May 25, 2023 

Takeaways from the Chicago Sky’s first week of the 2023 season

Sky come out of first road trip undefeated

Just like all the experts predicted at the top of the season, the Chicago Sky have started off 2023 undefeated.

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The Sky traveled west, took out the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury last weekend, and opened some peoples’ eyes who thought they would be bottom feeders from the jump. Like all WNBA teams this early in the season, Chicago is a work in progress but did what it needed to do ahead of its next matchup against Washington tomorrow night.

“I think the ones, in the beginning, are the ones that haunt you in the end,” Kahleah Copper said. “With everything going on, it was important for us to get these wins while trying to figure it all out. We don’t have the best on-court chemistry yet. We went on the road and did that while still figuring out every single person playing a role from top to bottom.”

Here are some takeaways from the Sky’s first two games.

Courtney Williams‘ shot diet has changed

Just two games into the season, Courtney Williams has looked like a different offensive player than the one she was with the Connecticut Sun. The difference from 2022? Her shot diet.

Last season, Williams attempted a league-high 191 long midrange shots, which PBP Stats qualifies as jumpers taken from 14 feet out to the 3-point line. For context, Rhyne Howard was second in the league in long midrange attempts with 123 in 2022.

When Williams came to Chicago, Wade told her she would need to cut down on that portion of her shot selection. He had someone paint a second line two feet in front of the 3-point stripe at Sachs Recreational Center and told Williams she can’t shoot two-point attempts between the two lines.

“We ain’t talk about it–he just made it clear,” Williams said laughing, referring to her discussion with Wade about attempting shots from that area. “He said, ‘You’re going to take a two inside of that, or you’re going to take a three.’ Then in the first game, I came out and took a long two. In film, I heard about it and he said, ‘We want threes, Court. If you’re going to shoot it from that far, give us three points.’

“So I’ve made a point to shoot more threes.”

Through the first two games, Williams is shooting 30% from beyond the arc on 5.5 3-point attempts per game. However, the Sky don’t need her to be the next Allie Quigley in order for her to be an effective scorer. She made 40.1% of her long midrange jumpers in 2022. Making the slight adjustment of taking a step back to convert those midrange attempts into 3-point shots will do dividends for her shooting efficiency and Chicago’s offense.

Outside of her obvious talent as a scorer, Williams’ poise leading the offense with Marina Mabrey hobbled with an ankle injury kept the offense afloat when it stagnated at certain points in the first two games. One of Wade’s strengths as a head coach is instilling confidence in every player on his roster. Williams is the latest example of how that empowerment can lead to great results on the floor.

“It’s different, right?” Williams said when asked about her role from last season in Connecticut to her time in Chicago. “I’m in a whole other system. This system definitely allows me to do more. I love Connecticut, but it was a different system. Here, it’s a great system and I think it complements my game well.”

The Sky have a chance to be a top-three defense in the WNBA

It is easy to overreact in the first few weeks of the season (just ask New York Liberty fans, who watched WNBA Twitter melt down after the team lost its season opener to the Mystics). However, the potential Chicago showed on the defensive end should scare opponents.

In the first two games of the season, Chicago allowed its opponents to convert only 44 field goals while forcing 40 turnovers (yes, you read that correctly). As a result, they turned those mistakes into 39 points off turnovers, second to only the Sun, who played one more contest than Chicago. Even as the Sky work out the kinks in their half-court offense, any team would take the production Chicago has gotten out of its defense so far this year.

There have been people who have pointed to the Sky’s hot start to the season being a product of them facing a Minnesota team building towards the future and a Phoenix squad whose offense looked dysfunctional outside of Sug Sutton and Brittney Griner. Whatever qualifier their naysayers want to use doesn’t negate the fact this team has executed the blueprint it has been talking about for months: get stops, force turnovers and generate points in transition. Actualizing their defensive philosophy this early with virtually a new roster is a testament in the belief this team has in what they are doing.

Chicago’s path to being an upper-echelon defensive team will not be easy. Isabelle Harrison, who underwent surgery to repair her torn left meniscus, is out indefinitely. Wade told the media on May 24 he doesn’t expect Harrison to be back “anytime soon,” and the team isn’t “counting on her for this particular year.”

The Sky will miss Harrison’s length (and minutes) this season, but their leader of the backline in, Elizabeth Williams, will alleviate any headaches the team might have in the paint. Those unfamiliar with Williams’ game have quickly been introduced to her elite disruption on the defensive end of the floor. Williams, whose career 2.35 stocks per game rank 17th in WNBA history (min. 80 games played), has allowed the backcourt to play more aggressively early on.

As Copper put it, “I know she’s got my back” when pressuring offensive players on the perimeter. Behind Williams, Chicago only allowed the Lynx and Mercury to score on 54.2% of its at the rim attempts, which would be the second-lowest rate in the James Wade era if the season ended today. It’s a minuscule sample size (only 24 attempts) but Williams’ impact erasing and altering shots can not be overstated, considering many people expect Chicago’s frontcourt to take a step back this season following the departures of Emma Meesseman, Candace Parker and Azurá Stevens.

Washington’s offense is considerably better than the Sky’s first two opponents this season and will serve as a test to see how far the defense can take this team in 2023. However, the early signs of where Chicago is at as a collective unit does not seem like a fluke. This group is going to pester teams all season.

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Other quick notes

Chicago’s offense is still a work in progress. Make no mistake: the Sky, like all WNBA teams, have not put the entire puzzle together yet. Without Harrison for both games and Mabrey for the bout against Phoenix, Chicago’s offense had its share of highs and lows. The Sky have only shot 42.7% on two-point attempts this year, but the bones of the offense and the open looks they are generating are a sign this group is better than what they have shown so far. The secondary playmaking from Elizabeth Williams and Morgan Bertsch has been a major plus and will be even more important with Harrison out for the foreseeable future.

Dana Evans‘ leap is just beginning: Evans had a tough week outside of basketball. The third-year guard’s cousin was recently killed and she had to leave the team between its first and second games to attend his funeral. Evans played through the circumstances and set the tone for the Sky defensively against the Lynx. Her shot hasn’t fallen at the rate she has hit in practice but count on that to change now that she won’t be dealing with swapping coasts in a 24-hour span on top of processing a family tragedy.

Written by James Kay

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