The Chicago Sky are 12-16, presently holding on to the final playoff slot, and also with an eighth-ranked net rating of -3.7.
Let’s zoom in on some of what’s caught my eye over the last few weeks.
Dana Evans Drives
The Sky have a dynamic compilation of guards in their main rotation.
Kahleah Copper, Courtney Williams, and Marina Mabrey all bring a unique approach and skillset to the fold — a level of variance that consistently compromises defenses when they find their flow in unison offensively.
Of late, the trio of guards (and the Sky) have hit those offensive highs, resulting in their best stretch of play all season.
In the mix with this group, and a piece that is unique but meshes well with each of the others, is Dana Evans.
Evans’ ability to blow past her match-up at any given moment, is not unlike Kahleah Copper, while still being solely her own.
She has the first step of a track sprinter coming out of the blocks at the sound of the gun, only hers is on the hardwood and comes often with a live dribble.
Her evolution in processing angles and blending change of pace, as well as direction, into an ever-present dynamic of compromise for a defense at the point of initiation, has oftentimes positively changed the flow of a game.
Evans is a dynamic space-seeking missile, well-equipped to execute in multiple ways, via the ever-present advantage of her drives — which she’s weaponized and optimized even more post-All-Star Break.
When I asked about the evolution in approach to her drives, she provided very insightful answers.
“I think it’s all just coming together, “ said Evans.
“I think now I’m more reading the defense. I’m taking my time, I’m more patient, I’m reading that second line of defense, and if they step up in help, I’m making that kick pass. And if they don’t, I have a layup. But it just comes with me being aggressive. I think me being aggressive and getting to the basket just opens up everything.”
Her consistent rim pressure and relentless attacking nature bring yet another dynamic that – not unlike a Marina Mabrey-initiated pick-and-roll or Courtney Williams outer-third pick-and-roll – gets two to the ball or collapses multiple defenders.
I wrote at length earlier in the season about her impacts on the offense. Principal among those are her drives.
They’re one of the four best advantages the Sky can create offensively in the half-court, but the beauty of them is there never *has* to be another player included, or a pass involved to help set the advantage. Dana can allow for the flow of their very good spacing early and in the middle of sets and actions to occupy defenders as well as manipulate space, ultimately creating driving lanes that enable her access to a paint touch.
She’s been a (no pun intended) driving force post-All-Star, and her efficiency and effectiveness in her role as a playmaking scorer help to maintain lineup and process balance the way her dynamics complement the off-ball abilities of their primary scorers.
Kahleah Copper’s Scoring Growths
The space that Kahleah Copper is operating in as a scorer in 2023 is special. What is obvious is that this still isn’t her peak.
Through eight games post-All-Star, Copper is averaging 24.4 PPG on 49.6/44.2/90.2 shooting. Her frequency of shots at the rim has slightly risen, with 5.5 attempts in that area. She’s getting to the free throw line 6.4 times per game in this window, up from the 3.3 trips she averaged before the break.
She’s also knocking down 44.2% of her 5.4 attempts from deep, which is up from the 41.9% she averaged on 3.9 attempts priorly.
Even more, it’s been her general demeanor and disposition on the offensive end that sticks out.
She’s more confident, yes. But she’s also — in a deadly fashion — more decisive and her feel for the game is at its highest level (and could continue to evolve).
Perfectly blending her sustained three-level scoring and feel operating in the half-court, Copper has become seemingly scheme-proof in multiple contexts.
Let’s look here first.
As the Wings respace, Kah attacks the late clock switch. Her movement patterns (change of pace then a hands-up dribble) enable her access to the paint.
Then, a very impressive finish with one of the league’s best shot blockers. Audacious.
Here, look at her pace changes again. Good feel on display, in addition to the movement patterns to evade the initial defender.
She gets the over and rejects, reads drop, then gets to the mid-range pull-up.
Next, we see her fly into a second-side hand-off.
Ogunbowale tries to duck under and meet her at an angle on the other side, but Copper steals it with a pullback for another mid-range pull-up.
Lastly, the Sky get into ‘Stack’ and go with Spain pick-and-roll.
Copper paces herself into the advantage as Sabally trails, forcing McCowan to step up in her drop. That puts Ogunbowale in a position of rim protection, to no avail.
She’s averaging 1.07 points per jump shot in the half-court, which is excellent (per Synergy). That excellent rank trickles into her catch-and-shoots, where she’s at 1.31 per shot.
Her steadying and stabilizing impact in scoring efficiently is further solidifying her as a bonafide star, but also a winning player who can be the focal point of a playoff-bound squad.
Before the All-Star Break, the most points the Sky had scored in regulation in the half-court was 75 points (vs Dallas 5.28 and vs Los Angeles 6.30).
Since then, they’ve reached 76, 82, 84, and 90.
They’re now at 72.6 points per game in the half-court.
On a full-season scale, that mark would place them with the second-best half-court offense in the W, above the Liberty (72.1) and below the Aces (74.0).
Even with two low-point totals mixed in the post-All-Star, their mark still remains elite.
Their pick-and-roll play continues to pop, with its multiple tandems and versatile variations to manipulate space and match-ups.
The Sky are also second-best in the league at scoring off the catch, at 1.13 points per possession and shot.
Their 21.3 points per game from this scenario are third-best in the W, with a league-leading field goal percentage of 39%, and 40.3% from three-point range.
Finding ways to play off tags and closeouts, and getting the defense rotating in a multitude of ways throughout their offensive process, will need to continue to click.
At the crux of it all, however, is ball security. Chicago giving themselves as many possessions to optimize their process and blending of dynamics takes precedence, as getting shots on goal often enables them to keep their defense set.
They’re fifth-best in turnovers post-All-Star Break with 13.1 per game — a sustainable success point.
Zone defense was something the Sky used ultra-infrequently before the break, totaling just two possessions prior.
They’ve now used it on 62 possessions, and not just to steal possessions, but to dictate.
They’ve had some hiccups with rotations and closing off the middle at times (as well as rebounding), but it’s a solid counter to have at your base — one that’ll surely improve as they amass more reps.