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Film Session: What Marina Mabrey brings to the Chicago Sky

Marina Mabrey became a member of the Chicago Sky in February after being part of the four-team trade that saw Diamond DeShields land in Dallas.

The 26-year-old Notre Dame product signed a three-year deal with the team. It was a calmness-inducing move in response to the “splash silence” that persisted upon the franchise after the departure of mainstays like Candace Parker, Azura Stevens, and Courtney Vandersloot.

Mabrey is one of the more competitive players in the WNB. She’s never been shy in showing the chip on her shoulder and she brings another hungry and eager, yet skilled, dynamic to the fold for the Chicago Sky.

Mabrey is a shooter whose pacing can be weaponized in a manner that likens to what Allie Quigley once brought. Over her last two seasons with Dallas, Mabrey averaged 13.5 points per game on 46.5% from two, 34.6% from three, and 76.7% from the stripe.

In addition to the shooting and scoring, exclusive to her 2022 campaign, she shot a career-best 46.8% from two (on a career-high attempts from two as well, at 250), and averaged 3.7 assists per game – ranking 19th in the league.

Mabrey is a natural scorer, who is evolving into a combo guard. She’s capable of getting her own shots in a multitude of ways but she’s also learning to use her scoring prowess as a table setter for others.

In the last few seasons, Mabrey ingratiated herself, increasingly, with initiating offense and garnering a feel for play calling and floor generalship.

She also recently won a championship with her club in Italy, en route to a Finals MVP.

On media day, I asked Mabrey about her successful experience with an increased volume of initiating offenses:

“We focus a lot on me picking and choosing my spots, and then the rest of the game, making other people around me better. Just being more intentional on creation for my teammates, rather than going to score for all 40 min.”

Over the course of a game or season, having multiple initiators of offense enables your attack to both have more pace and play in the half-court with more time on the shot clock.

Among the many dynamics she’ll mesh into the fold, will be adding an initiator that poses a never-ending threat to shoot off the dribble.

Let’s dive into all things Mabrey, and zoom in on how much of a weapon she’ll be for the Sky.

Scoring

One of the more prolific scorers in the W, Mabrey is equally effective and efficient from all three levels in bucket-getting.

The fifth-year guard can get to the rim in a few different ways: via self-creation off the dribble, as a cutter, and via post-ups.

In differing offensive contexts, she’s blended the latter two into one pressure point, cutting *to* post up.

There is cutting to keep the offensive floor balance, cutting to score (via lay-ups), and cutting to post.

Mabrey is a stronger guard and has some “bully” in her game, in terms of inviting physicality. Using that plus her stature as an advantage when a smaller player is on her, is certainly something she often looks to exploit.

The volume wasn’t high, but Mabrey shot 63.6% on post-ups last season – with 1.27 points per shot mark, which is truly indicative of her effectiveness in this offensive context.

You can see she’s adept at feeling out the defense and when to cut-to-post, and sealing for control in positioning.

Generally at the rim, she was 51-77 (66.2% – above league average), which accounted for 18.2% of the attempts in her 2022 shot profile – her highest volume in percentage since her rookie season.

Moving to the mid-range – specifically non-paint twos, she converted at a 40% clip, on 110 attempts.

Percentage-wise, this was also a feat registering north of the league average. This rings even more impressive when considering the rate at which she’s generating these shots herself, via space-creating maneuvers on the move while under duress of a contest.

She has a cagey compilation of step-backs, side steps, hesitations, pump fakes, fadeaways, and rhythm-breaking between the leg combinations to dance herself to daylight and get off her quick trigger pull-up.

Last season was her lowest in terms of her “rim or 3 frequency,” which measures the percentage of all shots either at the rim or from three – at 59.20%, which is indicative of her evolving shot profile.

Zooming in even more, and combining both mentioned ranges, she was an impressive 26-for-52 from short range to 17 feet on jumpers – which would mark at 1.00 points per shot (*really good*).

Venturing beyond the arc now, she got up the 11th most attempts, at 174.

She’d shoot 35.1% on these shots, at 45% (on 20 attempts) from the corners, and 33.8% (on 154 attempts) from above the break.

Taking her self-created looks out of the math, she was at 30-for-50 (37.5%) from deep – good for 1.11 points per shot.

When guarded in this scenario, meaning a contest involved, she was a very steady 35%. When open, she was 40%.

Given the multiple creators the Sky have now, she’ll be able to shoot plenty more off the catch than in her previous seasons, weaponizing her best skill set as a shooter.

She can also be equally as much of a threat when stashed near an action, as the scouting report of opposing teams will lend itself to defenders not leaving her to help.

This could particularly be great on the second side, tugging at the strings of help defenders and enabling the Sky more space to operate within the half-court, but could also be equally as effective when she is stashed one pass away, or on the strong side of actions – for the very same reasons.

Imagine Gray is Copper or Gardner, getting into their elite slashing bag, but not having to worry about nail help or hand help, in any capacity or context, as often.

That can open up an entire portal of consequences to pay, ultimately leaving the Sky in a position of dictating.

If you help, Mabrey is open to an advantage. If you don’t, one of the best drivers and finishers will have a lane to work through, operating where they work best from.

These are the choices defenses will have to make with the lineup combinations and pairings of players James Wade will have at his disposal.

Passing

As a playmaker, Mabrey has a feel for defenses and how to best set her teammates up.

I mentioned her career-high mark in assists per game earlier, from last season.

She has plenty of untapped potential in this context and will be implored to do more in this department with the Sky

“We also expect her to make plays for herself, and for others,” said Head Coach James Wade, when I asked about what he expected from Mabrey as her dynamic is ingratiated.

In pick-and-roll, she typically will force a defense’s hand in committing two players to her.

This means that the screener’s defender, who may be dropped back against others, will be at the level of the screen – in either blitzing, hedging out/flat hedging (“showing”), or switching.

When either the screener’s defender isn’t up, her defender gets hung up on the screen, or both, it’s the threat of *this* specific shot that often materializes.

The Sky had an issue being flattened out and walled off from the paint in the playoffs, with opposing teams packing in to negate being succumbed to rotations defensively, and protecting the paint.

Now, with Mabrey, they have a baked-in pressure point as a foundation of their offensive process, that they can always be relied on to generate an advantage, with Mabrey always attracting the attention of multiple defenders in this context.

At times she has had struggles with pressure in this scenario, with some of that due to the spacing woes that Dallas had due to roster construction (and injury) in the playoffs – often leading to turnovers.

However, with the spacing the Sky have compiled – in potential 5-out offensive attacks – there will be plenty more space to play in, and more of a price to pay when committing two to the ball, as her skill and dynamic demand in multiple offensive contexts.

She will now be able to counter defenses attempting to flatten out her attack (taking away her pull-up three, and downhill-ability), by stretching them and their rotations, before deciding to attack or pass – either of which creates an advantage for the other four players on offense to play in.

Ball movement off the imminent attention she garners will be an emphasis, as an abundance of plays outside of sets will be there for the taking, as a result.

Also, she was teammates with forward, Isabelle Harrison, in Dallas.

Last season, Mabrey compiled more assists to Harrison (23), than she did to any other teammate.

Notice the corner being emptied (or slightly emptied) on three of the four clips above, that specific spacing enables them to play in a more organic 2v2, and can be the best pick-and-roll tandem for this team due to the versatility combined in the action – and the same can be applied for their handoff relationship as well.

They already have a synergy and connection, which could also even evolve as Harrison continues to grow as a floor spacer – expanding her range closer and closer to the three-point line.

If she can stretch her range to deep in the mid-range, it could often look a lot like this:

Harrison could be left with the opportunity to shoot, or attack downhill and undeterred.

This could also, often, be one of Alanna Smith or Morgan Bertsch as well – both of which have shown the ability also to stretch the floor, but also play make on the short-roll and in the pocket, for themselves and in connecting to others.

(Sidenote: those two will be *vital* to the potential this team possesses in playing 5-out basketball, an avenue for them to optimize their speed on both ends of the floor, and also dictate to opponents for stretches of games – an entity I anticipate revisiting multiple times this season.)

I’ll be keyed in on her playmaking processing generally, but especially as she attracts two in pick-and-roll, as it could be a point of infliction for the Sky, in weaponizing Mabrey.

Film Session

Let’s take a look at more film on Mabrey, through the lens of her playoffs showing against the Connecticut Sun, in round one of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs.

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