Courtney Vandersloot at a new level as Sky push for playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 4: Courtney Vandersloot
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 4: Courtney Vandersloot /

On August 5th in Chicago, Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot became the first player in WNBA history to log four consecutive double-doubles with points and assists. Then she just kept going, putting up 22 points and 11 assists against San Antonio followed by 22 points and 12 assists against Los Angeles in double overtime.

The streak would end at six with Seattle’s blowout victory over the Sky (7 points, 6 assists, 5 turnovers in 23 minutes). Nothing seemed to go right on that afternoon for Chicago. As of Thursday, they sit two games out of a playoff spot with five to play. Good news: The Sky get Dallas and Seattle each once more at home – two teams they hope to leapfrog to grab a playoff spot. Their other three remaining games, all on the road: Connecticut, New York and Minnesota. Oof.  

Vandersloot playing at the level she’s been at lately will most definitely give them a chance. All-Star teammates Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson are having career years. Vandersloot’s six game surge makes things easier for them, whether she’s handling the ball or not.

Quigley shooting a ridiculous 46.7% from three also makes things easier for her teammates. A personal favorite is the contested look she’ll hit after Vandersloot hits her with a bullet pass:

Quigley has hit two or more threes in 21 of the 26 games she’s played in. She’s second in 3PT%, but has attempted 50 more than the leader, Chelsea Gray. Connecticut’s Shekinna Stricklen ought to be mentioned here, too, as she shoots a similar volume and regularly hits from deep with a hand in her face and/or on the move. (Diana Taurasi, in year 13, is shooting 39% on 225 attempts – a number nobody else will remotely approach.)

Quigley has also been effective as a playmaker, especially in dribble handoffs or the pick and roll. She’s averaging nearly four assists per game, twice her previous career best. Vandersloot has caught fire from three recently and is now at 38%, which allows her to spot up when Quigley takes the reigns:

Dolson is the crucial third element in that last sequence and others similar to it. She’s has set career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists and blocks. Dolson is also shooting 53% from midrange and 40% from three. Teams can’t leave her all alone for pick and pop jumpers all day:

And Vandersloot is the perfect pick and roll partner to dime her up on the roll, even through tight passing windows:

Late in games and in potential playoff matchups, the Sky can also work to hunt down switches more often, either through Dolson in the post or Vandersloot on the perimeter against a big:

Vandersloot is so good with her eyes. She looks at action happening on the other side of the floor before jumping right into her move, seen both in that drive against a switch and the bullet pass to Quigley for a three in Seattle shown earlier.

Draw some of that credit up to Head Coach/GM Amber Stocks. The ‘happening on the other side’ part is a crucial element that can’t be overlooked. I can’t see how Stocks doesn’t pass the eye test in a landslide with how she’s structured the offense. Vandersloot and Quigley each get chances to create.

To appreciate what Stocks and her guards have found, look to Atlanta or San Antonio or Washington. The Dream have some spacing issues, but maybe also need to draw some harder lines in developing a hierarchy.

The Stars have found success in fits and starts with Kelsey Plum and Moriah Jefferson running pick and rolls. But then how can they give Kayla McBride more opportunities with the ball in her hands so as not to reduce her to a stationary spot up shooter for the majority of the time?

With new players in big roles and Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman both in and out of the lineup, Mike Thibault has explored different combinations both pre- and post-Tayler Hill injury. Think about that! The Mystics lost a 16-ish per game scorer/potential 2017 All-Star/one of their best outside shooters to an ACL tear on top of Delle Donne’s missed time and Meesseman’s time away at EuroBasket. Those things are easier said than done with all three teams.

UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- JULY 25: Amber Stocks, head coach of the Chicago Sky, on the sideline during the Connecticut Sun Vs Chicago Sky, WNBA regular season game at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 25, 2017 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- JULY 25: Amber Stocks, head coach of the Chicago Sky, on the sideline during the Connecticut Sun Vs Chicago Sky, WNBA regular season game at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 25, 2017 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) /

Shooting doesn’t look like it will be much of an issue for this Sky backcourt pairing moving forward. Chicago is very much still building. Unless Atlanta can win out and catch some luck, the Sky will have two picks in the 2018 first round. Kahleah Copper has flashed some nice aggression attacking the basket since entering the starting lineup, but you’d imagine Stocks will consider using at least one of those picks on a wing.

Jessica Breland has played well in 2017, and her fit moving forward will also be something for Stocks to think about. 2017 #2 pick Alaina Coates has not played this season. Does Coates settle into a backup role behind Dolson? Or do the two of them play some minutes together?

Breland has made a strong case for herself with her play on both ends. She’s bouncy, long and can move her feet to handle different assignments. Offensively, her growth and confidence have been key to open up the floor enough for a team that runs a ton of pick and roll. Here’s Breland making a play or scoring in six different ways:

Dolson’s shooting has added a new dimension as has Breland’s. Breland is shooting 43% on midrangers on 104 attempts. Here’s a list of the league’s best for some perspective:

Seimone Augustus (MIN): 46% on 151 attempts; Candice Dupree (IND): 45% on 231; Courtney Williams (CON): 45% on 194; Jantel Lavender (LA): 45% on 95; Sue Bird (SEA): 44% on 85; Chelsea Gray (LA): 45% on 88; Brittney Griner (PHX): 47% on 78; Erica Wheeler (IND): 47% on 106.*

Of course, those players get those shots in different ways. Griner, Dupree and Lavender are the ones to look at in this context. Breland’s midrange shooting has been a plus for Chicago, but there isn’t room for regression at that number. She’s also flirting with the three ball – 8-21 this year after attempting three in five seasons prior.

When Vandersloot isn’t diming up one of those three, she probably has the space to pull up from three or midrange:

With her vision and confidence in that jumper, Vandersloot is a solid bet to find something really good for her team in transition – even after a made basket!

Chicago’s defense is in the bottom half. On top of the building ahead of them with the roster, remember this: Vandersloot missed 7 games (and has started in just 17) and Quigley missed three. It’s much tougher than it should be for any WNBA team to really come out of the gates with a full head of steam, let alone its full team, so I’ll reserve heavy judgments for that end until we (hopefully) see them at their best to start 2018.

I’ll say this much more for now. Vandersloot is smart and pesky off the ball and in getting back into the play:

Final bit: Vandersloot will attack the baseline and come through to the other side when possible, always on the look for an open teammate as help flies toward her:

Perhaps Chicago doesn’t make the playoffs in spite of a late push. If so, what do you make of their core and how can they build on it to maximize their ceiling as a team?

And specific to Vandersloot, is she under consideration to make an all-WNBA team if she continues to tear it up in the final five games for the Sky?

* = midrange shooting stats as of August 20 via

More from High Post Hoops