Can 2023 Las Vegas Aces be the GOAT?

Published July 2, 2023, 1:00 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

It’s still early in the season, but the Las Vegas Aces seem on pace to become the greatest WNBA team of all time.

The trouble with pantheons is that there’s usually only room for one at the top. And sometimes, whoever is occupying the spot at the pedestal has been there for so long that people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that they could actually be knocked down a peg by someone new.

The 1998 Houston Comets are widely regarded as the best team in WNBA history. They tick off all the requirements for a GOAT team.

The Comets were star-studded. No pun intended. They had three Hall of Famers on that team, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. Leading the way was Cooper, arguably the best player in the league back then. She was a fiery player that led the way with her ability to put the ball into the hoop. Backing her up was the super smooth Swoopes. She was a versatile player who did everything well, especially on the defensive end. With Coop and Swoopes handling the perimeter, it was Thompson who owned the paint.

The three were not only talented, they were also complementary to each other. Coop led the way, but also understood when to defer to Swoopes or Thompson. Swoopes was probably just as talented as Cooper but understood what her role was on the team. The same goes for Thompson who probably could have dominated elsewhere but found more success as the third option on the Comets.

Their dominance, especially when viewed through the statistical lens, was staggering. They led the league in scoring (76.2 PPG) and steals (11.1 SPG), all while being one of the most efficient teams in the league that year (1st in TOPG, 2nd in FG% and 3P%). When their statistics were extrapolated to 100 possessions, that’s when the true extent of just how good the Comets were. They led the league in Net Rating, at plus-17.5. The second-best Net Rating that season was nearly 10 points below theirs. This was a team that ground you down with a suffocating defense and a highly efficient offense.

The Comets finished that season winning 27 of their 30 games. To this day, they still own the highest win percentage in a single season at .900. That 1998 season was the second of four straight championships that this team would win.

Many teams have tried to topple the ‘98 Comets from their perch. But none have been successful… so far. This season, there’s a new challenger to the GOAT team: the Las Vegas Aces.

The defending champs came into the season rolling back the same core that got them the crown. Only this time, they had one major addition in Candace Parker.

Parker is far from her MVP form. She’s not even putting up numbers close to last season. But the Aces don’t need her to dominate. They need her to fill a role. And having someone like Parker be a role player is all you need to know about how stacked the Aces are.

They’re led by last year’s MVP, A’ja Wilson. She’s still putting up MVP numbers, no surprise there. But just like last season, she’s not leading the team in scoring. Last season, the team’s leading scorer was Kelsey Plum (3rd on the team this year). This season, Jackie Young has been getting buckets. She’s up to 19.5 points per game, a hair above Wilson’s 19.4. Running the show and making sure all these talented players are fed well is the Point God, Chelsea Gray.

When all is said and done, this year’s Aces could have a minimum of three players on the roster in the Hall of Fame. Parker, Wilson, and Gray are shoo-ins. Young and Plum could also make it to the Hall if they can continue to play like they’ve done in the past two seasons.

Just like the Comets, all this talent translates on paper. The Aces lead the league in several statistical categories on offense (1st in PPG, FG%, TOPG) and defense (1st in BPG). They’re by far the best offensive team in the league, scoring an average of 114.6 points per 100 possessions, 12 points more than the league average. Defensively, they’re ranked second in several categories, including Defensive Rating (95.7 per 100 possessions). They have a higher Net Rating right now than the 1998 Comets at 18.9.

The Aces are currently at 15-1, coming off an easy win over a super team many thought would be their closest rival, the New York Liberty. Their only loss of the season was an off game against last year’s Finals opponent, the Connecticut Sun. They quickly avenged that loss with an 18-point win in their second match-up this season.

If their winning trend continues, the Aces could finish at 37-3. That means, they would not only own the most wins in a single WNBA season, they would also have the highest winning percentage at .925.

Vegas has all the makings of a team that could knock Houston off the pedestal. They have the stars on the roster and the numbers are trending their way. Add to that a dominant playoff run and another championship (coincidentally, that would be the Aces’ second straight) and we could realistically have a new GOAT.

Right now though, all that pantheon talk has to wait. Their only focus is running up the score against the rest of the field, en route to defending their crown. Only then can the real debate begin.