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Sky Scope: Weekend split against New York showed a lot of promising signs for an injury-depleted Chicago Sky team

Welcome to Sky Scope, Chicago Sky fans.

In this series of postgame pieces, I’ll be zooming in on the team’s specific trends, tactics, schemes, and player development, among many other things.

This will essentially be a compilation of my eye test-driven on-court insights, supported by stats, from a lens of X’s and O’s.

Let’s put their past weekend slate under the lens!

The Sky are now 4-3 through this early portion of the season.

Over the weekend, they saw a ‘home and home’ series-style match-up with the vaunted, full strength, New York Liberty.

Even more, the Sky found themselves severely undermanned, at the hands of early-season injury adversity.

But each team was able to win on the road.

The Sky spent the weekend without the services of Morgan Bertsch (ankle), Rebekah Gardner (foot), Isabelle Harrison (knee), Ruthy Hebard (maternity return), then Dana Evans was a late scratch for the latter match-up in New York due to non-Covid illness.

Additionally, an ankle tweak just before halftime of the first game, where Copper compiled 18 points in the first half, saw some compromise in the second half.

In all, it makes the one-point loss in the first game, then win in the second, after being down as much as 19 in the second half, all the more impressive and even more so, telling of just how good this Sky team is – and can be.

Here’s what caught my eye over the weekend.

1. Kahleah Freakin’ Copper

In a star-studded weekend slate that saw multiple champions, MVPs, Finals MVPs, All-Stars, All-WNBA, and All-Defensive team performers, it was the Sky’s franchise player who stood out most, and by far.

Copper averaged 23.5 PPG on 46 percent shooting from two, and 58.3 percent from 3.

Even more, she compiled 16 rebounds which all but added to the level of competitor she displayed – per usual.

This is Copper’s second stretch of back-to-back 20+ point performances of her career, speaking to the space she’s operating in.

Those are just offensive numbers.

She did a fantastic job sticking to the hip of the non-stop movement and off-screen shooter, Sabrina Ionescu in game one, while also mixing it up with all other guards on the floor by way of the Sky doing more switching this weekend than they had in earlier games this season.

What continues to remain unmatched, is her undisputed place as the best slasher in the WNBA.

Her drives are as poetic as they are dominant.

Notice her adept change of pace and direction as Ionescu commits to her initial right-hand drive, as well as the navigation of hand help from nail with Johannes, plus the dexterity and ball control to cross it over to the left for the finish.
Here, she sees a flat hedge from Jones off the handoff, so she drives the roller’s path and maneuvers through the tightest crevice via an overhead cross, into a layup.
Notice the subtle pace changes to gain leverage, into this impressive – tight quarters – wrong-footed finish from an awkward angle as she plays the board.
Listen closely to her on-court commentary from start to finish – energy! Then her world-class athleticism as she moves at a different pace than everyone else, before popping the clutch off the hesitation, into an and-1.
Plays off an isolated tag here. Uses patience to dictate. Then gains leverage getting lower than her defender, playing herself into an advantageous pick-up point before the finish, off two.

She seems to have found her scoring groove and the energy on the defensive end is matching that as well, per usual.

2. Playmaking Courtney

Williams has impressed most this season with her playmaking feel and acumen.

Over the weekend, this is what truly stole the plot in her solid showings, and Coach James Wade provided me with his insight on her displays:

She won time and time again in the on-court chess battle taking place in pick-and-roll, against the likes of Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones.

As she picked apart their defense with the pass, through patience and high-speed processing, she continued her stay near the top of the assist per-game leaderboard.

She also continues to keep the Sky frontcourt pieces directly involved in their offensive process, past just their screening.

The Liberty blended multiple coverages against Williams this weekend in pick-and-roll, and she responded with 13 assists to seven turnovers.

Past the numbers, the timelines in flow – time and time again – where she undid their coverage, then compromised it, was an absolute show to watch in playmaking prowess.

Engages the opposing drop coverage big just long enough for the pocket pass, before help defense can engage.
Anticipating Liberty automatics and flipping them to advantages with quick processing.
Quick reads keeping the defense in rotation.
Beats the Liberty rotation again with quick processing, versus drop coverage.
Gets a flat switch, good ‘hands up” hesitation dribble, change of direction, and feel.

She is in a very good space as a decision-maker, and it is helping the Sky immensely, especially in the Clutch.

3. Clutch Courtney

In addition to her elite playmaking prowess and IQ on display this season, Courtney Williams has also been the clutchest player in the W.

Her ability to assess a defense, collect data for the first 35 minutes, then appropriately pick her spots in the waning moments is impressive as anything.

Add to that the efficiency of her strategic spot-picking that helps further her feel for the game, and you get these mercurial moments where she showcases elite play for multiple stretches.

Having another reliable piece to close with, in addition to what Copper can do, as well as Mabrey, is invaluable for the Sky.

4. Elizabeth Williams Anchoring

Elizabeth Williams has been a defensive stalwart for years now – ranking sixth in WNBA history and third among active players in blocks per game, at 1.7 per – and having made an All-Defensive team appearance in 2020.

Emphatic blocks displaying great athleticism and anticipatory skill are far from foreign to her.

Additionally – past just blocking or deterring shots – what makes her one of the best across the league are her IQ, positioning, versatility, awareness, and communication.

The Sky have done *plenty* of switching of late, and matchups can grow disadvantageous as a defense works to flatten out an opposing attack on the perimeter.

Defense needs a master, on-the-fly, problem solver on the back line that can reorganize. She’s been on schedule time and time again with putting fires out on the backline. Often neutralizing qualitative advantages an offense can generate, via scram and kick-out switches, and doing so with activity galore.

The “scram” switch is when there is a mismatch in the post, and, usually on the flight of the pass to the post, a switch will occur, which neutralizes what the offense looked to exploit.

Here is another example, below. It’ll end in a make, but the shot quality is low and it is a shot they’ll live with – a tough, contested two.

A “kick-out” switch is when a switch takes place out in space – typically in pick-and-roll – where a guard is switched onto the roller. A frontcourt piece will then kick them out to the perimeter, as they take over for what was a mismatch on the roll.

She “kicks out” Courtney Williams from the roller – Stewart – then as Stewart and Jones attempt to swap positions for the high-low, Elizabeth closes the air space and contests the pass, ultimately resulting in a turnover.
Kicks Courtney Williams out and off the roller again, with activity, en route to another stop.

Her being a master in doing so with the requisite versatility and activity that she brings makes her the perfect piece to anchor a James Wade-led, versatile, dictative, and often-changing defensive scheme.

She’s well on pace to make another All-Defensive team.

5. Alanna Smith’s Versatility

The 26-year-old Australian forward has been thrust into new roles time and time again through this early portion of the season.

She was brought on to be an ancillary piece that provided both spacing and versatility, with plenty of defensive activity as well.

She’s now been in a position of starting and closing for the Sky, in the latter four of the first seven games of this season.

She’s infused great spacing moments, and high-IQ switching templates (with activity), and displayed a great feel for the game while showing great discipline in being adaptable in her role.

All of which, further proves my sentiments from earlier this season that she (along with Morgan Bertsch) will be a bonafide needle pusher for this Sky team – especially as they grow whole from the injury mend, collectively.

They add bounds of viable depth to not only fit Wade’s system but take it to new heights with an abundance of versatility and IQ on both ends of the floor.

Here, she spoke to me postgame about her offensive processing and discerning when the pop, versus when to roll in the screening game:

Notice how her versatility enables her viability as a spacer – forcing a long-distance closeout from Stewart – then her skill allows her to go left and maintain the advantage, into an assist.
Notice here, again, her versatility and skill. Pops off the handoff. Re-spaces one pass away, then is able to play off the close from nail help, from Stewart. Goes to her left again, and turns the corner into a contested lefty lay-up.
Here, Stewart is compromised with Mabrey (a main pressure point for the Sky) with the ball and needs to provide nail help, while Smith (viable off the pop and as a spacer, all one pass away). She elects to show slightly to the ball as Smith re-spaces, and we see Smith’s quick trigger play into the dynamic. Zero wasted motion.
Then, here, we see her astutely ghost into a pop, processing the aggressive outer thirds pick-and-roll defensive coverage of the Liberty in momentarily putting two to the ball and gaining a reaction advantage. She then pops to space, and it is bottoms up, with no hesitation.

Defensively, she is also a connector. She’s capable of making dynamic closeouts, as well as switching to keep the defensive shell intact and play aggressively in pick-and-roll defense.

Notice her contain the DHO split attempt from Stewart, forcing her to terminate her dribble, then executing a timely hedge on the outer third, enabling Copper for this athletic jumping into the passing lane.
Here, you see her picking up Stewart 3/4’s court, then holding up on her half of the late-switch with Mabrey on the re-screen (accompanied by the aforementioned Elizabeth Williams kick-out switch on the backline) and activity she does so with, breaking the rhythm of Vandersloot.

She’s shown in numerous instances that she is more than capable of being a plug-and-play type of player, who is more than able to rise to the occasion, against any match-up.

Film Session

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