The dust has yet to settle on the 2023 WNBA season, and beyond the first three spots in the league, the postseason picture is still in flux. With a handful of games remaining for the teams vying for more life in September and beyond, one team has stood out as an interesting squad to watch this season—the Chicago Sky.
While the Sky have struggled to find consistency this year, they have plenty of talent on their roster. Players like Kahleah Copper and Courtney Williams have been putting together electric performances for the Sky while role players like Alanna Smith and Dana Evans have been the glue for this Midwest squad that is seeking to develop better chemistry and a stronger identity.
While several players have made key contributions to this team this season, one player has been, and can continue to be, the difference maker for the Sky up front—Elizabeth Williams. The 2016 Most Improved Player and 2020 All-Defensive Team member has quietly had an excellent year in Chicago, and she has been solid against the Las Vegas Aces, New York Liberty, and Connecticut Sun in several matchups this season.
Taking a dive into Williams’ numbers and performances against these three teams can provide some early insight into how a series between Chicago and one of these powerhouses could go during the playoffs if the Sky make the cut. Let’s jump in.
Williams vs. Las Vegas Aces
Williams’ strength lies on defense, and only teams that put up top-notch defensive efforts have been able to come close to beating Las Vegas this season. New York, Connecticut, the Dallas Wings, and the Los Angeles Sparks are four teams that have climbed this summit, but Chicago has yet to defeat the defending champions.
Despite losing twice to the Aces, Williams still provided solid contributions in both games. In the Sky’s July 25 loss, Williams went for 12 points, four boards, two assists, one steal, and one block in 35 minutes of play. This hovers around her season averages of 9.5 points per game (PPG), 5.7 rebounds per game (RPG), and 2.5 assists per game (APG).
A shining part of Williams’ performance in this game was her rebounding. In one sequence, she does a subtle job of sealing A’ja Wilson out of the paint and ensuring that Chicago would get a second shot at the basket. She was able to quickly grab the rock, reposition, and shoot right at the rim with ease for a second-chance point during a critical moment in the game.
Earlier in the contest, Williams fought even harder against the smaller Kelsey Plum with help from Copper in the post. She is switched onto Plum sometime earlier in the sequence being run by Chicago but manages to keep up with the smaller guard as they run into the low post together to grab the board off Morgan Bertsch’s miss. Copper helps Williams by sealing both Wilson and Alysha Clark, who are both very good at pestering in the paint. Williams gets the rebound and immediately sails a pass out to Evans who hits an open three.
Williams will have to stay as aggressive as she was in these examples if the Sky want any chance of winning contests against a team as loaded as the Aces are in their frontcourt. Williams’ biggest challenge against the Aces comes from their ability to throw a lot of different matchups against her. Regardless of if she is faced with Wilson, Clark, or Kiah Stokes, she will have to be ready for a physical battle to earn second-chance points for Chicago.
Williams vs. Connecticut Sun
Williams had one of her most impressive performances of the season against the Sun. While the Sky have lost their three games against Connecticut this regular season so far, Williams held her own during their July 12 loss to the Sun.
During this matchup, she finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, five blocks, two steals, and an assist in 35 minutes on the floor. Without a doubt, her five denials on Sun players are what stand out here. Connecticut is a team that features a lot of length, strength, and one formidable finisher in Alyssa Thomas. The oft-neglected forward in MVP discussions can give anyone trouble down low, but Williams was able to collect at least one rejection on her.
In the clip above, Williams is able to stay with Thomas easily. After Bertsch picks up a block on DiJonai Carrington’s drive to the basket, the leftover ball is available for Thomas to corral and lay in. However, Williams jumped up perfectly to meet Thomas and was able to block her shot. While this play still resulted in points for the Sun, it shows how Williams is able to use her second step and quickly recover to make a play when needed, even against Thomas.
While the denial against Thomas was stellar, this block against Carrington might be even more impressive. As soon as Williams realizes Carrington is streaking toward the open basket, Williams follows her step for step. Williams’ speed is what separates her as a frontcourt threat on defense; her ability to switch gears and make you sweat even the simplest of shots—like what this layup was shaping up to be for Carrington—is huge for Chicago, especially in close games.
With that being said, against a team like the Sun, it is important to be able to consistently shut them down in the paint. If Williams is able to maintain the pressure alongside Copper, it will be hard for a team like the Sun to find the same lanes to operate in that they are used to dominating.
Williams vs. New York Liberty
The Liberty have frontcourt firepower they can throw at Williams. Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, and Betnijah Laney all pop off the screen due to not only their shooting ability from the midrange and beyond the arc but also their prowess scoring around the rim. The antidote to that, however, is E-Will.
In the Sky’s one win over New York, Williams managed to record four blocks to go along with seven boards, two assists, a steal, and 11 points. Once again, the blocks were the most impressive aspect of her performance, and that rim protection is what would be most important against a team like New York come playoff time.
This block on Jones was more of the same from Williams, and that is meant in the best way possible. She battles with Jones in the post and manages to not only keep pace with the former MVP but also time herself up perfectly with her. As Jones jumps, so does Williams, and she manages to take away what again looked like a simple layup.
A more interesting aspect of Williams’ game, however, will always be how she manages to keep up with smaller guards. In the clip above, Sabrina Ionescu tries to drive against Williams, most likely assuming that her speed—or at least her size—will grant her the advantage. But Williams does an excellent job of keeping pace with Ionescu and blocking her off from making a turn in the paint for a pass or another look at the rim other than the look she was already being given. The swat is emphatic, and it is yet another example of how Williams manages to stay versatile in her ability to protect the paint for Chicago.
New York, like Las Vegas, has a ton of options to throw at a big like Williams; the Liberty can go small and remove Jones and Laney from the equation entirely, forcing Williams to switch fairly often onto speedier guards. But Williams has the ability to make that adjustment consistently. She is a threat regardless of who is thrown at her or on her.
Williams’ case for All-Defensive Team this year remains strong. Her ability to keep up defensively against teams like the Aces, Liberty, and Sun is a testament to her unique skill set, speed, and finesse around the rim. If she is able to continue to not only record impressive blocks but also contribute to second-chance points for Chicago with solid rebounding, she may just be the defensive powerhouse the Sky need to rattle the league’s elite if Chicago makes it to the playoffs. Regardless of how the season ends for the Sky, Williams herself is well on her way to another successful individual season as a threat on defense. There are no ifs about that.
All stats as of Aug. 21 and, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of ESPN.com and WNBA.com.