'Giving myself grace': WNBA rookie Angel Reese embracing patience, growth at next level


Angel Reese cut to the basket late in the fourth quarter against the New York Liberty. But as the Chicago Sky rookie got the ball, she was inadvertently tripped by New York’s Courtney Vandersloot. Falling to the floor, Reese got off the shot, in the process accidentally taking down the Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, who fell on top of her.

Despite the chaos, Reese made the basket to put Chicago up by 13, helping secure the Sky’s first marquee victory of the season on May 23 and hand New York, runner-up in last year’s WNBA Finals, its first loss in 2024. In Brooklyn, no less.

As she sat up, Reese flashed a mean mug, letting the rest of the league know she and the Sky are not to be overlooked this summer.

Before being selected No. 7 overall in April’s draft, WNBA coaches and general managers offered a mixed take on Reese’s pro prospects. Her skills, competitive fire and energy fueled her sizable upside, while her lack of proven shooting range beyond the paint was considered a limitation. Whether Reese’s game would translate at the next level was a prevailing question heading into the draft.

Like all rookies, Reese has plenty of areas to grow. But she has showcased her pro-readiness throughout the first two weeks of the season. Her next opportunity arrives Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) against the Indiana Fever and fellow star rookie Caitlin Clark, whose battles with Reese in college helped spur growth for women’s basketball.

“It’s been great,” Reese told ESPN of her early weeks as a pro. “Just being able to affect the game in different ways, understanding the transition and just giving myself grace and being patient with everything. I’ve been able to have fun out there and grow every game.”

Reese, who has carved out a starting spot in Chicago and is averaging 28.5 minutes per game, has spoken about the adjustment of playing at the pro level: boxing out and seizing more rebounds and not sitting under the basket and waiting for the ball to come to her; not being able to take any plays off on either end of the floor because she’s going up against the best every night.

But the strengths of Reese’s game — her rebounding, motor, defense and knack for getting to the free throw line — have carried over as a pro. Through Thursday’s games, Reese ranked No. 1 in the WNBA in offensive rebounding with 4.5 boards per game, while her 8.2 rebounds overall are 10th. Her 24 offensive rebounds were the second most by a WNBA player through a season’s first five games, ranking behind only all-time great Yolanda Griffith’s 31.

Efficiency is Reese’s area with most glaring room for improvement. She’s hitting 37.3% of her shots from the field, including 18.8% from between 3 to 10 feet. She is shooting 66.7% on free throws, but she finds ways to put points on the board, excelling at drawing fouls and getting to the line, where she takes 5.5 attempts per game, 10th most in the league.

Reese became the first rookie since Atlanta’s Rhyne Howard in 2022 to record five consecutive double-digit scoring games to start her career before scoring six points against the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday. And after her 11-point, 12-rebound effort on Tuesday against the Seattle Storm, Reese joined fellow former LSU Tiger Sylvia Fowles as the only players in Sky history to record their first double-double within their first five games.

Despite just eight steals and no blocked shots, Reese has made her presence known on the defensive end, too. Chicago’s defensive rating is 13.1 points per 100 possessions better when Reese is on the floor. Even outside the paint, her length and active hands have helped her record big steals and stops.

“Not [getting] lost in moments being too big, or these crowds or the pressure or the stress and still being able to stay calm, I think that’s the most impressive thing about Angel Reese,” Sky general manager Jeff Pagliocca told ESPN. “She really wants to be great. She is not interested in being good. And she knows that it’s going to take time; she knows she has a lot to learn. I see nothing but a sponge that is super motivated to improve.”

Reese has said she wants to improve her perimeter game — something she wasn’t asked to do at LSU — and there are already flashes of what that could look like: successful drives to the hoop from outside the paint and hitting midrange jumpers. Her ability to push the ball in transition — Reese has cited Candace Parker as one of her basketball idols — and willingness as a passer are skills that will make her game more versatile.

“[It’s been great] being able to work with [Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon] hands on,” Reese said. “So just being able to be patient, take time and being able to be ready and work every day [has been important].”

Pagliocca said Reese is working on building her finishing package. Much of her growth will come as she acclimates to playing against players with more size, speed and smarts than she faced in college and as she picks up on the nuances of balance, angles and creating contact. Her understanding of reads and which plays to make in the flow of the offense, he added, will only get better.

“She’s not scared, and fear can really slow people down from growing,” Pagliocca said. “I spent 20 years in the NBA watching fear destroy people. And it’s OK. It’s part of life. But people that can look in the mirror and want help and seek out help, you’ve got a chance to be successful. And I think she fits in that mold.”

That competitiveness was a trademark of Reese’s game in college. She has refused to let All-WNBA talents such as Stewart, Alyssa Thomas and Nneka Ogwumike get anything easy.

Against New York, Reese was particularly adept at getting former MVP Jonquel Jones into foul trouble. The rookie has embraced the physicality of the pro game, even when she’s on the receiving end. After taking a hard, flagrant foul 2 from Thomas that led to the Connecticut Sun star’s ejection, Reese told the media, “I want [veterans] to come at me every day. … I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me.”

Reese has repeatedly said she wants to absorb all she can from Chicago’s coaching staff and her veteran teammates. “They want the best out of me and know what I want for the longevity of my career,” Reese said on the importance of “just being able to be open to everything.”

Her work ethic and desire to be great stand out.

“Angel’s a really rare talent given she has to juggle a lot of different things,” Sky guard Diamond DeShields said after the team’s recent win over the Dallas Wings. “She’s very professional, she comes in each and every day and gives us consistency. It’s just really impressive.”

Added Weatherspoon following their loss to the Sun: “She loves this game, and she takes on every challenge that I put before her. … She wants to compete against the best. And when you compete against those who have been here, know how good they are, all it’s going to do is help you to grow.”


More games to watch this weekend

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Las Vegas Aces at Atlanta Dream
Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET (ION)

In its last game, Atlanta overcame a quiet night offensively from Rhyne Howard to beat winless Washington on Wednesday, powered by a 19-point outing from Allisha Gray and a 17-point, 15-board double-double from Tina Charles. But the Dream have yet to string together consecutive victories this season, and next up will be their toughest test yet in Las Vegas. The Aces pulled away late against Minnesota on Wednesday, courtesy of a 20-5 run to remind the league why they’re the two-time defending champs.


dalmin

Dallas Wings at Minnesota Lynx
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

Dallas has been dealt a tough hand with injuries — Natasha Howard remains out while Jaelyn Brown has been limited to one contest — but the Wings enjoyed a breather with a recent four-day break. Tough competition awaits as they travel to face the undefeated Connecticut Sun on Friday and the Lynx on Sunday. Arike Ogunbowale has been massive, leading the league in scoring at 28.8 points per game, while hardship signing Monique Billings and second-year player Maddy Siegrist have been clutch in recent games, too.



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