Pick-and-roll is the main advantage setting action, and base for the Chicago Sky in 2023.
This is a transition from being a team that played an all-inclusive brand of ball movement, cutting, and screening that often resembled actions, cutting automatics, and a team synergy similar to that of the San Antonio Spurs — the golden standard for ball movement and team play in the western hemisphere.
The evolution in tactical philosophy has had its hiccups in addition to having many new pieces in the mix, however, as chemistry plus role definition have settled in — as well as a stint of solid health, mostly — we’ve seen the Sky identify which method they can most often (and most consistently) dictate with.
They lead the W in pick-and-roll possessions including passes (796), percent of teams possessions with a pick-and-roll (37.2%), field goals made out of this action (265), two-point field goals made (199), and field goals attempted (637).
The Sky are also second in points out of this scenario (685), third in three-point field goals made (66), fourth in scoring percent (39.6%) and two-point field goal percentage (45.6%), as well as fifth in points per possession (0.86) and effective field goal percentage (46.8%).
On a per-game basis, they are second in points, 0.1 behind the vaunted Las Vegas Aces pick-and-roll play, with 28.5 per.
The Sky have multiple initiators of this action, primarily Courtney Williams (0.90 PPP) and Marina Mabrey (0.94) who are both in the high volume category, placing top-12 in pick-and-roll possessions including passes (272 and 198 respectively), as well as having top-7 aforementioned PPP marks.
Let’s examine the core three pieces that make this process of pick-and-roll (or multiple pick-and-roll) work so extensively.
Also known as the “Mistress of the Mid-Range,” Williams brings a dynamic of elite passing and playmaking flair out of this context.
She then, also, blends in being a *very* crafty ball handler — able to create space and get off pull-ups that double in making her tough to cover scheme-wise, and tactically.
Drop coverage concedes her to attacking the opposing big, enabling her direct access to the elbows — where she’s as good as it gets — but where depending on the depth of their drop, she can also be crafty in engaging them, to ultimately flick a pocket pass or shovel it over to the roller.
She’s adept at either getting off it quick or stringing extra attention out, to ultimately stretch their rotations and manipulate the space behind it for her teammates in the advantage.
Williams is also solid at attacking switches when that style of scheme is deployed.
Then, when a defense begins to give her too much of an automatic to anticipate, she’ll play at the mesh point of switches, then counter with a re-screen reject that is often ultra-crafty and enables her access into minimum dribble pull-ups — automatics for her.
Further displaying her general feel and craftiness, while playing chess with defenders and their scheme — all in real-time.
She scored a season-best 14 points via the pick-and-roll in Sunday’s win vs Phoenix. When she’s blending her ever-present table setting with her scoring — while also keeping her turnovers down (11%, 6th most secure with it for players > 200 reps), she helps the Sky lead the dance in dictating pace, action, and where shots see coming from in their multiple pick-and-roll system.
Mabrey is an elite shooter who is capable of both knocking down shots as well as creating space on her own, off the dribble.
She’s presently sixth in the W (out of 16) in three-point shooting percentage on the season, for players attempting at least five per game.
In alignment with the Sky being pick-and-roll heavy, 31.2% of her usage comes from this context, as the handler. That percentage ranks 75th percentile and comes in at 19th in the league.
Zoom in even more for her, and account for the dynamic she dictates with — her shooting ability — looking specifically at when teams commit two to her (more often than not), and you’ll see she’s flourished.
Her PPP mark of 1.04 ranks 88th percentile, which is excellent.
She forces activity at the level of a screen, which forces the remaining three defenders to cover in space.
Often getting off it quick with a spray pass, she understands the walking advantage she has, as well as how urgent teams typically are to get the ball out of her hands in this scenario — and is enabling teammates the opportunity to convert with a scrambling defense.
Her ability to pass out of this context is an underrated entity of her general dynamic and impact.
Her PPP of 0.76 ranks 52nd percentile when charting her scoring out of this context (no passing), which is good.
Mabrey’s turnover percentage of 18.6 when the defense commits multiple bodies to her, 7th most secure among the 14 players with 100+ reps in this scenario.
Whereas, when she’s operating as a scorer in the same context (excluding passes), her turnover percentage resides at 19.3%, the third worst among players who’ve run as much pick-and-roll as she has.
So long as she is decisive with her processing as well, she is one of the most consistent and efficient advantages for the Sky — without a screen but especially and even more so with it.
Elizabeth Williams Screening
The other integral piece in the Sky pick-and-roll is Elizabeth Williams.
Williams is a unique talent that combines a vastly underrated ability in screening IQ (angles, when to hold the screen or release into a roll, short-roll, re-screen), hands in catching passes — in traffic typically, even more — without bobbling, then feel to pass off the roll/short-roll finish.
Her screening angles create an advantage for players to get either downhill or to attack the defender at the level of the screen, while her hold/slip/roll/re-screen recognition enables pace in the context.
In all of the same clips with Courtney and Marina above, notice the attention to detail plus the activity at which Williams executes.
She has more possessions compiled (73) where she’s operated as the roller than any player in the WNBA this season, and that comes with a heavy responsibility of understanding both the flow of the game, opposing coverages, as well as the dynamics the handler brings to the plot.
Because she’s so good with it, she often enables herself an advantage on the roll to play with the ball in her hands.
Sometimes it’s the short roll, sometimes it’s a deep roll, but she operates as integral of a piece as any in this system — though her operating goes much more unheralded.
As the Sky trek forward down the homestretch, using their efficiency and effectiveness scoring out of the pick-and-roll as a barometer for their level of play.
The schedule that they have remaining will present a diverse compilation of challenges, but the multiplayer method in which they should be able to dictate against them all resides between the tandems mentioned above.
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