WNBA Film Room: Fever earn first road win over Sky

via Chicago Sky
via Chicago Sky /

Clips, notes and analysis from Sunday’s matchup in Chicago

The Indiana Fever dropped the Chicago Sky to 2-9, winning for the first time on the road in 2017. Tiffany Mitchell and Briann January sparked the Fever off the bench, combining to shoot 11-17 with 12 assists. The guards keyed a third quarter run which eliminated a ten-point Chicago lead.

Erica Wheeler started her 5th consecutive game with January working her way back from an Achilles strain. Wheeler propped up the offense in her absence: 19.5 points and 5.3 assists per game on 50+% shooting. Head Coach Pokey Chatman must be pleased with her backcourt now that January is back on the floor.

Meanwhile, Chicago is still in search of a home win. Head Coach Amber Stocks still doesn’t have her full team together. PG Courtney Vandersloot was away, back in the lineup, and now away again. Sunday’s matchup with Indiana presented a few interesting contrasts in style of play.

As of Monday, Chicago plays at the league’s fastest pace (83.3 possessions per 40 minutes); Indiana plays at the slowest (75.1 possessions per 40). The Sky have the second highest turnover rate (20.1%); the Fever have the second lowest (15.6%). Frustrated Sky fans may see those numbers and call for a more deliberate approach, but the ball spending more time in the hands of Vandersloot alone ought to steady their attack.

For now, Cappie Pondexter and Tamera Young need to create even more and have capital-g green lights. That alone has had a part in inflating both the turnover and pace numbers.

We’re seeing the Sky explore the many ways in which they can play through Stefanie Dolson. She wasted no time pushing the smaller Candice Dupree up the lane line after an early 1st quarter switch:

Dolson is so dangerous because she can both score and make plays inside or out. Pick and pop threes can’t be given up this easily:

She’s quick to act as a passer when the help cuts off a roll to the rim. Dolson’s roll commanded enough attention that she was able to snap this pass out to Allie Quigley, someone who isn’t supposed to be left alone to shoot open threes.

Jessica Breland, Dolson’s most regular front court partner, will space beyond the arc and wait for dump offs near the basket. Dolson has the awareness to know what Breland is doing then find her:

Defenses have lots of decisions to make whenever Dolson sets a ball screen or initiates a dribble handoff. Indiana did better as the game went on to rotate and help. In this third quarter sequence, the help met Dolson right away and forced it to Keisha Hampton for a corner three:

The Fever took the easy stuff away, forced a supporting player to make a decision, and still recovered to somewhat contest the shot.

Looking at Indiana’s defense, you’re going to see point guards and bigs do a lot of switching, sometimes without offering much resistance. The Fever often switch back seamlessly, but offenses can punish it without straying from their sets. Jessica Breland drove it right away for a score over January here:

And Breland reversed roles from earlier, this time making the high-low entry to Dolson for an easy score:

While I’m on Chicago’s supporting cast, Kahleah Copper flashed a nice crossover to get to the rim in the 2nd:

Both teams shot the ball well in this one. When Chicago was slipping up defensively, Erlana Larkins was often the one taking advantage. In this screen grab from crunch time, look at this massive divide she’s able to stroll through for a score:

Help didn’t creep over quite soon enough. For most of the night, Dupree was going to be open. She took 8 jumpers in the 1st quarter alone! And that is how many teams are going to guard Indiana in order to jam up the dozens of pick and rolls they seem to run every night. More on Dupree in a second.

Larkins is a really interesting option for the Fever. Her minutes have fluctuated, largely because her backup, Natalie Achonwa, looks ready for a larger role. Larkins can set some mean screens, but I like when they put the ball in her hands, too:

That’s too easy for her slipping that handoff. The screening action on the backside was timed well to occupy those defenders, aimed to prevent help from sliding over early.

They’ll also give it to Larkins at an elbow and run a split cut or down screen:

Back to Dupree. With Larkins or Achonwa setting a ball screen, these are the kind of looks she’ll probably be getting all season:

There’s a fragile balance in tilting your defense one specific way. If a team wants to force Dupree to beat them with long twos, they can’t over help and let her carve them up driving and kicking:

But a team doesn’t need to give a shooter all day to wind one up. I love seeing players on the weak side execute a stunt. Tamera Young takes a jab step at Dupree in this next one.

Dupree gives it up to Shenise Johnson, who Young was originally guarding. Young never really left, so she still is able to contest Johnson’s three. Bend but don’t break.

I’d really like to see the Sky reach a point at which Allie Quigley is getting up 5+ threes a game. One pro to pushing the pace like they do? The looks she’ll get in transition:

In Vandersloot’s absence, Quigley’s been asked to create more in the pick and roll and done so admirably:

Here’s a second sequence where she makes a really high level read to feed Breland inside:

Pause it before the pass and you’ll see Quigley’s eyes first see an open Dolson. She ended up making the most damaging pass by reading the help defender in the corner, who didn’t step over enough to cover up Breland.

And finally, she was able to attack one of Indiana’s early switches to bank in a tough floater:

Both these teams face some serious challenges against top competition. But if Indiana can just fare a little better on the road, they’re a likely playoff contender that could possibly then make it comfortably. Chicago leads the league in blocks and has guards that can push it. If they can cut back on their ghastly turnover rate, that alone could swing a few more games in their favor.