Has anyone made more of their time in the Wubble than Kahleah Copper?
The fifth year shooting guard is spreading joy on and off the court in a career-defining season that has folks taking notice, and not just those rocking Sky blue.
For example – Copper was the impetus for one of the loveliest stories to arise from Bradenton, Florida this past month when she tweeted an SOS to her favorite confetti cake company. Days later and the entire WNBA was swimming in Nothing Bundt Cakes. Though Copper is still waiting on an endorsement deal, the gesture was indicative of the infectious energy she exudes when surrounded by others.
Copper is a Philadelphia hooper through and through. When Chicago finds itself in a slog, Copper’s hustle and spark stride to the rescue, lifting her team from its lull. The way she consistently grinds on defense conjures images of the city in which she was born.
“I just have a toughness and an edginess to me,” said Copper in response to a question asked by Chris Pennant after Chicago beat Las Vegas on Tuesday. “That’s just Philly players, period. We’re not going to back down from anything. We just have a toughness and a swag to us that’s unmatched.”
Copper was drafted with the sixth overall pick in 2016 by the Washington Mystics. In January 2017, the Rutgers graduate was dealt to Chicago in a blockbuster deal that sent Elena Delle Donne to the nation’s capital. The Sky also received center Stefanie Dolson and the second overall selection in that year’s draft. Though she showed flashes of promise in her first four professional seasons, Copper started just 15 games total and never averaged more than 7.1 points per game.
Chicago inked Copper to a two-year deal at $165,000 per year this offseason. Irked by knee inflammation in training camp that has yet to abate, Chicago star shooting guard Diamond DeShields was relegated to a bench role, significantly limiting her playing time. With plenty of minutes up-for-grabs, Copper entered the fray and has started every game for the Sky in 2020. The results have been magnificent.
Copper leads Chicago with 14.4 points per game and is enjoying career highs in nearly every statistical category. More importantly, she’s been extremely efficient despite her increased workload. Copper sports a 52 percent mark from the field and a 39.5 percent mark from deep. The Sky have been better offensively by over eight points per 100 possessions when Copper is on the floor. She’s posted double-digit scoring totals in all but one game this season.
“Kah … it’s just been incredible to see,” said Chicago point guard Courtney Vandersloot. “I always knew she had it in her. She’s getting an incredible opportunity.”
The most mesmerizing part of Copper’s game comes in the restricted area. She’s a magician with the ball in her hands and a contortionist around the rim. She twirls and twists and bends to create the perfect angle, maximizing slivers of space where it appears none exist. Copper resembles one of those inflatable air dancers when finishing at the hoop, only she’s in complete control of her limbs and not at the whim of the wind.
Copper loves using the baseline to her advantage, feigning action toward the middle of the floor before veering in the opposite direction and sliding into a layup. She’ll rock a defender to sleep with seemingly hollow dribbles, then burst past just when they’ve become comfortable. She’s an expert at using hesitation dribbles to create an edge, knowing exactly when to slow down and exactly when to speed up.
Copper’s shooting percentages by zone are above league average across the floor, remarkable considering the difficulty of some of her attempts. She’s hit nearly 73 percent of her shots in the restricted area, a truly exceptional mark for a guard. Her shooting stroke is a thing of beauty; silky, smooth, repeatable, and precise.
Copper doesn’t appear to have a favorite spot on the floor from which to operate, making her incredibly difficult to defend. She provides off-the-bounce scoring creation that Chicago lacks when DeShields isn’t fully healthy and has quickly become the Sky’s go-to player late in the shot clock.
It’s extremely fitting that Copper is more-than-capably filling DeShields’s sizable shoes. The two share a bond that extends beyond the court.
“We have a great relationship outside of basketball,” said Copper. “I think it was important for me to step up because she’s down. We definitely complement each other and we definitely push each other and make each other better.
“It’s a connection. It’s chemistry. It’s unmatched. Sometimes we think alike. It’s weird. Sometimes we wear the same color. It’s strange. We just say and do a lot of the same things. We have a lot of the same tendencies. We love the fact that our numbers are 1 and 2.”
Copper’s impact isn’t limited to the scoring column. She’s developed into a vigorous rebounder despite her slender build, undeterred by the league’s tallest and strongest bigs. Her defensive prowess on the perimeter has always been a trademark of her game, earning her playing time in previous seasons before the refinement of her offensive game.
This play in Chicago’s thrilling season-opener against the Aces was an indicator of what was to come. With Las Vegas in the driver’s seat, Copper helped spur a furious Sky comeback by going coast-to-coast with no regard for the five in black, red, and white. First, Copper steals the board from another capable rebounding guard, Jackie Young. Then, she whizzes past an elite defender, A’ja Wilson, and finishes off the glass with her left for two.
“We go as she goes, honestly,” said Vandersloot. “When Kah’s being aggressive, she’s just making plays. She’s also defending one of the best players usually on the other team. The way she’s stepped up for us is huge and we’ll look for her to continue that all season.”
Chicago is 9-4 entering Saturday’s contest with Indiana. The Sky desperately need every ounce of production Copper can provide, and she’s been providing in bundles. My game notes often feature insightful remarks like, “Copper: so impressive!” and “Wow, Copper.”
The way this soon-to-be 26-year-old carries herself elevates everyone else on the Sky. Her self-belief instills confidence in the rest of the group, prompting stretches of play where the Sky appear unbeatable.
Where would Chicago be without her?
“It’s rewarding,” said Copper. “It’s easy just to give up. It’s rewarding for me in my fifth year to really come into my own and have the opportunity to show who I am.”