On May 20th, the Chicago Sky traded a 2020 second-round pick to the Los Angeles Sparks for Center Jantel Lavender. Since then, Jantel Lavender has gone from role player for the Sparks to a starter for the Sky. So, how did Lavender become a consistent starter on a team that already has a constant starting center in Stefanie Dolson? How has Lavender’s new role affected the rest of the team? Let’s break it down.
The current starting lineup for the Chicago Sky is Courtney Vandersloot at the point guard, Allie Quigley at shooting guard, Diamond Deshields at Small Forward, Jantel Lavender at Power Forward, and Stefanie Dolson at Center. However, Jantel Lavender generally plays Center. So why does she start at the 4? Well, one thing Coach Wade stressed when he got the job was playing position-less basketball. Having players that can play multiple positions and guard multiple positions. So having Jantel Lavender move from Center to Power Forward is not as dramatic of an adjustment if you’re asking you players to be prepared to play multiple positions. She has also proven capable of handling the power forward position this year.
The Jantel Lavender effect has been felt throughout the roster, which we will discuss below. But the first question to tackle is what caused Lavender to become the starter in the first place? Well, Coach Wade has made comments about wanting veteran leadership on this team. As the Chicago Sun-Times Madeline Kenney reported, on the day Lavender was traded, coach Wade said “We thought it was important to add another veteran to our core, especially a player that has championship experience like Jantel does. We want to get to a point where we have some veterans that can help them and guide them, and help them out.” So the team and starting lineup needed veteran leadership. Lavender fills the description of a veteran leader with her 8 years of experience and her 2016 champion ring.
But, more than experience or accomplishments is needed to be a starter in this league. Jantel has earned the starting role with her play as she is on pace to have a career year. She is averaging 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.5 blocks. Keeping this stat line would give her the best season she’s had since 2015, which is her career year. So clearly giving Jantel Lavender a more significant role has caused production to grow exponentially.
Lavender’s effect on the rest of the depth chart
This adjustment from a player not on the roster to an automatic starter has had a trickle down effect on the rest of the team. If you told me prior to the season beginning that Gabby was on the bench, I would have assumed Cheyenne Parker got the starting job. Yet, Parker has stayed on the bench mob. A decision which has worked out thus far since Cheyenne Parker has been the team’s best bench player.
She brings a fire and energy to the team as soon as she gets in the game. She’s energetic. Constantly yelling at every basket made, communicating on defense, blocking shots, and cheering teammates on the court after baskets made. You always know when Parker is in the game, you can hear it. You can also see her work on stat sheet. She’s averaging 9.5 points, 1.7 blocks, 0.8 assists, and 7.2 rebounds. Those numbers are well above her career average. She is also better in every statistical category this year than she was last year, except for points per game which has seen a modest 0.5 dip.
Gabby Williams’ role on this team has been a bit of a shock. As the roster lists Williams as a forward, many (Myself included) thought she would start for this team. Yet, Coach Wade moved her to the bench after game one and she hasn’t started since. Even more shocking, we’ve seen her run the point a lot when coming off the bench. Causing fans to coin the term “Point Gabby” whenever they see Gabby Williams running the offense.
Gabby is another player who has adjusted to this position-less basketball philosophy of Coach Wade. Going from Forward to Point Guard is a dramatic adjustment and that only a few players would even have the capability to do. Not many 4s have the ability to handle the ball, run the offense from the point, and guard the fast small guards. And then adjust to being a forward and playing to your back to the basket, defending the bigs, and fighting for rebounds. The contrast is day and night.
Williams has handled it all well, including her “demotion” to the bench. I haven’t heard a negative thing from Gabby about the change. It would’ve been easy and totally understandable to complain about moving to the bench and having to play multiple positions off the bench after only one game. But Gabby doesn’t do anything but play hard and her performance shows it. She is averaging 6.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. Now these numbers are slightly lower than last year, but the dip in stats is minimal and she is producing like this while playing 6.2 minutes fewer.
As of the writing of this article, the Sky are 5-2 and are in second place in the WNBA. So, Coach Wade’s adjustments have worked so far. The team is in a great place and primed to be a young exciting group with a chance to make noise in the playoffs. No adjustment has been more significant and has had such a dramatic impact to the team as the acquisition of Jantel Lavender.
Less than a month ago Lavender was an LA Spark. Now she is an integral part of the Chicago Sky’s resurgence. Wade’s gamble has paid off as the team continues to win and Lavender is having a borderline career year. Jantel Lavender has been a bright spot in a surprising start for the Chicago Sky. Let’s see if it continues to carry on as we head into the dog days of summer.