When the Chicago Sky (10-9) host the Washington Mystics (7-10) on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET in the final game for both teams before the Olympic break, two of the most impactful players in the WNBA will be on the court.
No, we’re not talking about Tina Charles, the Mystics’ MVP, or Courtney Vandersloot, the conductor for the Sky. We’re not talking about Candace Parker, either.
According to Positive Residual, the Mystics’ Ariel Atkins, a first-time Olympian, and the Sky’s Kahleah Copper, a first-time All-Star, rank third and seventh, respectively, in wins above replacement (WAR), a metric that captures their all-around value to victories.
So, if Washington or Chicago closes out the first half of the WNBA season of the win, it likely will be because their rising star significantly influences the action.
In the Mystics’ seven wins, Atkins has offered elite offensive production, scoring 20.1 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting from the field and 50.0 percent shooting from 3-point range. In Washington’s 10 losses, Atkins’s shooting percentages sink to 36.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three, with her scoring average dropping to 14.8 points per game. When Atkins’ offensive game is flowing, Washington has a reliable second scorer to support Tina Charles’ 25.8 points per game.
In the first matchup between the Mystics and Sky, which was the first game of the season for each team and a comfortable Chicago win, Atkins struggled her way to five points, her season-low scoring output. Washington certainly will need more from her on Saturday night to snap their four-game losing steak and finish the first half of the season with a win.
Compared to Atkins, Copper’s production does not vacillate as much in wins versus losses. She has scored 15.4 points per game in wins and 12.3 in losses. However, how she gets her points is an indicator for Chicago’s success. In Sky wins, Copper averages 5.1 fastbreak points and 9.0 points in the paint. In losses, only an average of 1.8 of her points come via fast breaks, while her points in the paint drop to 5.6. In short, when Copper is using her speed and athleticism to put pressure on the opposing defense, getting to the rim on the break or in the half-court, things are going well for Chicago.
This is what happened in the opening day contest between the Sky and Mystics. Copper led Chicago with 19 points, with nine coming on fast breaks and 10 coming in the paint. She also got to the line for seven free throws, another sign of how her offensive aggressiveness is both a product of and helps to propel Chicago’s offensive attack. If the Sky get the home win and avoid a two-game pre-break slide, Copper likely will deserve a lot of credit.
Chicago Sky (10-9) vs. Washington Mystics (7-10)
When: Saturday, July 10 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL
How to watch: Amazon Prime or CW 26
Key to the matchup: At the June 30 deadline for contract guarantees, the injury-plagued Mystics retooled their bench, parting ways with Stella Johnson and Kiara Leslie. Washington then welcomed back Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who had played one game this season for the Connecticut Sun. A member of the Mystics’ 2019 title team, Walker-Kimbrough brought her signature off-the-bench scoring in her first game back with DC, scoring eight points in 14 minutes. She also added a steal and a block. As Chicago gets consistent bench production from Allie Quigley, Walker-Kimbrough’s ability to get buckets can help Washington keep pace. On the other end of the floor, she has the athleticism needed to stick with Quigley’s movement off the ball, as well as trouble back-up ball-handlers Lexie Brown and Dana Evans.
Sky injury report: none
Mystics injury report: Natasha Cloud (probable; ankle), Elena Delle Donne (out; back), Myisha Hines-Allen (out; knee), Erica McCall (out indefinitely; knee)