition to dribbling, she’s one of the best wingers in the game, and she’ll be considered for the All-Defensive team at the end of the regular season.
Going into this season, I expected an improvement; that’s what Jackie Young does. She finished third in the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player voting, taking on a bigger role on the ball and foreshadowing another leap into the W.
Aces head coach Becky Hammon pointed to this impending blossoming ahead of Game 3 of the season in Las Vegas when asked about Young’s early-season play “To see her day to day, I knew she was good, but she’s even better than I thought.”
Hammon then dove into the versatility of Young’s role, which really caught my eye. She mentioned Young’s ability to switch between 3 and 1 (wing to point), highlighting his vision for the pitch and passing ability. It immediately made me think, “she really believes in shooting”, because any opportunity leading an attack is going to require the ability to punish a defense when they go under ball screens and pose a threat from the outside. Offensive actions can escalate when a defender deflects a screen, shrinks the field and is not immediately punished.
Attack of Aces is based on spacing, the game of a more modern brand and focused on creating easier appearances in a more efficient way. They are first in three-pointers, second in pace and reach the line third-highest in the league. There isn’t a single player in Las Vegas’ starting lineup who takes less than two deep attempts per game, a far cry from recent seasons.
Young never had a problem reaching the rim and generating splashes of paint; it’s part of what made her Indiana’s all-time leading scorer in high school. She had developed her midrange game further in the league, becoming one of the most proficient off-dribble shooters inside the WNBA arc.
Young says expanding his lineup was at the forefront of his mind at the start of the year. “With Becky’s attack, we have to be able to shoot three times to be able to extend the field. If I wanted to play, I had to be able to shoot threes. I was hurting my team every time I didn’t take them.
The push to become uncomfortable and take on more jumpers was a long one in coming, reinforced repeatedly throughout college and into Young’s early professional career.
The 2020 playoffs against the Seattle Storm confirmed that sentiment, as the defense leaned into Young’s lack of a jumper, selling themselves to take away his driving game.
It happened again in the final playoffs in 2021, when the Phoenix Mercury hid assist defenders on Young and were comfortable slouching to clutter the lane.
Young’s reluctance to shoot when left open has been a hindrance for Aces in the half court in the playoffs, while also noting that it wasn’t the root cause of Vegas’ struggles either. More context goes into these streak losses than “Jackie, shoot it,” but it was a resounding takeaway. Former coach Bill Laimbeer wasn’t exactly known for fostering an offensive environment conducive to shooting development: the Aces finished 12th in percentage of points from beyond the arc from 2019-2021.
It’s part of being a young player; gaining experience, learning from it, applying it and finding new ways to succeed. Lessons learned and licks taken to get here, so to speak, Young found new modes of success undersold to established reps.
“It was just a matter of trust, I don’t know; it was like a mental block when it came to three-man shooting,” says Young.
She constantly makes an impact and strains the defence, becoming another vital pressure point for the league’s top-ranked offense. Young is an excellent finisher inside the arc, with a range of adjustments in the air, the ability to finish with strength-based power moves and a deft touch on short pulls. She has a knack for making the difficult seem routinely easy.
While defenses are always ready to get under the ball screens she runs (more on that later), she’s been steadily guarded further this season, which has only opened up her game and left her helped show off the skills that made her the top overall pick. His game has always been there, said Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey. “I saw him four to five years in high school, and through his three years in college, his vision is elite. That’s what stood out to me the most about her game. I don’t think people recognize or realize how well she reads defenses and breaks down defenders with or without a screen.
Young has fewer obstructed passing windows with more ground at his disposal. She’s had the readings since high school, but they’re easier with reinvented spacing.
Let’s put that in reference: Young took 15 lines in a 20-game WNBL season; she had taken 77 in her WNBA career prior to this season, eclipsing one attempt per game in just her rookie season. She blew that out of the water this year with 105 attempts. Currently 24th in total makes and third in three-point percentage (42.9%) according to Her Hoop Stats.
Young is shooting 39.5% on three pullups this season, according to InStat scouting, taking just under 1.5 per game. Shooting even at or around the league average (34.2%) on pull-up volume can have a consistent impact on a defense.
She’s taken more outside jumpers this season than her three years of college combined or her first three years in the W combined. It’s a staggering change, especially considering the efficiency and difficulty.
“Jackie is someone who takes a lot of things to heart,” said teammate A’ja Wilson.
“She felt like she was exposing us; she hated it when people didn’t watch her. She brushed past her in Australia, and when she came back, I was like, ‘That’s a different Jackie!’ »
What’s amazing is that we’ve seen shades of this version of Jackie Young before! The ranged shooting mix to go along with his overall attacking package has long seemed tangible, more of a when than an if.
Flashback to the 2018 Final Four, and the vision Young maxed out was on full display.
“I remember walking into that UConn game and saying to Jackie, ‘they’re not going to keep you,’ and they came out in a triangle and two and just didn’t keep it. It was the one game that I think really fired her up, and it brought out something different in her,” Ivey says.
I had never seen the game before and went back and watched it as Ivey recommended, and above all the amount of skill in this game is WILD. The six players who saw court time for UConn are still playing significant minutes in the WNBA. Four of Notre Dame’s starters would be drafted, not including Brianna Turner, who missed the entire 2017-18 season due to injury. Unreal game and incredible players on both sides.
Lo and behold, the Huskies indeed come out in a triangle and two, leaving Young virtually unguarded.
Going into the game, it was hard not to notice how willing his guard was to give him the open jump, even while conceding ground. But, the early, aggressive grip and manufacture was substantial.
Even when he’s not behind the arc, doing something quick and attacking the defense when given is essential. It makes the defense think, it makes the defense react, and when it starts to repeat itself and becomes a pattern, the defenses have to adapt.
A few possessions later, Young uncorked his first deep jumper. A few slight hesitations, but a clear “I’m open, I’m shooting.” The miss doesn’t matter as much as the mentality.
Later in the quarter, after a few more aggressive holds from the deep midrange, Young wins the ball back early in the attack into the slot (where she is particularly deadly on the downhill attack). There’s fleeting closure, just enough, a burst of daylight due to Young’s precocious aggression and willpower that clears the way for her to get home and attack the rim.
The next shot and his first deep hold, a catch and fire three without hesitation, just a straight swish. She cooks with fat.
And from there, we saw a predicted future, who Jackie Young could be with a consistent jumper. She finished two of four from deep in that game, nearly 20% of her earnings from deep that season. She got to the line 11 times, largely because of what it opened up to her game as a slasher. She made some shrewd reads from the dribble, rattling the defense and capitalizing on her deserved seriousness.
Ivey considers her the unsung hero of this game and this team.
“We were all kind of like, ‘This is the Jackie we know’, I think that’s one of my favorite moments of Jackie. I feel like this game really propelled her on. that scene, and I was really proud of her for it.
So yes, this season and the filming that Young has shown warrants most of the enhanced talk, but it’s essential to recognize that it’s been a while in coming. It didn’t happen overnight. Young has worked many times since growing up in Princeton, Indiana.
She loves going to Top Golf, she loves shopping, and is a proud Puma representative, but Jackie Young is pretty strictly focused on hoops and the work she does on and off the court. She doesn’t talk about it much, but talks with everyone around her, and it’s clear she’s an elite worker, which Wilson repeated.
“I knew she could be an All-Star; it was huge for her (to make All-Star). She’s my little sister, I piss her off and she pisses me off, but I want to make sure she’s the best and playing at the best level.
Young has solidified herself as the star of this league. She earns the respect of defenses to a much greater degree and she keeps hitting punches to control them.
Asking Young point-blank when she thought defenses would stop falling on her ball screens, she had a good laugh, “I don’t know when they’re going to,” but replied with the air that she didn’t care. what the defense is doing. If the blows are there, she will take them. If the defense adapts, too; that’s exactly what she does.
“When she decides she wants to go to the edge, she gets to the edge, so I guess they’re just betting on the numbers. Why they (the defenders) keep doing it, I don’t know, but you ( Young) will be instructed to keep it flying if they do,” Hammon says.
As defenses continue to play the numbers, Young will continue to make them think twice.
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the WNBA or its clubs.