The Follow Through: Erica Wheeler, Theresa Plaisance, and Kaila Charles Had Good Weeks

Welcome back to The Follow Through, your weekly home for things about the WNBA.

This week, we’re talking Erica Wheeler, Theresa Plaisance, and Kaila Charles.

Erica Wheeler is finding her groove in Los Angeles

In 2019, Erica Wheeler made her first All-Star appearance. She then sat 2020 out before signing a two-year deal with the Sparks this offseason.

Wheeler has had a solid season for the Sparks, but over the past week she’s lifted herself to a different level, posting the first two double-doubles of her WNBA career.

In fact, Wheeler had only had 10 assists in a game once in her career! Now, she’s done that twice in three games.

So, what’s happening? It seems like the Sparks are trying to get the ball in her hands more, trusting her to make plays. Her usage rate over the last three games is up to 28.9 percent, while on the season as a whole it sits at 25.8 percent. Her assist rate for the whole season is 32.1 percent; over the past three games, it’s 44.9 percent.

Derek Fisher is trusting Wheeler to run his offense. That’s good, as the Sparks are last in the league in assists per game and per Synergy are running ISO on 6.4 percent of their possessions, the second-highest mark in the league.

It’s not exactly rocket science to say that passing the ball is good. Defenses can’t key in on certain players as much with the ball moving. The halfcourt offense doesn’t become stagnant and predictable.

Watching through all of her assists right now, it’s not even that Wheeler is out here making fancy passes. She’s just consistently making that extra pass to an open player on the perimeter or inside. She’ll start to drive, then recognize that Nia Coffey is open on the perimeter and swing the ball to her. She’ll get moving in transition but then will make sure to find another player streaking to the basket instead of going for it herself.

Smart plays. That’s what Wheeler provides. And when the Sparks get back to full-strength with the Ogwumike sisters, having a player like Wheeler at the one will help this team get back on track.

Theresa Plaisance is another solid Mystics big

It seems like the Mystics just have a never-ending supply of bigs on hand to go out and play good basketball. Last year, Myisha Hines-Allen came out of nowhere and became a genuine star, for example, despite concerns that not having Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles would put the team in a tight spot. This year, they’re still without Delle Donne and are missing Emma Meesseman as well, so a recent injury to Hines-Allen seems like it could have been a really big problem.

Except no, it’s fine, because Mike Thibault has gotten Theresa Plaisance performing at a high level. Surprise!

This is Plaisance’s eighth WNBA season. She’s only averaged more minutes per game than she’s playing now once, back with the Wings in 2017. That was also the year she recorded the highest points per game of her career with 7.7 and most rebounds with 4.3. Her career average right now is 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per contest.

So, this week was a little weird then. Plaisance scored 25 points against Atlanta, then followed that up with a 16/12 double-double against the Fever.

How’s she doing it? Threes. She’s taken 17 of them over the last two games. Plaisance has always been a solid shooter from deep and has twice shot over 40 percent on at least 2.3 attempts per game. But because of the current roster situation, Plaisance threes aren’t just a thing that happens—they’re a thing Washington actively wants to happen.

 

I mean, this is a play designed to get her a three! Plaisance starts out in the post then swings up towards ball-handler Leilani Mitchell. I’m not a basketball terminology expert, but this isn’t quite a pick play here, as Plaisance never really stops to actually set one. Her defender just switches onto Mitchell as Plaisance glides out of the perimeter, allowing her to slip out to the open space on the wing. Shot up. Ball in. Three points for the Mystics.

The Sun are shorthanded, but Kaila Charles

We all know that Jonquel Jones is out right now for Connecticut and that the Sun aren’t winning games with Jones gone. This was…probably what everyone expected to see happen with a team that doesn’t have a ton of bench depth and relies so heavily on Jones.

What we didn’t expect: Kaila Charles to be the player who leapt up in the rotation. I thought I might be writing about Beatrice Mompremier this week, but nope: it’s Charles.

The second-year player out of Maryland played 1:55 against the Liberty in the final Jones game. Since then, her role has been greatly expanded. Per Basketball Reference:

Huge increase in usage for Charles over that span.

Charles ranks in the 77th percentile in points per possession on spot up attempts this year at 1.118. It’s only been 17 possessions, but Charles is shooting the ball solidly.

But where Charles has really done her damage has been in getting to the basket:

Only shooting 34.9 percent overall this season, that mark has risen to 52.2 percent over the last three games. Here’s her shot chart if we look just at this current run:

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Charles has cut down on some of those mid-range shots and you can really see the emphasis on that interior scoring in the shot chart for the past three games.

On this play for example, the Storm defense seems to forget about Charles out on the perimeter, instead sending a double at Brionna Jones.

How do you beat a double? By getting the ball to the open player. In this case, that’s Charles, who cuts to the basket. Jones sees her cutting and flips the ball her way, leaving Charles with an easy finish at the hoop.

We also get to see a little self-creation for Charles:

She’s one-on-one with Diamond DeShields at the top of the arc here. Puts the ball on the floor and gets a step on DeShields here, and from there it’s smooth sailing. Brionna Jones is in the paint already, essentially forming a wall to keep Stef Dolson from getting involved defensively, so it’s just a Charles vs Diamond thing. Charles uses her length to finish at the hoop.

I really like what Charles is bringing to the floor each game for Connecticut right now. She can shoot from deep if needed, but it seems her main concern when it comes to scoring is getting to the bucket. Whether by cut or drive, she’s got the right idea. Hopefully this team finds minutes for her still once Jonquel is back.

 

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