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Aces’ Jackie Young working way back to All-Star form

Jackie Young kept telling Aces coach Becky Hammon in the days leading up to Wednesday’s 92-84 victory at Dallas that she was ready to return from a sprained right ankle.

Hammon relented and put the guard back in the starting lineup.

Young didn’t perform at the All-Star level in which she had been playing, but in scoring a season-low eight points, she still managed to give the Aces 35 minutes. For a team that relies almost entirely on its starting five — the bench scored no points against the Wings — that kind of load was an encouraging sign.

“I thought she did great,” Hammon said. “She said she felt great, so we went with it. She’s a special athlete. She cannot play for a month, and I don’t think she’d ever let herself get out of shape.”

Young used boxing during the offseason to help stay in shape, then during the two weeks she was out with the ankle injury, used a bike to maintain her conditioning.

“I came in this season being in great shape,” Young said.

The fact Young didn’t miss many games is crucial for the Aces, who sport the WNBA’s best starting five. Get past those five, however, and the Aces are in trouble.

The backups’ struggles have been an under-the-radar storyline all season because the Aces’ 12-2 record has captured most of the attention. The question is whether the Aces could win the league title without more of a contribution from the reserves because of the minutes load on the starters that could become a real issue as the season wears on.

Of WNBA players who have appeared in at least 10 games, the Aces’ Kelsey Plum is third in average minutes played (33.9), Young is fourth (33.5) and Dearica Hamby is 20th (30.4). A’ja Wilson (29.5) and Chelsea Gray (28.6) also log substantial playing time.

The Aces, who play the Minnesota Lynx at 3 p.m. Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena, should get some help once Riquna Williams returns from a foot injury. She has played only two games, and Williams give the Aces — already a strong 3-point shooting team — another perimeter threat. She averaged 10.8 points last season while making 36.6 percent of her 3-point shots.

Her return also would allow some of the starters to dial back the minutes.

Now that Young is back, she can work on not just eating up minutes but being the highly productive player she was before getting hurt.

The top overall pick of the 2019 WNBA draft averages 18.3 points and is making 44.7 percent of her 3-point shots, both easily career highs. Last season, she averaged 12.2 points and shot 25 percent from 3.

“I thought she looked good overall,” Hammon said of Young’s play at Dallas. “She didn’t have a lot of lift, and so that’s going to be part of her process coming back in live action is getting lift under herself again off that ankle.”

Young said the ankle didn’t bother her during the game and conditioning wasn’t a problem, either.

“I’m just trying to get back into a rhythm,” she said. “It was my first time really playing five-on-five up and down. I’m happy to be back. I feel fine.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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