February 10, 2023 

Chicago Sky offseason notebook: Kahleah Copper shakes off outside noise, Sky bring in reinforcements

Former Sky players introduced by their new teams

It has been a long two weeks for the Chicago Sky.

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In that span, the team lost four members of its starting lineup from 2022 along with sought-after forward Azurá Stevens. Without franchise stalwarts in Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Candace Parker, the team has pivoted to a new era of Sky basketball.

Chicago’s general manager/coach James Wade wasn’t available when The Next made several interview requests over the last two weeks but told the Chicago Sun-Times at USA Basketball’s minicamp he isn’t looking in the rearview mirror.

“I can’t focus on a couple of weeks ago, especially when everybody has moved on,” Wade said. “I have to move on, too. It’s really important that I give all my energy to the Sky players that are committed to us and not think about the past.”

Here are a few notes about where the team is at coming off a busy seven-day period.

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Kahleah Copper confident Sky will be fine

For the first time in over a decade, the Sky will open the season without Quigley or Vandersloot. That makes Copper the defacto longest-tenured player on Chicago.

The 2021 Finals MVP said during a media availability after participating in USA basketball’s minicamp that the last couple weeks have been a “whirlwind.” She has heard the outside noise about the Sky’s outlook for next season but has shrugged it off.

“We’re just going to wait for the season, right?” Copper when asked about the outside perception of the team. “Every year, the media and everybody on Twitter who don’t play basketball, everybody’s got something to say. They never believe in you until you win.”

The chip on Copper’s shoulder will certainly help as she transitions into the Sky’s primary leader. She complimented those who came before her for helping her sharpen her leadership skills over the years and is bracing for the challenge that comes with being the one players look to when adversity arises.

“People are saying that it’s a new era, whatever you want to call it,” Copper said. “I’m ready to compete and really take this leadership to another level. Over my career and over the last couple of years, I think that my leadership has been great and I’ve had great leaders… I’m ready to step into those shoes. It’s time and I’m prepared.”

Chicago adds three new faces and a familiar one

Wade and the front office went to work adding talent around Copper after they weren’t able to retain some of the familiar faces on the roster. According to Richard Cohen of Her Hoops Stats, the Sky picked up guard Courtney Williams on a one-year, $160,000 protected deal; forward Isabelle Harrison on a two-year, $320,000 protected deal; and Elizabeth Williams on a two-year $270,000 protected deal. The team also brought back big Astou Ndour-Fall, who played on the team in 2018, 2019 and 2021, on an unprotected one-year, $115,000 contract.

The first three acquisitions are a turn from what we have seen from Wade, who has prioritized shooting efficiency from all five players on the floor.

While she doesn’t have the same offensive firepower as Stevens, Parker and Emma Meesseman, bringing Elizabeth Williams into the fold was a great start for the Sky in replacing that trio. The former Mystic didn’t get the same playing time she had while she was in Atlanta but is a solid bet for a team looking to replenish its front court depth. According to PBP Stats’ database, Elizabeth Williams has recorded the fifth-most blocks at the rim in the WNBA over the last three seasons. Outside of last year, where she played the least amount of minutes since her rookie season, Williams’ block rate has staggeringly never dipped below 4.0%. She might not be the same offensive force on the outside the Sky are used to from their bigs but Chicago picked up an elite rim protector at a solid value.

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The other Williams, Courtney, is an interesting bet from the Sky’s front office. She has proven she can be lightning in a bottle when her team needs a scoring spurt but her shot selection last season was concerning from an efficiency standpoint. The former Sun guard took the most long mid-range shots (which are classified by PBP Stats as shot attempts from 14 feet out to the three-point line) in the WNBA last season and only converted 40.8% of them. Whether she is coming off the bench or in the starting lineup, those aren’t going to fly the same way they did in Connecticut. The Sky took a total of 300 long mid-range attempts last season compared to Williams’ 191. How she is integrated into Wade’s offense will be fascinating heading into next season.

Harrison and Ndour-Fall are two other bounce back candidates the Sky are hoping to get the best out of. Harrison fell out of the Wings’ rotation last year after a solid 2021 campaign, where she averaged 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds in 23.7 minutes per game. She provides some versatility and quickness in the post but, like Elizabeth Williams, won’t be stepping out from beyond the arc while she’s on the floor. Ndour-Fall didn’t play in the WNBA last season but was an integral part of the 2019 Sky team that took Las Vegas to the brink in the second round of the playoffs that season.

Including Dana Evans and Li Yueru‘s unprotected contracts, the Sky have eight players signed to their roster after these moves, according to Her Hoops Stats. The team has not re-signed Rebekah Gardner, who Wade said will be back with the team in 2023.

Vandersloot and Parker introduced to new teams

As Sky fans are still recovering from the departures of Parker and Vandersloot, the two all-time WNBA greats officially signed the dotted line to join their respective squads in 2023.

During her press conference on Feb. 7, Parker was asked about the passing of the proverbial torch from her to Copper as the Sky’s leader. The future hall of famer was gracious said her relationship with Copper is long-lasting, something she communicated to the two-time all-star.

“From a basketball standpoint, [I told Copper] you have the keys and the skills to continue to be great in Chicago and lead this franchise,” Parker said when asked about the advice she gave Copper after she decided to move on to Las Vegas. “From a friendship perspective, this isn’t conditional. So I’m still here and want to be a part of [Copper’s] life. We still talk and have FaceTimed since then. My love for her, what she has done and what she means to our family is endless. It’s not conditional on what jersey I wear.”

Vandersloot was introduced as the newest member of the New York Liberty yesterday morning next to former Storm superstar Breanna Stewart. The latter said there was an interest from the two to join forces this offseason and try to win a WNBA championship together. Both played together in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg and have won a EuroLeague title overseas, making for an obvious pairing in the WNBA.

Vandersloot was asked about what sold her on the Liberty’s pitch in free agency. She was impressed by dedication and the vision the franchise had in place to bring home its first WNBA championship.

“The vision was so clear,” Vandersloot said. “It was not dependent on ‘if this happens or if this happens…’ this is what we see. This is what we’re going to do for you. We want to bring a championship and the best players here. We’re going to take care of you. It was everything that [her and Stewart] were looking for and they’re really pushing the envelope in all areas. We bought into how special it would be to bring a championship to New York.”

Written by James Kay

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