It’s a one-point game in the last minute of the second quarter. The Connecticut Sun lead their best-of-five series 1-0 against the Los Angeles Sparks but are the trailing team in the game.
Alyssa Thomas dribbles across the timeline, Morgan Tuck jogging alongside. Thomas passes to Tuck, who immediately pivots and looks for Courtney Williams, the Sun’s dynamic second scorer. On the catch, Williams dribbles back towards Tuck, who has set up a screen. Sparks’ guard Riqana Williams tries to fight through the pick, while Tuck’s defender, Nneka Ogwumike, stays flat-footed.
This is all the time Courtney Williams needs.
She plants her left foot, squares to the basket and drives. She’s already gathered before the weak-side help can turn towards her. As she soars for the finger-roll layup, she’s surrounded by purple jerseys, but none jump with her. The ball drops through:
Connecticut has the lead. They go on to win the game and sweep the series.
Williams set career-highs in points (13.2), assists (3.8) and steals (1.4) during the 2019 regular season. Both of her assist and steal averages ranked 12th in the league. She also pulled down 5.6 rebounds, despite being listed at just 5’8” and 136 lbs. Though drafted eighth by the Phoenix Mercury in 2016, Williams was traded to Connecticut just six games into her rookie season, and she’s been a member of the Sun ever since. She’s four years out of the University of South Florida and has improved in each successive season.
Just like she did in college.
Her 22.2 percent usage rate edged out Jonquel Jones’s 21.9 percent for tops on the team, which makes sense for the shoot-first guard. That number climbed marginally to 24.5 during the playoffs, but her statistics gained a significant boost. During the postseason, Williams and Jones matched each other with 17.3 points per game. Williams also pulled down 5.8 boards and dished out 4.4 assists during their run. The Sun fell just short of the title, dropping the winner-take-all game five to the champion Washington Mystics.
Williams is capable of creating her own shot. More than half of her two-point makes were unassisted, and 91.9 percent of her shots came inside the arc. Even though she’s holding onto the ball a lot, her low 8.6 turnover percentage ranked eighth among starters.
She’s had a positive net rating every season as a professional and was +5.6 in 2019, one of just five Connecticut players to do so. The Sun’s starting five also posted a +2.8 plus-minus during the 17 minutes they shared the floor together each game.
cool under pressure
Williams is always chirping when on the court: the smooth confidence of her game extending to trash talk. “That girl can’t guard me,” she was caught saying again and again when mic’d up in games.
During a postgame interview with Holly Rowe after Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, she said, “Pressure busts pipes or makes diamonds.”
— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) October 9, 2019
Coach Curt Miller also praises her seemingly endless energy reserves. “She’s positive, exuberant, loves the game and just wants to share that with her teammates. (She’s) the ultimate hype-person for her teammates, for the organization. You just see that zest that Courtney has for life and the game of basketball.”
A leader in the locker room, Williams is always motivating her teammates as well as herself. A self-proclaimed walking bucket, that in-your-face energy manifests itself on the scoreboard.
Williams’ 3.7 points scored off turnovers ranked fifth in the W, and her 2.2 fast-break points were good for sixth. More than a quarter of her total points scored (27.8 percent) came off opposing teams’ miscues.
Her biggest fans
As was well-documented during the playoff run, William’s biggest supporters are her parents. Michele, her mother, was also a basketball player growing up. She held the scoring record for years at Charlton County High School in Folkston, Georgia with 40 points. The record stood until Courtney’s junior year, when she dropped 42.
“After that,” Williams joked, “I told her, ‘Mom, you know you’re not better than me. She finally admits that now.”
Her father, Don, is her loudest fan, her biggest hype man. He’s easy to spot at Mohegan Sun arena, dancing courtside in bright #10 gear and waving a hand towel after a made shot. After games, they’ll hug or chest bump; the display of love is joyful and genuine.
When Courtney was younger, her father told her, “Always be cocky, but be able to back it up.”
Williams’ style of play is somewhat unique. She converts 40.9 percent of her shots from mid-range, which ranks eighth in the WNBA and fourth for players on the court for at least 15 minutes per game. According to Positive Residual, 56.5 percent of her attempts came from mid-range, more than double the league average frequency of 24.5 percent.
Chart courtesy of Positive Residual
When that shot is on, she’s unstoppable, as I witnessed on August 4 when she dropped a season-high 28 points on the Liberty from 12-of-18 shooting.
Not a single basket came at the rim.
She played within the flow of the offense, as exhibited by her shooting looks: Her final three makes came on 3+ dribbles once the team was dribbling out the clock. All others were on two or fewer. One conversion came on two dribbles and two came without the ball hitting the hardwood.
The other six all came on just one bounce:
Courtney Williams Shot Plot vs. NYL on 8-4-19, courtesy of WNBA.com
Running it back in 2020
The Sun have some salary cap gymnastics to perform this offseason, but all indications are that they want to run it back with the same core in 2020. According to High Post Hoops, the team has just four players under contract for 2020: Brionna Jones, Theresa Plaisance, Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas.
While Connecticut has approximately $900,000 in cap space, both Jonquel Jones and Williams are poised to make $185,000 apiece. Neither were announced as cored by the team, and with raises coming to players across the whole league, Connecticut’s depth might have to take a hit.
Williams is the heart of the Sun, and her play is synonymous with their on-court identity. Even if it came at the expense of re-signing some of the smaller pieces, Connecticut needs to do whatever it can to keep Williams around.
With her at the helm, there’s reason to feel just as excited about the Sun’s future as Courtney Williams does. The W is a better league with her in it.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.