August 11, 2022
Kahleah Copper continues to evolve after reaching stardom last postseason
Wade: Copper is continuing to grow into the MVP that she is
A day before Game 2 of the 2021 WNBA Finals, former Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello patiently took questions from the media. Kahleah Copper had torched the Mercury for 21 points the game before and took over down the stretch like she had throughout the entirety of last year’s postseason. Then, in a scrum of reporters, someone asked Brondello, “What adjustments do you need to make to contain Kahleah Copper?”
Brondello looked down and laughed before giving her answer:
“I wish I could tell you.”
Copper’s ascension in the WNBA was punctuated by her dominance last postseason, but the league might now just be seeing the best version of the 2021 Finals MVP at this point in her career. Since the Commissioner’s Cup Championship, Copper is averaging 18.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while guarding opponents’ best player on offense for 30 minutes a night. The box score won’t tell the full story of her contributions this season, but Copper has leveled up in 2022.
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One of the biggest reasons for Copper’s latest leap is her efficiency as a three-point shooter. Her gradual progression from beyond the arc last season indicated she could blossom into a respectable outside shooter. Copper told The Next before the season that she had been working overseas on shooting from long range and the production has matched the time she put into it.
|Season||Non-Heave 3P%||Catch and Shoot FG%|
|2021 Regular Season||30.59%||31.5%|
|2022 Regular Season||37.23%||37.8%|
“Every year, as the season goes, you see the evolution of her game and how she’s adding to it,” Sky head coach/general manager James Wade said. “She’s continuing to grow into the MVP that she is, so I think it’s amazing. She’s shooting at a 48% clip and 37% from three and she’s getting to the line. She’s been a great player to coach.”
Her three-point shooting has elevated what she can do on a given night, but Copper has made a career attacking defenses in transition and getting to the line. She was second in fast break points per game in 2021, which forced teams this year to start game-planning around not letting her touch the ball on the break. However, that hasn’t stopped her in 2022. Despite playing five games less than Kelsey Plum, Copper only trails the Aces guard by one point in total fast break points this season.
Her thunderous first step was on full display against the Storm on Aug. 9.
After pulling down a defensive rebound, Copper finds another gear and eurosteps her way through two defenders who were already set up on the other end. She quickly accelerates on this play to the point where Seattle’s Tina Charles doesn’t even get a hand on her. In the next play, Copper takes a pass from Emma Meesseman and is greeted by her former teammate, Gabby Williams, at the top of the arc. Williams attempts to slow down Copper, but she once again beats the three defenders in front of her and finishes at the rim for an “easy” two.
When Chicago’s offense gets stagnant, Copper has been the one the team turns to when it needs to get on a run or stunt their opponent’s momentum. Her free-throw rate has increased since the All-Star “Break” and continues to be the Energizer Bunny the Sky benefitted from last postseason.
“A part of her role is to be an engine for us offensively and defensively,” Wade said. “When she’s playing aggressive, we are a better ball team.”
As someone who was declared the “Worldwide MVP” by Candace Parker months ago, it’s hard to believe Copper is someone who is still evolving as a two-way star. She takes after her head coach by deflecting questions about her individual performance (as great as it may be). Copper won’t get the same MVP recognition other stars around the league will due to the Sky’s team-before-me offense, but her contributions should be discussed in that same realm. For now, she’s just focused on lifting the Sky to their second championship in as many years.
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“I’m just trying to do whatever I can do up here, but it definitely feels good to be playing well and be efficient,” Copper said after the Sky’s win against the Mystics. “We’re winning, so that’s the most important thing. It feels better when you’re playing well and also winning.”