When Candace Parker stunned the WNBA world by signing with the Las Vegas Aces in free agency, the immediate reaction was that the defending champions would be even better than last season -- perhaps even to an unfair extent. Saturday afternoon's 2023 opener only reinforced those beliefs.
Parker finished with 12 points, four rebounds, five assists and three blocks on four-of-nine from the field in the Aces' dominant 105-64 win over the Seattle Storm.
In the process, Parker made history when she passed the recently retired Sylvia Fowles for ninth place on the league's all-time scoring list. Following Saturday's contest, Parker now has 6,424 career points; that puts her 28 points behind Katie Smith for eighth place, and second only to Diana Taurasi among active players.
While the historical aspect of her performance was cool, the versatility, composure and experience Parker provided on both sides of the ball was more important -- certainly in regards to the Aces' chances of repeating this season.
The Aces are a completely different team with her on the floor compared to Kiah Stokes, who started at the five down the stretch and in the playoffs last season. That should not at all be read as a slight on Stokes, who is a solid and dependable role player, but Parker is a two-time MVP, and gives the Aces so many more options.
Here's a quick look at a few sequences that show what Parker brings.
Parker's perimeter shooting is the most stark difference in the scoring department. While she isn't an elite shooter, she's a reputable threat that opponents have to respect, while Stokes has only made 26 3-pointers in her career. Parker went 1-of-2 from downtown in this one. That's going to open up even more space for the Aces' other stars to operate.
The biggest impact Parker will make on the offensive side of the ball is not with her scoring but with her playmaking. She's one of the best passing bigs the league has ever seen, as she showed early in the third quarter with this unbelievable outlet pass to A'ja Wilson. All of her assists won't be that spectacular, but she gives the Aces' starting lineup a fifth ball-handler and decision-maker, which will make life miserable for opponents.
Stokes is a strong defensive player in her own right, and protects the rim extremely well. Parker, though, can offer that same rim protection while adding the ability to switch out onto the perimeter.
Here she is stuffing Kaila Charles, starting the break herself, then finishing the possession with a layup.
And later, she jumps out when the Storm are trying to run a pick-and-roll, totally disrupts the timing and picks up a steal, which she takes the other way for a layup.
Parker's skills on both sides of the ball are obviously well known at this point, but it was still fascinating to see them in the Aces environment. The future Hall of Famer is attempting to become the first player in WNBA history to win a title with three different teams, and based on opening night it seems she'll have a strong chance.