June 12, 2024 

How do the Chicago Sky stack up in the WNBA after 10 games?

Inside the Sky's aggressive defense and spacing issues on offense

The “first quarter” of the 40-game WNBA season is over for the 4-6 Sky. It’s time to check in on how the team’s offense and defense stack up against the rest of the league.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

Aggressive ball pressure defines the Sky defense

With a head coach who won Defensive Player of the Year in her playing days, and a roster assembled to fit her defense-first mentality, one might expect excellence from the Sky on defense. And thus far, the team’s defensive rating places them in the top half of the league.

The defining feature of the Sky’s defense has been aggressive ball pressure. This starts with with point guard Dana Evans, who is often applying full-court pressure.

Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans reaches in for a steal on Dallas Wings forward Maddy Siegrist
Dallas Wings forward Maddy Siegrist (20) looks to score as Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans (11) defends during the second half at the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, on May 15, 2024. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

“We have a point guard that’s faster than everybody,” Marina Mabrey told reporters when asked about what fuel’s the team’s defense. “She’s out there, she’s pressuring. It’s kind of a string and everybody gets on it.”

Every player in the Sky’s starting five is averaging at least 1.3 steals per game. Off the bench, Chennedy Carter‘s quickness allow her to rotate into help and strip the ball before offenses can react. Her vertical leap also allows her to spoil post-ups intended to exploit her smaller size.

Together, the Sky rank first in steals with 10 per game. Mabrey credits the coaching staff with putting players in the right position to be aggressive. 

“If you’re not in the right position defensively you can’t get steals, you can’t get deflections,” Mabrey told reporters after the team’s May 30 win against the Los Angeles Sparks.

California here you come ☀️

Can’t decide what to do this sunny season? How about an all-expenses paid weekend trip for two to LA to watch both the LA Sparks and Angel City FC next month? Problem solved.

Complete with sweet swag from our friends at Birdies, take in some WNBA action in premium seats when the LA Sparks host the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces on July 5th. 

  • Then catch Angel City vs. the reigning NWSL champs, Gotham FC, on July 6th in style before the Olympic break. In addition to two premium tickets which include warm up field passes, the winners will also walk away with jerseys.

Be part of the women’s sports movement and enter to win today.

Where the Sky defense has faltered is allowing points in the paint. Some of this is due to poor defensive rebounding, as the Sky are allowing more second chance points than any other team in the league. But other types of defensive breakdowns are to blame, too. These include failing to stop the ball in transition or not rotating quickly enough.

“We’re always talking about us being in the right position in relationship to the ball,” head coach Teresa Weatherspoon told reporters before the June 6 game against the Washington Mystics. “We’ve been aggressive. We want to remain aggressive. But we want to make sure we help the helper.”

Every defensive strategy has its weaknesses. Aggressive ball pressure can disrupt offenses, but it will also create open driving lanes if the initial pressure is broken. That’s why help rotations are so important.

Finding this balance will be more challenging now that the team’s defensive anchor, veteran center Elizabeth Williams, is out with a torn meniscus.

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

Spacing issues in the halfcourt offense

So far, the Sky’s best offense has come in transition. In the open floor, the team’s smaller guards can use their speed to their advantage. The Sky are third in the league in fast break points

“Their first five guards are probably the five fastest guards in the league,” said Sparks forward Dearica Hamby after losing to the Sky. “That’s what makes them good and allows them to get out and kill people in transition.”

Where the Sky have had a harder time is in the halfcourt. This is where one can feel the absence of an established superstar and limited 3-point shooting threats.

After the 2023 season, three of the team’s best shooters and its franchise player signed elsewhere. The Sky did not add any elite 3-point shooters in the offseason.

Now Marina Mabrey, who leads the team in scoring with 15.6 points a game, is the only starter shooting above 33% from 3-point land.

Chicago Sky guard Marina Mabrey shoots a jump shot against Washington Mystics guard Karlie Samuelson
Chicago Sky guard Marina Mabrey (4) shoots a jump shot as Washington Mystics guard Karlie Samuelson (44) contests the shot at the Capitol One Arena in Washington D.C., on June 6, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

As a team, the Sky are hitting roughly 1 triple per quarter; more than half of these makes are coming from Mabrey.  

Opponents are taking advantage by faceguarding Mabrey and sagging into the paint.

As a result, drives and post-ups often occur in traffic. The Sky are last in the league in layup efficiency. Both Mabrey and Evans’ at-the-rim efficiency has declined from the 2023 season.

“It starts with space,” Dana Evans said, when asked how the halfcourt offense can improve. “We gotta give each other room to work. I think when we get into the paint and we spray and we get people open shots, that’s when we’re at our best. I think when we do a lot of one-on-one, we’re not as great.”

Evans and DeShields certainly have room to heat up from 3 to help force defenses out onto the perimeter. DeShields, a 27.6 % 3-point shooter in her career, has started the season 1-17 from downtown.

Transcending the team’s spacing issues has been the Sky’s first player off the bench: Chennedy Carter

Carter’s ability to attack bigger defenders have made her one of the most effective guards at the rim. Per Synergy, she is shooting 19-36 at the rim in the half-court. Only Kahleah Copper, Sabrina Ionescu, DeWanna Bonner and Skylar Diggins-Smith have made more half-court layups than Carter.  

The Sky’s frontcourt is still developing

Sky forward Angel Reese attempts to get a shot off against Mystics center Stef Dolson
Chicago Sky forward Angel Reese (5) tries a shot against Washington Mystics center Stefanie Dolson at the Capitol One Arena in Washington D.C., on June 6, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

With the lack of outside shooting, the Sky are often looking inside the paint for baskets. So far, the team’s frontcourt production has been solid. Rookie forward Angel Reese is scoring 11.6 points per game. Isabelle Harrison, still on a minutes restriction, is scoring 5.7 points per game off the bench.

Kamilla Cardoso‘s return to the rotation should help both forwards get more open looks. At 6’7, Cardoso attracts double teams and does a good job passing out of them.   

However, the Sky frontcourt will need time to develop and get healthy before being truly dominant.

Angel Reese enters the W with a need to improve her finishing skills. Per Synergy, Reese’s efficiency at the rim was only 52.5% in college. It has dropped to 32.5% this season.

“I haven’t been efficient yet, and I’m still super hard on myself about that,” Reese told reporters after the Mystics game.

Adding more touch around the basket will go a long way for Reese. She has the first step of a guard, which makes her a major threat off the bounce. Her ability to draw fouls, force steals, and create second chance opportunities for herself are already top 5 in the W.

Accordingly, Reese is being given the runway to develop offensively. She has played the second-most minutes of any Sky player. She is also attempting more shots at the rim than anyone in the league other than All-Star Dearica Hamby.

Carrying such a heavy load at least partly explains the bigger drop in Reese’s efficiency. That’s a small price to pay for the Sky if it accelerates her development.

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Written by Alissa Hirsh

Alissa Hirsh covers the Chicago Sky for The Next. She is also a high school basketball coach at her alma mater and is writing a memoir about the difficulty in leaving her college basketball career behind. Her hometown of Skokie, Illinois, is known for having the top bagel options in the Chicagoland area. Before joining The Next, she co-founded the Sky Townies.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.