June 24, 2022 

Chicago Sky show they can beat teams in a multitude of ways

Sky are 1.5 games behind first place after road trip

When the Chicago Sky opened their season against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 6, Sky head coach/general manager James Wade rolled out a starting five consisting of front court giants Emma Meesseman, Candace Parker and Azurá Stevens. The team was waiting for 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper to return from overseas and sacrificed a modicum of athleticism on the wing in order to put its five best (available) players on the floor.

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It worked.

Chicago went 2-2 in that stretch but lost against the Sparks after a controversial phantom call at the end of regulation. The Sky only lost by three to Seattle in their second loss of the season. To this day, the Sky’s second-best three-player lineup in terms of net rating is the A.C.E. (Azurá, Candace, Emma) trio Wade went with on day one (min. of 40 minutes played).

The 2019 Coach of the Year hasn’t played those three together on the floor since, and it hasn’t stopped the Sky from torching teams on the way to second place in the standings. When it struggles to score from the perimeter, Chicago punishes teams by getting to the line, and makes opponents lug out possessions in the paint (they are second in the WNBA in points in the paint per game with 40.5). When they aren’t getting foul calls underneath the basket, the Sky can scorch their opponents from beyond the arc like they did in their historic 28-point comeback win vs. the Aces on Tuesday night.

To put it more concisely: there isn’t another team in the WNBA with this level of versatility.

“I think it says a lot about our team that we don’t really force the issue,” Wade said before the Sky’s 82-59 win over the Sparks on Thursday. “We are mature enough to take what the defense gives us and try to take advantage of that. We have confidence that we can score in a myriad of ways. We’re just trying to improve as a collective group on both ends of the floor.”

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One new wrinkle to Chicago’s offense is its emphasis on getting Emma Meesseman touches in the post. Reinserting Copper into the starting lineup allowed Wade to have two members of the A.C.E. lineup off the floor at one time. It has made the difference for their 4 out 1 motion offense, and Meesseman has made the most of her opportunities any time she touches the ball on the block.

The six-foot-four forward is scoring an absurd 1.425 points per possession on post-up opportunities this season, good for first in the WNBA according to Synergy Sports (min. 15 possessions). When teams collapse on her, Meesseman uses her height to find cutters in the open space she creates with her gravity. Teams have had to pick their poison and, when they leave her alone in the post, she makes them pay.

Getting those opportunities inside has been vital to a Sky team that hasn’t shot the ball particularly well until recently. While they have excelled at finishing at the rim, Chicago went through a dry shooting spell in games through June 17 this season.

DistanceJump Shots: Field Goal %
Less than 17 feet34.9%
17 feet to 3-point line28.6%
3-point range31.6%
Numbers provided by Synergy Sports Tech

When asked about the Sky’s atypical coldness shooting the ball, Wade brushed off the notion that it was an issue.

“I wish we would stop talking about shooting woes,” Wade said after the Sky’s loss against Washington on June 8. “We’re fourth in the league in field goal percentage and we’re the No. 1 team as far as free throws are concerned. We’re fine.”

It was an interesting observation from the leader of a franchise that has taken the sixth-most three-point attempts in the league since 2019. However, he has a point. In wins this season, the second-place Sky are eighth in the league in three-point percentage; in losses, they rank ninth. Their constant movement in the half court has generated clean looks around the basket. Deviating from that strategy when the team was struggling to hit open jump shots wouldn’t have made sense when their efficiency down low is as high as it is.

However, the Sky were forced to pivot when they came into Las Vegas seeking to avenge their early season loss to their Western Conference foes. Down 28 points after the first quarter, it was apparent the officials were going to swallow their whistles (Chicago didn’t get to the free throw line until the 8:03 mark in the fourth quarter).

The Sky were able to climb back into the game with a barrage of threes and outscored the Aces 63-33 in the second and third quarters. Even if they don’t identify as a team that will go out of its way to hunt shots from beyond the arc, the Sky showed they are capable of taking teams out from the perimeter. They finished the night going 12 for 25 from three-point territory and scored 104 points despite only attempting seven free throws. It was a win that not only made a statement to the Aces but the rest of the league.

The Sky eviscerated the Sparks last night pounding the ball in the paint and finding open looks. Outside of Candace Parker (who the team was clearly giving extra minutes so she could notch her second triple-double of the season), none of Chicago’s starters played more than 22 minutes. The Sky are finding their groove and have proven that opponents will need to throw the kitchen sink night-to-night if they have any chance at beating the reigning champs.

“Since I’ve come back I feel like we have progressed,” Kahleah Copper said. “We’ve gotten better as far as our chemistry on the court and we are reading each other really well. When we have everybody at full strength, we are really good.”

Written by James Kay

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