The WNBA is somehow already a month into the season, and the Chicago Sky have shown perhaps the most growth a quarter of the way through the season. They have had success tinkering with lineups and implementing new players while attempting to build upon last year's title. Chicago is still re-integrating Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, who just played her fifth game last night against the Atlanta Dream. In that game, she put forth her best showing of the season, finishing with 21 points. The Sky are still finding their offensive flow, but each game, their footing improves.
Defensively, the Sky are putting together elite defensive stretches. Their offense clicking to the tenth degree was a large reason for their postseason success, yet their hyperactive defense deserved arguably as much focus. Through 9 games to start the year, Chicago is third in defensive rating per Her Hoops Stats.
They've given up 80 or more points just three times this season. Last night's 65-point output from the Dream is yet another feather in the cap of James Wade's aggressive scheme. The starting lineup of Courtney Vandersloot/Allie Quigley/Kahleah Copper/Candace Parker/Emma Meesseman pitched a no-hitter in essence, outscoring opposition by 18 points in the minutes they shared the court. Out of the 19 five-player lineups that have played at least 30 minutes in the W this season, only three have a higher net rating (+16).
This is Chicago's defense at its best: Active hands, ball pressure on screens, backline rotations, and timely recoveries to continually morph to each action.
To start, Candace Parker angles herself so well on the trap, forcing Kirsty Wallce to backpedal and escape with a pass-out. Parker then recovers to Cheyenne Parker as Emma Meesseman peels back to the corner. Courtney Vandersloot is zoned up but slides back in front of Erica Wheeler. The defense is still in control, and Atlanta's first action is nullified.
Wheeler swings to Naz Hillmon in the corner to no advantage, so she kicks to Rhyne Howard sprinting up to the slot. Notice Allie Quigley actively track Wallace on the cut. It sounds minute, but this defense is so reliant on everyone being in sync and active. If one moving part falls asleep, the gaps open. Quigley takes away any sort of interior outlet for Hillmon.
Rhyne Howard sprints up to the slot and Rebekah Gardner gives chase. Howard dishes to Parker and cuts baseline for a pinch post action, but Gardner uses her length to negate that passing window. Now we're down to Cheyenne Parker taking Candace Parker one on one from the mid-post with minimal time on the shot clock.
This Sky team is adept at forcing offenses to work through progressions and into shots that are less ideal for an efficient and effective offense.
Parker, Meesseman and Azura Stevens all have the length and size to play the five, but it's the culmination of their skillsets that maximizes them defensively. Parker and Stevens are incredibly mobile and have great instincts in help. Meesseman also has good instincts and very good court vision and feel for where to be. She's always had active hands, but is sneakily 4th in the league in steals per game per Her Hoop Stats. She sniffs out plays moments before they happen and pounces.
Playing alongside other like-sized players who have the ability to cover ground makes Meesseman's defense even more effective.