How a bigger opportunity has allowed Elizabeth Williams’ two-way play to shine

The Sky forward’s offense has caught up to her defense.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 04: Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the New York Liberty dribbles against Elizabeth Williams #1 of the Chicago Sky during the first half at Barclays Center on June 04, 2023 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775972594

Sarah Stier, Getty

On one end of the floor, Sky forward Elizabeth Williams guarded former MVP Jonquel Jones. On the other end, she attacked the Liberty forward with a couple of power dribbles in the post before shooting a sweeping right-handed hook shot.

Williams, who finished with four points, seven rebounds and three assists, was the primary defender on Jones and held her to six points on 3-for-5 shooting in the Sky’s 86-69 loss Sunday at Wintrust Arena. Williams is enjoying a career resurgence after disappointing 2021 and 2022 seasons.

“She’s been very good for us with rim protection, and because of that, she’s allowed us to put more pressure on people because if you get beat, it’s going to be somebody back there helping us,’’ Sky interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said. “She’s a big part of it. That’s why she’s playing a whole lot of minutes for us.”

Williams, a 2020 all-defensive team member, has been known as a stout defender throughout her career. She’s fifth in the WNBA in blocks per game with 1.6.

“The other thing about defense is how hard you play; a lot of it is effort,” Williams said. “Sometimes the better defenders are the smaller players, the players that feel overlooked a little bit, and I tried to take that mentality on defense.”

She said that she enjoys being the last line of defense and that a lot of her defensive prowess comes back to playing more than she has in the past.

Williams has played in a career-high 36 games and is averaging her most minutes (29.9) since 2020. With her length and athleticism, Williams serves as a deterrent for opposing players in the paint.

Williams’ teammates feel at ease with her being on the back line and understand her defensive value, but Sky forward Ruthy Hebard said that Williams deserves more credit for her offense.

“She is so smart, and we can trust her to be there if we get beat,” Hebard said. “She’s doing great at blocking shots, but honestly, we need to give her credit, she’s been really good offensively, as well.”

“Offensively has been her biggest jump this year,” guard Dana Evans said before the game. “Offensively, she’s more aggressive to start with. She’s looking more to attack.”

Williams is averaging 10 points — her most since the 2020 season — and her 2.4 assists average is almost double her previous career high. On Sunday, Williams tied a season high for assists in a quarter with three.

She said that her comfort operating as the ballhandler in dribble handoffs has come from a lot of experience. Williams said that the roster construction has allowed her to display more of her game.

“You see things more, you read things more,” Williams said, “but I have the opportunity now with the types of guards we have to make decisions off pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs, so it’s been nice to show that.”

Williams’ propensity for defense helps her in her offensive attack.

“You have to make the defense think,” Williams said. “I always think about what I hate on defense, and it’s the people who aren’t predictable who are the hardest to guard. I just try not to be predictable in those actions.”

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