Kelsey Plum: Necessary Changes in Year Two

Kelsey Plum struggled in her first year for the San Antonio Stars, now Las Vegas Aces. Plum was drafted out of Washington where all she did was win the John R. Wooden Award along with the Naismith. Heck, she has been compared to James Harden and was arguably the better hooper in 2017 at Washington compared to Markelle Fultz. The San Diego native is not fond of female players being compared to males.

“I think comparing men to women is kind of disheartening,” said Plum in an interview with Bleacher Report. She is a big advocate for getting WNBA the coverage it deserves as well as the respect.

Plum had an injury that derailed her in the preseason of her rookie year then it was simply a game of catch up. Catch up is not ideal for any player, but for a rookie it usually means they will be buried on the bench or have a very short leash to showcase their stuff.

The number one scorer in Division 1 women’s hoop history averaged 8.5 points, 3.4 assists, and shot 34.6 percent while playing 22.9 minutes per game. In May and June, Plum averaged 15.6 minutes or less while scoring 3.6 points nightly. She was clearly getting her feet wet before having a strong ending to her campaign. In her final 19 games of the season, she compiled 12.3 points and 4.4 assists. Plum’s bread and butter was in her three-point shooting ability as in those 19 games she shot 43.2 percent. She finished third among rookies in scoring and ranked in the top 20 in assists.

The former Washington star had her struggles, but many of them will diminish over time with good coaching and experience. Plum would give the ball away frequently as she averaged 2.8 turnovers, 3.8 in the month of August. That number is far too high for a player that was second on her team in usage percentage at 22.5 percent. Furthermore, Plum’s effective field goal percentage was 41.7 and that is due to her propensity to struggle anywhere within the arc. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be excited about with Plum heading into year two. There are a few things that need to happen all predicated around her ability that can help her establish herself as a household name and make the Aces a potential playoff team.

Consistency as a Starter

Head coach Vickie Johnson made Plum earn her spot as a starter a year ago. An injury to Moriah Jefferson and trading Monique Currie helped her get inserted into the starting lineup. Plum averaged 12.2 points and 5.3 assists in the Aces’ wins.  The problem is they only won eight times with her and she started in seven of them. Kayla McBride and Isabelle Harrison were the only two double digit scorers to return from a year ago. It will be important for Plum to match their productivity and use her speed to get easy buckets. She is at her best when she is attacking.

Attacking (With Efficiency)

In addition to being consistent as a starter, Plum has to apply more pressure to defenses at an efficient rate for majority of the year. She is remarkable as a three-point marksman and we know that. Her struggles lied within the paint as she shot better beyond the arc (36.5 percent) than she did within the arc (33.3 percent).

In college, the paint was Plum’s playground as she was a threat to score the minute she got past her primary defender. She did not have to be as creative in college because no one could really stay in front of her. At the professional level, Plum experienced resistance in the perimeter and in the paint. The great rim protectors that are Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles, and Candace Parker can provide any first-year player with a humble experience.

Plum can learn a thing or two from Skylar Diggins-Smith as she too averaged just 8.5 points and struggled with her efficiency. Diggins-Smith averaged 20.1 points in her second year as she attacked the paint more and got to the free throw line more frequently. Plum is already a better deep-ball shooter than Diggins-Smith so she has nothing to worry about there. In year two, she has to be ready to get ran off the line with mid-range jumpers, floaters, finish in the lane (like the video above) or, at the very worst, getting to the free throw line. After all, Plum shot 87 percent from the charity stripe a year ago.

Setting the Table

Plum was a marginal passer, statistically, in college at Washington. In 139 games, she only averaged 3.7 assists per contest. Those numbers are fairly underwhelming, but lost in all of this is the fact that her teammate Chantel Osahor split the ballhandling duties with her. A lot of Plum’s passes were errant a year ago as she just passed for the sake of passing. Passing with conviction or with the foresight of it leading to a bucket will help. Also, familiarity with her pro teammates will help too.

This does not necessarily mean Plum needs to be a passing savant like Sue Bird, Courtney Vandersloot, or even Diggins-Smith. However, it does mean she needs be instrumental in helping her teammates get good looks. As stated before, Plum’s three-point shooting ability is key in helping spread the floor for teammates. Her resurgence attacking the paint will help as well.

Plum had a rough year as a rookie, but there is no reason to press the panic button. Looking beyond the numbers, you realize a lot of her mistakes were self-inflicted and can be erased sooner than later. Look for Plum to be much improved and play with more confidence in her sophomore year. Maybe just maybe the Aces can show some signs of life as they transition to life in “Sin City.”

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