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Kahleah Copper's evolution, through the lens of her career-high 37-point outing against Las Vegas

In an era where becoming a three-level scorer is taking on as much of a precedent as ever before, Kahleah Copper is evolving into just that — with her own flavor and flair to it.

Copper — presently averaging 18.7 PPG this season, a career-best in points — is on a torrid scoring pace through the last three games, stemming from her third All-Star selection (and third consecutive selection) averaging 27.7 PPG.

It was fun to hear her mention closeouts being more favorable to her as well, as I spoke on them myself earlier that day, and how they had become advantageous to her as it enabled her more effective read and react play, off the catch.

via our latest recording of the CHGO Chicago Sky Podcast

We saw a little bit of everything regarding her multifaceted scoring dynamic on Tuesday against Las Vegas, where she established yet another career-high in scoring, with 37 points.

Let’s dive into the film and zoom in on what is now making Kahleah Copper one of the most well-rounded scorers in the W.

We should start with the splash in sustained successes she’s seen from deep.

Evolution of how she’s guarded, via 3-point growth

Look no further than one of the offensive contexts where she’s the most explosive and unguardable players in transition.

The fact that Copper is now the level of threat on and off the ball in transition that garners instant attention also helps the Sky.

Here, as almost always, she gets out ahead of the ball before anyone else on offense, then immediately fills the corner.

An excellent advance pass from Mabrey (to create pace and allow Copper to attack in the advantage that is a transition possession, when the defense is most compromised), enables Copper opportunity early in the offense.

Notice the closeout she gets here from Chelsea Gray, stopping short in an err on the side of protecting the basket manner, against the threat of Copper’s first step with no help behind her.

That threat enables her enough space to line up the laces, get her feet set, then knock down a catch and shoot three, in transition.

In that specific context this season, she’s scoring 57.1% of the time, with an impressive 1.64 PPS (points per shot) mark. Zoom in even more specifically to shot types, and she’s at 58.3% from deep — speaking to how well-rounded of a weapon she is.

Here, she receives some off-screen action via a wide pin-down.

She processes the initial under, as the Aces tip their hand, letting it be known they’re looking to flatten her attacks out and keep her on the perimeter by going under the screen + switching.

Wilson is a beat behind schedule, and Copper is — in a new context — more comfortable pulling up from deep off the dribble this season.

That gets her into a comfortable space as she controls the pace, and dictates with a shot she desires to take, depositing three more.

Here is a great example of why she continues to put herself in successful positions. As Williams and Williams work the flat drag angle screen and roll in the empty corner (an action location they should’ve gone to more in this game) notice the extra attention it garners, attracting Alysha Clark on the tag, as Wilson and Plum negotiate the late-switch.

Notice Copper though, spaced above the break, top-side.

As Clark leaves to aid the pick-and-roll defensively, Copper — who’s never idle for more than 2 seconds off-ball — is able to re-space behind the action to stretch the rotation for Clark back out to her, while also simultaneously shortening the pass distance for Williams.

She increases the quality of her shot + reduces the impact of the closeout from Clark with slight movement into the shot, and it is bottoms up.

Sidenote: she’s shooting the above the break three at her highest rate in four seasons (19.4%), is on pace to shatter her previous career-high in attempts of 68, and is knocking down said attempts at by far a career-best efficiency relative to volume, at 39.4%.

She already has her career-best mark in hits from there, with 26.

This rep was a lot of fun. I’ve noted how effective Mabrey and Copper screening for each other is and can be for the Sky’s offensive process — as well as how effective it can be for both individually as scorers.

We see them get into that action here. However, Copper elects to slip out of the action quickly, in a ghost screen-adjacent fashion, then flows into the flare (top-side again) for a straight-on look as her match-up is left in the dust.

The emergence of *this* volume, and on *these* efficiencies in a sustained fashion has Copper genuinely operating as a three-level scorer, with the confidence and prowess to do damage on versatility in her usage.

Specifically from range, sheet now enabled to stretch the defense and force a different type of urgency behind the closeouts she’s receiving, enabling her to further dictate reactions from the defense.

Her jab step off the catch has grown more prolific because of the threat of her first step, but the defense is now constantly in a catch-22 because she can play read and react while compromising them with her shot or the lightning-quick first step for dynamic and acrobatic forays to the basket.

However she wants it, she has the means to get it done, and Copper at the helm and in a position of consistently dictating with the ball in her hands is a daunting proposition for a defense.

There’s essentially no win here for the opposition.

If she starts drawing more long, urgent closeouts like this:

Watch out.

Pick-and-Roll Play

She’s on pace to run as many, if not more, pick-and-roll as she has at any point in her career. 

She mentioned to me earlier in the season that a point of emphasis for her this season was playmaking off the extra attention she knows she garners, processing where it’s coming from, and delivering timely passes with accuracy.

She’s processing that dynamic of her gravity better in this season (on a higher usage and demand, she’s at 92 points created via her assists), but what’s already elite for her is her scoring in the pick-and-roll context.

Her PPP (points per possession) mark in this context is 0.90, which is very good — ranking 72nd percentile.

Specifically for her, points are coming out of scenarios where she’s initiating pick-and-roll 43.8% of the time.

She excels with side pick-and-rolls, scoring 48.6% of the time from the left (1.00 PPP) and 50% of the time from the right (1.09 PPP). Sidenote: from the right side, she also draws a shooting foul 18.2% of the time

Her evolving ability to control the pace in these actions with defensive rhythm-breaking jabs and live dribble hops (which double to getting her feet established in the most explosive position for a drive) is a ton of fun to watch her setup.

One trick of the trade she has under her belt is the rejecting of a screen (going the opposite direction of the screener).

Oftentimes, there is plenty of space for her to operate on the opposite side, especially when they run their empty corner pick-and-roll actions.

It enables Copper mostly undeterred real estate to eat, as well as tug at the help responsibility of low defenders, enabling her opportunity to showcase her dexterity, creativity, and abilities to finish through contact on deep drives.

She’s well known as the best baseline driver in the W, and ejecting screens in emptied corners enables her opportunity in those contexts, plenty.

This first rep we see her with a great setup into the reject.

Stokes (defending Williams, the screener) is up to touch on the other side of the screen, making for one of the most optimal times to reject the screen as the opposing center — usually their best rim protector — is off the porch and away from the cup.

What’s unique about the Aces, though, is their best rim protector is the reigning defensive, A’ja Wilson, who’s strategically spaced in the paint in anticipation of a drive, with Stokes in an aforementioned location away from the basket.

This makes the drive and setup from Copper *that* much more ambitious.

Notice how she processes the threats of help, misleads Gray initially with the first hop, then Wilson with the hop into the crossover.

She gets Wilson to ever so slightly shift her weight on her front foot, away from the basket, then is ultimately able to beat both Young and Wilson to the block before this incredible inside hand finish, through contact, on the reject, for an and one.

Again, all processed within a matter of seconds, she’s able to mislead the defense before beating them to a position of scoring.

It’s the ability to finish with flair and athleticism like this that makes her the best driver in the W.

Next, we see more of the same, with a few more unique instances involved.

The small ball lineup from the Sky here has Wilson now above the free throw line, rather than in the paint as she was on the rep prior.

This, in addition to Copper the Sky cleverly spacing Mabrey opposite of her (speaking to the ways the Sky can weaponize their synergy and court balance in the half-court) puts Chelsea Gray in a compromising situation.

Damned if she does help, damned if she doesn’t.

Copper processes that Gray (the lowman) is hugged up on Mabrey as she gets into her patented and aforementioned skip (playing off the hop), then doesn’t just straight line drive — as Gray does a great job getting into position for the charge — but dynamically veers to the left slightly, and is ultimately rewarded with a free throw after yet another impressive display of touch through contact at the basket.

Her aforementioned 10-for-15 efficiency at the rim is on par in a small sample with the successes she saw on a season-long basis last season.

She’s up to and one’s this season, just five more conversions from tying her career-best mark of 16 last season.

Copper’s also drawn 45 shooting fouls this season, with a solid chunk coming in this three-game sample post-All-Star.

The whistle she’s receiving now, which feels beyond appropriate finally, will help her to dictate, but will also double in helping the Sky keep their defense set as well.

Pull up two’s

She’s been very good in the mid-range for some time now, and having an in-between game to counter with when teams load up on the helpline, knowing you can get past your initial defender at will, is almost like a cheat code.

It’s also a more than viable shot that she gets into in transition.

Notice again the patented hop, enabling her neutrality to still drive, while also allowing her to square her shoulders to the cup.

This is a shot she’s knocking down at a 55% clip in transition.

Then, in the half-court, notice how she’s able to get to her spots and elevate with confidence.

All of these dynamics of hers meshing into one all-encompassing weapon is a large part of what makes her unique as a scorer.

As she continues to put her foot on the gas in the second half of the season, watch for the trip to the free throw line frequency, as well as her efficiencies at the rim and from range to sustain.

Should they continue to blend into her offensive process the way they have in these first three games post-All-Star, she could very well finish this season north of 20 PPG as a scorer — but this is also what the Sky will need from her to win and in optimizing the potential in this new rendition.

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