Dana Evans came into season three of her WNBA career with many fans, supporters, and media members, all desiring more opportunities for her, in the form of an expanded role.
Her potential has – and remains – undeniable, serving as an additive to the moments she already has under her professional belt.
In light of the roster turnover that the Sky saw from 2022 to 2023 – added to Evans’ ascension into her own – the moment felt like an “opportunity meeting preparation” style of chance, in timing, for the Louisville product.
Her impact on the flow of a game – from being as disruptive as anyone in the W with chaos-inducing and rhythm-breaking activity at the point of attack to her feel in playmaking that blends well with her downhill prowess – is positively undeniable, and plenty of her numbers are supporting the eye test early in 2023.
In her nine games played this season, the Sky offense is +0.52 in offensive rating when she’s on the floor.
Additionally, on the defensive end, their defense is 9.39 better in defensive rating when she’s on.
She raises the activity levels, changes the pace, and is a calming presence at the helm of a Sky roster that is offensively constructed – aside from Evans – without a player that’s natural to the point guard position.
In an era where teams are inclined and often better-weaponized when having numerous initiators of offense, there is still a pressing need for someone who’s a natural in doing so – especially in waning moments and when the other prolific pieces need someone to set them up early in a set or action.
Insert Dana Evans, and you get just that as a player and piece for this Sky team.
Though she is admittedly a “scoring point guard” at heart, she checks off all boxes in the requisites of discernment and feel for when to hunt out her own shot, when to set up shop for her team, and how to go about doing so, that comes innately to those organically made for initiating an offense.
She’s enjoying a pace assist-wise that is on par to set a new career-best in assists per game, total assists, and assist-to-turnover ratio – all in alignment with increased opportunity.
Her overall 0.84 mark in points per possession in the half-court ranks in the 53rd percentile – which is good.
Even more, Evans’ points per possession mark when factoring in her assists (1.22) ranks 71st percentile – which is very good.
She has 157 points created on the season, and is generating a ton in changing ends as a result of her activity defensively but is also solid in assisting in the half-court as well.
The topic at hand, her playmaking, particularly in this three-game window, has been ultra-solid and efficient.
Sky starting-adjacent lineups flourish with her:
· Evans/C. Williams/Copper/Smith/E. Williams – +8 in 50 possessions
· Evans/C. Williams/Copper/Bertsch/E. Williams – +4 in 28 possessions
She’s up to 18 total assists recently, a career-best sustained mark over a window of three games.
Even more, she’s done so with just two turnovers.
She is great at processing quickly when on a break:
However, it is specifically her abilities to process and pass in the half-court that jump off the film as her volume in opportunity has sustained this season.
Take here, for instance:
Notice how she processes with her eyes, not unlike a quarterback who would go through progressions on a concept against a cover two. She bounces from reading the opposite corner, to the drop defender, to the lowman – who’s isolated as a single tagger.
As she stretches the drop defender, she feels the late switch between the drop defender and who was initially guarding her, as we as noticing the taggers foot in the paint, to then appropriately hit Parks as she lifts from the corner to stretch the taggers rotation.
We will see more of the same, here:
At first glance, this looks fairly basic against the Aces 2-3 zone.
However, customarily, as we zoom in on the details, you’ll see the “why” behind her decision-making, and how she’s processing the game.
Firstly, she lifts to stretch the rotation of the low defender, getting a reaction out of the defense.
She then processes the shifts specific to the Aces rotations and understands that Gray would be rotating to her on the flight of the pass. However, with Kone on the block and Williams in the middle, the opposite high defender would have to sink to the nail.
That help at the nail would leave Mabrey open momentarily, and the quick boomerang generates a quick reaction advantage, leading to a three via the late contest.
Next, more of her processing that’ll be aided by her pace and not tipping her hand:
This is aided by the beauty of the Sky’s spacing behind the pick-and-roll, with Copper staying above the free-throw line extended (emptying the corner, which is an entity of defense the Aces have struggled with). Clark (guarding Copper) is at a near impossible angle to “tag” Smith on her roll, given her positioning at the drag screens pre-set.
Nonetheless, Evans again stretches the drop defender, reads all low help defenders, then skips a perfectly placed and timed bounce pass in the pocket, right at the mesh point of another late-switch from the Aces. Burning them again with her processing and passing.
This is really good from Dana, and a counterbalance to the often scoring-minded operating of pick-and-roll from Mabrey/Copper.
So remember, the last handful or reps with her in pick-and-roll, the Aces went with the late-switch where her initial defender went over the screen, then switched onto the roller, as the rollers defender stuck with Evans.
Here, it’s drop coverage again. However, Evans can feel that the drop defender isn’t sticking with her. So, she elects to remain persistent in engaging the drop defender. Turns the corner, snakes the screen (crossing back over to the side she started on), and notice the reaction it gets as she drags the attention of two.
As she dupes the defense, and also plays the second-side help with a misleading step that alludes to her passing to Parks who lifts, it all leaves Williams unaccounted for on the roll as she sneaks under the defense.
Another here, as she doesn’t get the direct assist, but you’ll see the advantage her processing and eye manipulation sets:
Different from the Aces, she sees a two-step hedge from the Sparks. She astutely attacks the top hip to maintain progress.
As she clears the hedge, she quickly processes how the Sparks have loaded up on the roller via a low help jab at (off of Copper), but also that Hamby is peeled in early from the second-side.
Using her eyes, she holds Hamby with the look off and hits Williams. The timing of Evans’ delivery enables Williams just enough time to play connector in ultimately getting it to the roller, for two.
Evans’ playmaking is ultra-important because it allows for scoring and plays being made from an entity completely independent of their three scoring pieces, but also lessens the burdens of Copper, Mabrey, and C. Williams – all players who are capable as table and advantage setters for others, but are better when enabled to do so for themselves, and optimized when someone else can get a defense rotation or unbalanced for them to attack.
The latter statement is why “Downhill Dana,” putting consistent pressure on the paint and the rim, is a layer of the Sky offense that I feel is ultra-important.
Copper is the best driver in the WNBA and it’s not particularly close. Evans is capable of bending a defense in a similar manner.
This stems from the persistent threat of her jump shot (which hasn’t come around quite yet but is still a weapon) and spacing beyond the arc, but also because of her lightning-quick first step.
When she gets downhill, it enables her opportunities at soft touch floaters and happens so quickly that she resembles a vacuum in the way a defense collapses in help – which is exactly what we see above, enabling her an assist.
As her general processing of defenses speeds up, and her playmaking efficiency and impact grows, the idea of her starting for this team at the point doesn’t feel unrealistic.
Even more than starting though, what’s most important is if/when she is able to close.
This piece was focused much more on her playmaking prowess and its evolution and impact on the Sky, but add her defensive value to that, and it’s exactly what you’d want at the helm in closing moments.
As Evans continues to ascend into her own, and further stamp her floor generalship on this Sky roster, pay close attention to the sustained effects she has on the game – and have they persist over the team, even more.
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