Aces Atop WNBA, But Is Vegas Taking Notice?

Griner’s detention casts pall over ‘asterisk season,' but sharps keep crushing it
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The best starting five in professional basketball plays not in San Francisco, home to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, but in the newly minted live sports mecca of Las Vegas. 

There, with a league-leading record of 13-2, the Aces boast the WNBA’s top MVP candidate (-152 at BetRivers and Barstool), A’ja Wilson. But she may not even be the best player on her own team, where she shares the floor with Dearica Hamby and former high-ceiling underachievers Kelsey Plum (8/1) and Jackie Young (30/1).

“If you like watching the Warriors play, then I think you would enjoy the Aces,” Robert Walker, director of sportsbook operations for USBookmaking, told US Bets. “Funny how a new coach has unlocked Young’s and Plum’s potential.”

That new coach is Becky Hammon, who left her job as one of Gregg Popovich’s top assistants with the San Antonio Spurs to lead the Aces. If sportsbooks offered odds on the first woman to eventually coach an NBA team, Hammon would be the overwhelming favorite, with only University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley in spitting distance.

At odds ranging from 1/1 (SuperBook) to +130 (Caesars), the Aces are a unanimous pick among major mobile sportsbooks to win the WNBA title, trailed by Connecticut (+275 to +350) and the defending champion Chicago Sky (4/1 to +550). A good distance back is last season’s runner-up, the Phoenix Mercury (60/1 at the SuperBook), who have been playing without 6’9” center Brittney Griner. She has missed every game this year while detained in a Russian prison, after allegedly getting caught with drugs at a Moscow airport in February.

“I believe Griner is the most dominant player in the WNBA,” Walker said. “I don’t know if she’s the best, but she’s the most disruptive. She changes the game on both sides.”

‘Very sharp market’

When asked if he believes Griner will set foot on the floor this year, should she gain her freedom, Walker said, “There’s no way. She’s gone through way too much. I can’t believe she’d be in any kind of state to play, mentally or physically. The Griner situation has really put a damper on the whole season. It’s kind of an asterisk season.”

Walker, who counts the WNBA as his favorite professional league, irrespective of gender, goes to a lot of Aces games.

“It feels like there’s excitement, but even last year, there was tons of excitement,” he observed. “It’s a little different, though, and there’s a little more excitement with Becky Hammon coming in. When you’re not at the games, more people are talking about them around town.”

John Murray, executive director of sportsbook operations for the Westgate SuperBook, concurs.

“I do hear people talking about them more this year,” he said. “We did have a guy bet $30,000 on the Aces moneyline in one of the Aces’ games a few weeks ago, and that really caught our eye. That was maybe the biggest WNBA bet we’ve ever taken. They actually lost, so it was good for us.”

That hasn’t always been the case at the SuperBook. Murray called the WNBA a “very sharp market,” adding, “Some of the sharpest bets that we get, in any sport, are people betting first- and second-half totals in the WNBA. Our team monitors those bets and moves aggressively off of those bets. Guys have been beating us on those for years.”

Expansion could be boon to betting

While most sportsbooks offer a market for the eventual WNBA champion, it’s difficult to find futures markets for just about anything else — including the MVP race, where Wilson and Plum are joined by Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm, +350), Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sky, 12/1), and Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty, 16/1), who at 24 recently became the youngest player in league history to record her second triple-double.

“I was talking to somebody the other day, and they said we’re missing some opportunities — college baseball, women’s softball,” Walker said. “We’re just now getting around to booking more women’s college basketball. The problem is you have to get somebody who can make decent lines and follow it.”

As for the betting action surrounding his hometown team, Walker said, “I think the problem with the Aces is they have three MVP candidates. Wilson’s still phenomenal, and she’s been passing the ball better. There’s Plum, with her ability to pass, and Jackie Young’s a lockdown defender. I think those three will kind of split that vote.

“Honestly, this Aces team is an all-star team. What does Hamby score on another team? There just aren’t enough basketballs to go around.”

At the sportsbooks around the country that USBookmaking helps operate, Walker said WNBA wagering “has definitely picked up,” adding, “People will bet it more, people are watching it more. I think that’s a good sign. It’s really a league that’s still in its infancy. My big hope is they get a couple more teams. I think if you get 16 teams, now you’re talking about something. That opens up four more markets and gets more people aware of it and falling in love with it. But like anything else, it takes some time.”

Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY

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