Sky guard Kahleah Copper shining in starting role this season

Kahleah Copper went from being a key disruptive player off the bench last season to being one of the most important pieces to the Sky’s success this season.

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With Diamond DeShields on restricted minutes because of knee inflammation that has bothered her all season, Copper has thrived in her expanded role.

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Sky guard Kahleah Copper believes in the power of repetition. That’s why every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, she makes sure to get in her shots.

“I think working on my game is important because when opportunity comes you’re already confident in your game, you’re confident in what you can do,” Copper said. “So it’s just a matter of being always ready.”

That preparedness has paid dividends for Copper this season. She has gone from being a key player off the bench in 2019 to one of the Sky’s most important players in the “Wubble.”

With Diamond DeShields on restricted minutes because of knee inflammation that has bothered her all season, Copper has thrived in her expanded role, posting career highs across the board. The fifth-year veteran, who has started all 13 games this season, is averaging 14.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists. She’s also shooting 51.7% from the field, compared to 38.7% in 2019, and she’s converting on 39.5% of her shots from three-point range, compared to 30.6% last year.

Copper’s success as a starter isn’t a surprise to coach James Wade.

“If there’s anybody who expected [this], it was Kah and myself,” Wade said earlier this season. “We talked about this [during free agency] — the opportunity she would have and how we felt that people were sleeping on her a little bit. That’s the reason she was a big priority for us this offseason.”

Copper, who always accepted her role as the spark of the second unit, said it’s satisfying to see the hard work she has put in over the years pay off.

“It makes you really trust your process, no matter what it is,” said Copper, whom the Sky acquired from the Mystics as part of the Elena Delle Donne trade in 2017. “I think that just staying confident and just staying ready and trusting your process, it’s very rewarding and it feels good.”

The WNBA passed the halfway mark of its 22-game season this week, with the Sky at 9-4 after beating the Liberty on Thursday. Though the Sky sit atop the Eastern Conference, they’re a middle-of-the-pack team when compared to the rest of the league, ranking fifth overall entering Friday. (Playoff seeding is based on a team’s record compared to the rest of the league, not where it finishes in the conference.)

The Sky know the importance of taking care of themselves during this abbreviated season. Wade previously said he’s hopeful that the team — already without Jantel Lavender (foot surgery) — can get healthier to make a push down the stretch, though DeShields went down with a quad injury Thursday.

That said, the Sky are going to continue to rely on players such as Copper to elevate their games going forward as DeShields and Stefanie Dolson work to return to full strength.

“We’re going to keep on moving forward and try to diversify [Copper’s] game and make her a more complete player,” Wade said. “But we’re satisfied with her progress, so we’re just going to keep going.”

Copper welcomes the challenge. And she believes she still has untapped potential to unlock this season.

“I’ve been consistent,” she said. “I always have more to give, always. I think I could be better defensively, and the offense will come, but I’m cool with where I am. I can always get in and out. I’ll get better every day.”

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