Basketball

The Chicago Sky have established themselves as WNBA title contenders, but still need consistency

After a few minor scrapes amidst high expectations, the defending champion Chicago Sky have found a healthy synergy for the most part. They have reached a point in the season where they are showing signs that they take the role of title holders seriously. They have a dynamic offense, pressure-packed defense, unselfishness with the ball, and solid chemistry. The Sky currently stand at 10-5, the third-best record in the league. Plus, they clinched a spot in the Commissioner’s Cup Final on July 26.

With the exception of Candace Parker being out of the last two games due to a knee injury, the core group has remained healthy overall compared to this point last year when there were multiple injuries as well as a seven-game losing streak. Finals MVP Kahleah Copper and veteran big Emma Meesseman have become the players to watch at both ends of the floor.

Copper is averaging 15.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. Since coming back from overseas, she has shown her incredible versatility as she can fit into the mold of what you can expect from a power wing while simultaneously utilizing her other skills to make something happen when least expected.

For example, she has great jumping ability that enables her to grab rebounds and immediately push the ball up the floor to start the offense. In the last two games against the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever, she was the leading scorer with a combined 51 points and a combined 14 rebounds, including 10 against the Dream. Copper certainly has a special place in a group where versatility rules the day. As a result, she was named WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Copper’s assessment of the team’s chemistry is one of progression.

“I feel like we have gotten better in terms of our chemistry on the court,” she said. “I think when we have everybody at full strength we are really good.”

Meesseman is averaging 13.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.1 steals. She is already being considered for defensive player of the year. She has great insight into the offense and can generate points by her ability to set effective screens that can lead to openings in the paint. She can also shoot from the outside when needed and is dynamite on the glass. The fact that she also knows what it takes to win considering that she helped lead the Mystics to the title in 2019 further solidifies her importance. In the last four contests dating back to June 10, she has totaled 75 points, 36 rebounds, and 8 steals.

“She’s a good player and I feel as though she fills a lot of holes for us,” head coach James Wade said. “Emma is just a special player just the way we play our style. We can get somebody in here and they’ re a great talent, but sometimes they don’t fit with our style of play. You’d have to adjust, but with Emma we haven’t really had to adjust. She actually fits into our style of play.”

The bench has made some significant contributions particularly when talking about Rebekah Gardner and Azurá Stevens. Gardner played a decade overseas before coming to Chicago as a rookie at age 31. Since then, she has provided talent and attitude that have made her into a fan favorite . She has scored double digits in eight out of her first 14 games.

In addition, her veteran pedigree brings up the question of whether she will be allowed to transition into a starting role when necessary. She fits well into their explosive offense and is on good terms with players like Copper and Courtney Vandersloot. Certainly you need those two starting, but if Gardner were to replace Allie Quigley in certain instances, the starting five will still be in excellent standing.

As for Stevens, she is also known for her versatility. She can muster up some strength in the paint but can also shoot from beyond the perimeter. She is also stellar on the glass and can block shots when it matters the most including the block against the Dream that forced the game into overtime. If anything, an argument can be made that she is the next in line to replace Parker once she retires. It’s not far-fetched to speculate that Parker is starting to take the load off so that players like Stevens can transition into a full-time starting role. Given her ability to trade off positions, she is well on her way.

All of these tangibles are good signs for the Sky. But the problem for them is that they have demonstrated at times that they aren’t consistent with their newfound rhythm.

In their most recent contest, the Sky went into overtime against the Dream and won 106-100. The problem was they blew an 18-point lead against the team with the worst offensive rating in the WNBA. On Sunday, they repeated that same pattern against the lowly Fever. They gave up a 15-point lead and ended up losing 89-87.

That is not a good thing going forward because if they can’t hold onto to sizable leads against non-competing squads, who’s to say they will come through against the best of the best, especially if this starts to become a habit down the stretch .

Nevertheless, even with the dominance of the Aces and Sun, it is at least safe to say that the Sky will be contenders again. The question will be whether or not they can be consistent enough during the postseason.

The Sky (10-5) will take the Aces (13-2) tonight in Las Vegas at 9 pm CST.

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