The Wizardry of Chelsea Gray

In the last decade of my life, few things in any medium have quite compared to the feeling of awe inspired in the opening minutes of Infinity War. Thanos tears through the two most powerful Avengers in a matter of minutes. Significant supporting characters were run over roughshod. For the first time in the entire chronology, I felt the full might of what loomed throughout.

Thanos, the almighty titan himself, couldn’t even hope to conjure a quarter of the grandeur that Aces’ guard Chelsea Gray has during her postseason run. 

“I am inevitable.” – probably Gray as she hit some of the most absurd shots possible during the semifinals.

Her efficiency has legitimately been otherworldly; according to Her Hoop Stats, no player has rivaled Gray’s blend of accuracy and usage in postseason play… ever. She stands at the summit of the proverbial mountain among the players who have played at least five postseason games and took ten or more shots per game.

Prior to this run, Diana Taurasi’s 2016 run was the only one that met the criteria, with a player finishing over 70% true-shooting (71% to be precise), which accounts for free throw shooting and weighted shots from three. Gray has a 76% (!!!!) true-shooting clip across her six-game stretch. Considering that she’s getting to the line five times per game less than Taurasi, it’s a breathtaking revelation. 

Free throws buoy efficiency and bolster high-usage players who carry significant scoring burdens. Don’t get me wrong, free throws are good! They’re vital lifeblood for high-level offensive players. That’s what makes Gray’s run all the more absurd.

She’s not operating off of a large portion of catch-and-shoot threes and off-ball actions. Per InStat Scouting, 42 of Gray’s 57 made baskets in the postseason are self-created; pick and roll handling, dribble hand-offs, and isolations have been her primary mode of scoring. The sheer difficulty in her shots is staggering.

Storm Head Coach, Noelle Quinn, put it best after the final game in the semifinals series with the Aces “I don’t think anyone on planet earth can guard her.”

The Storm boasted multiple All-Defensive team members and length across the board. Gabby Williams is one of the best all-around defenders in basketball, on and off the ball, but her point-of-attack defense is special and spurred on a defense that led the league for much of the year. She blanketed Gray throughout the four-game series, playing as perfect of defense as possible, and it just didn’t matter.

Williams near perfectly mirrors Gray here. She routinely shed screens, kept consistent contact, and crowded Gray better than maybe anyone in the league can on a per-possession basis. Gray is just in the zone right now, amidst a revelation akin to Neo becoming ‘The One’ in the Matrix.

The Aces are a remarkable offensive team, the league-leading team in offensive efficiency this season. Yet, they can bog down at times in the half-court, a blip on their radar much of the season. Gray’s dominated with clutch buckets that have eschewed some of those process-based concerns.

Vegas can jog through a sluggish possession, eat most of the clock, get little to no movement in the defense, and then Gray saves the day with a “No, no, no YES” performance.

With eight seconds or less on the shot clock, Gray is 10/21 from the floor, an impressive number. Narrow the scope further to six seconds or less, and Gray is 9/16, absolutely owning what should be the muckiest part of the shot clock, thriving in the dregs of a possession. Those late clock scenarios are what a defense yearns to drag top-flight offenses into, hoping to slow down their momentum, scrap their flow, and force them into tough looks. Unfortunately for Seattle and Phoenix, that’s where Gray has made her mark in the playoffs.

Her wizardry in the Gray offense areas has made her practically unguardable while opening up even more for the Aces’ other talents.

Her shotmaking has put defenses in a bind that, in turn, causes hesitation. Having thoughts or questions in the back of your mind when playing against the Point Gawd is an excellent way for her to pick you apart.

In ball screen actions, Gray is dynamite pulling and gunning off the dribble, taking advantage of more lax coverages trying to prevent dribble penetration or rolls to the basket.

If Gray gets the over from her defender on the screen, she is adept at snaking her way to the rim and using her strength to bully perimeter players before crafting a shot or opening a new passing angle.

If a trap is thrown at her, she’s likely to hit the roller anyways with a pass overtop the defense or attack with a few escape dribbles to open another angle as well.

She has everything in her bag as a passer and scorer. So, when she’s scoring at this high of a level, it becomes a game where you ask yourself, “what exactly DO we do?”

What do you stop? How do you sell out to do so without getting bitten? Can you mix your coverages enough while being aggressive and funky without Gray making you pay?

Right now, the answer to every question seems to be no. While Gray is playing at an unsustainable pace, watching is even more endearing. What she’s doing shouldn’t be possible. But, here we are, witnessing what I would personally consider the most remarkable offensive postseason run in W history. 

As Gray and the Aces get set to take on the Connecticut Sun today, we’ll see how she adapts to a new defense with a new set of challenges. However, that turns on its heels for the Sun, as they have to do the same to adapt to her. This has been a run for the ages, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the next chapter is in the WNBA Finals.

WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.