Last year, the Chicago Sky looked set to play in the WNBA semifinals until Dearica Hamby’s miraculous half-court heave brought the team’s exciting season to a cruel halt. After missing out on the playoffs in 2017 and 2018, the team really turned things around in 2019 as new coach James Wade helped improve the squad with some fresh talent and fast-paced play.
In a season full of bizarre circumstances, the Sky might be the team best poised for success and consistency after keeping most of its roster intact. Although Jantel Lavender will miss the season after undergoing foot surgery and point guard Sydney Colson has not yet joined the team after contracting COVID-19, seven of the team’s top eight minutes leaders return for the Sky. The team’s top five scorers — Diamond DeShields, Stefanie Dolson, Cheyenne Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley — are all back as well. With no major roster losses and the exciting addition of rookie Ruthy Hebard, the Sky are eager to build upon their success and challenge for the championship this year.
Sydney Colson (has not yet traveled to Florida after testing positive for COVID-19)
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Diamond DeShields: A fast-rising star in the league and arguably the player with the most on-court swag, DeShields took her game to another level in 2019. In her second year in the league, she averaged a career-high 16.2 points, 2.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game and was named an All-Star for the first time. DeShields shined bright last season and looks to be the Sky’s biggest threat going forward.
Courtney Vandersloot: Last season, Vandersloot showed her incredible court vision, leading the league in assists for the third straight season and breaking her own single-season assists record again after she totaled 900 dimes on the season and a record-breaking 9.1 assists per game. The 5’8 guard has established herself as one of the best passers in the league and is currently sixth on the WNBA’s list of all-time assists leaders. Even at 3o years old, she shows no signs of slowing down on that front.
With a 20-14 overall record — their best since 2015 — the Sky were a much-improved, fun bunch to watch in 2019. They were the fastest team in the league and averaged the second-most points per game behind the eventual champion Washington Mystics. The star trio of DeShields, Vandersloot, and Quigley all earned spots on the All-Star team last summer, and will look to continue their strong play in their second season in Wade’s system. Since arriving in the “Wubble,” the team has been having fun biking around the complex, joking about starting a lizard removal service, and dancing on Tik Tok. But make no mistake: The players remain squarely focused on chasing the title. As DeShields said in a recent press conference, “The Chicago Sky is not here on vacation. […] We came here to play basketball. We came here to compete for a championship.”
Ruthy Hebard: The Sky selected the big out of Oregon with the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft with the hopes that she can bring her consistent play and efficient shooting to the team. With Lavender out for the season and limited options at the forward spot, the Sky will likely rely on Hebard to play a significant number of minutes this season. In her senior season at Oregon, Hebard averaged 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game along with the best field goal percentage in the country. She did that on a stacked Ducks team, sharing the floor with high-scoring players Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally. While she’s not yet a defensive powerhouse, only averaging 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game last year, the 6’4 power forward did show off her abilities in the pick-and-roll.
BIGGEST ON-COURT QUESTION
How will the frontcourt fare after losing Lavender and Astou Ndour? Last season, Ndour averaged 10.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 11 regular season games as a starter after Lavender got injured, but the forward was since traded to Dallas. Wade will have to closely survey his options at the four, with Cheyenne Parker seeming the most obvious candidate to start games. Hebard should certainly be able to help, especially given that the former Oregon star’s game looks like it will lend itself well to the pro game. And the Sky added Azura Stevens in the offseason, who had a strong rookie season and showed promise last year with Dallas before having her campaign cut short due to injury. It remains to be seen how the Sky will line up at the four slot this year, and especially how they can improve on the defensive end of the floor.