From teamwide TikToks to fending off southern critters the size of basset hounds, the Chicago Sky have made one thing clear: they are in this bubble experience together.
Coming off a 2019 campaign where they overcame modest preseason expectations but fell short in the first round of the playoffs, the Sky molded their roster in the offseason to align with championship expectations.
Chicago spent their first-round pick on Oregon’s uber-efficient forward Ruthy Hebard; swapped 2019 first-round pick Katie Lou Samuelson for 2018 first-round pick Azurá Stevens; and re-signed its core of Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley. To sum up the redundant Sky narrative that circulated throughout the offseason… they are running it back.
With a week before the season, the team sat down with reporters on media day to detail their progress in the bubble and the state of Chicago heading into 2020.
Diamond DeShields Working to Improve Post Scoring
During a July 14 appearance on The Skyhook Podcast, Chicago Sun-Times’ Madeline Kenney said Diamond DeShields worked in the offseason to improve every aspect of her game, “especially with her back to the basket.”
DSshields confirmed this during the Sky’s media day on July 18.
“As a bigger guard, I think [playing with her back to the basket]is something that you have to be able to utilize,” said DeShields. “I had six post ups last season. I wasn’t really playing down low at all. I know being able to get some easy baskets around the rim would obviously be helpful.”
Per Synergy, Jantel Lavender and former Sky forward Astou Ndour combined for 21.6 percent of Chicago’s post plays last season. The Sky parted ways with Ndour this offseason in a sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Wings, and Lavender announced on June 30 that she had season-ending surgery on her foot. While Chicago’s acquisition of Azurá Stevens will help fill the void Ndour and Lavender left in the front court (12.4% of Stevens’ plays in 2018 came in the post), DeShields adding another layer to her unique skillset will benefit James Wade’s ability to mess around with different lineups.
More importantly for DeShields’ development as a potential superstar, unlocking a move that she can turn to in the half-court will do wonders for the Sky. She has thrived as a transition scorer in her first two seasons in the WNBA but struggled in half-court sets in 2019. According to Synergy, DeShields shot 34.8 percent from inside the arc and often settled for long-range jumpers when double-teamed.
Despite her struggles in that area of her game, DeShields averaged 16.2 points per game last season and was named an All-Star for the first time. If more touches in the post lead to her becoming the player most expect her to develop into, Chicago’s chances of winning a championship in 2020 will dramatically rise.
Azurá Stevens Feeling Good; Impressing Chicago Early On
After a solid 2018 rookie campaign with the Wings, Stevens was limited to just nine games last season due to a nagging foot injury.
However, Stevens appears to have impressed her new teammates since the team started practicing in the bubble.
“It has been seamless in the way she has blended in with the team,” said Courtney Vandersloot. “Kudos to her and Coach Wade for really seeing how well she will mesh in right away.
“It’s not easy to be thrown onto a new team. It’s really incredible to be able to see her pick up where she left off. She hasn’t played in over a year, too. To see the things that she’s doing now, it’s really impressive and she’s just going to continue to get better.”
There’s no question Stevens has the talent to be a high-level contributor in this league. However, her health has been a topic of concern since she arrived to the Sky, a team that is ready to make a run to the finals this summer.
During media day, Stevens said the added recovery time from the coronavirus pandemic has made her more comfortable physically after having foot surgery last August.
“I feel great,” said Stevens. “I had a lot of time to rest in the offseason, especially with the extra little bit of time we had due to [COVID-19]. My surgeon did a really good job of correcting what was wrong, and my therapists did a good job helping me get back and instilling that confidence in me. It’s tough coming back from an injury because you basically have to reteach your body.”
Stevens went on to say she is still feeling daily soreness in her surgically-repaired foot after practice, but that it isn’t a concern and she usually recovers “before the next day.” If her return to the floor continues to go smoothly, the 6’6 forward could make her way into the starting lineup when the Sky’s season begins on July 26th.
“[Fatigue] is the thing that concerns us the most but she’s a player,” said James Wade. “The WNBA is about talent and if you have talent in this league, that’s going to help you. We’re not worried about incorporating her. We are just worried about getting her body right, and we think our offense will complement her and she will complement our offense.”
The Sky Have Big Plans Regarding Social Justice
Amid the global response to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, the Sky have been vocal about where they fall in line with the Black Lives Matter movement.
On July 13th, Sydney Colson, who signed with Chicago this offseason but has been sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, posted a picture on Instagram of her uniform with Breonna Taylor’s name stitched underneath her last name.
More than a symbol. Seeking justice. #SayHerName pic.twitter.com/EO7bCAdSVy
— WNBPA (@TheWNBPA) July 13, 2020
On July 17th, James Wade wrote an article for The Player’s Tribune that detailed his reoccurring experiences with racism (this included a moment on the team’s flight to Florida where a flight attendant called Wade “agressive,” perpetuating a racist stereotype).
During media day, forward Gabby Williams revealed some of the team’s plans for contributing to the movement outside of the WNBA’s arrangements.
The team has paired up with a Chicago-based organization called By The Hand to help provide resources for underserved communities in the city. The initiative is called “Sky4Change.”
“For us as a team, we all wanted to do something that felt personal and felt like we were taking action,” said Williams. “We’re going to be donating $10 for every point and $100 for every win to By The Hand. Keep an eye out for Sky4Change throughout the season because there’s going to be numerous charities that we’re going to be working with all season.”
According to the Sky’s Director of Public Relations, Kelly Kane, the team’s plans for Sky4Change will be revealed at a later date. By The Hand could not be reached for comment.
Stef Dolson Seen In A Boot, Says She is Fine
It’s always an event when Stefanie Dolson is in front of a microphone and the Sky’s media day was no exception.
Chicago’s starting center was asked about a recent TikTok video that showed Dolson dancing with a boot on her foot. She shrugged off any concerns around her availability to play in the season opener and jokingly called the boot, “an extra accessory.”
“I tweaked my ankle in practice but it’s nothing serious,” said Dolson. “It just kind of hurts to walk on. Outside of practice, I had the boot on. We’ve come pretty accustomed to each other. It probably would feel weird if I didn’t have the boot on at this time. I’m still practicing and playing… everything’s good.”
Outside of a minor tweak to her ankle, Dolson said she has fully recovered after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this year in China, where she played for the WCBA’s Hebei Win Power this past season.
Comfortable in the Bubble
On July 8th, DeShields voiced her concerns about the WNBA not providing meals suited for vegetarians like herself. A couple of days later, she went to Twitter to say the conditions had improved and reiterated the same sentiment during media day.
“I’ve been good, I really have,” said DeShields when asked about how the bubble experience has improved. “If you know me, I’m a very easygoing person and I’m not really high maintenance or difficult. When I first got here, we were in quarantine and the only problem for me was that I was getting meat. I would have never said anything about it if I could have left my room and go and get food. After quarantine was over, the food situation was much better and I went and got groceries. I don’t have any complaints.”
Chicago’s first-round pick, Ruthy Hebard, also mentioned the team has taken the time to bond while in the bubble, including taco nights and hanging out inside the players’ villas. Madeline Kenney said during The Skyhook Podcast that the team has started to take advantage of the amenities after getting situated. According to Kenney, the team has also biked together leading up to the season.
Betting on Upside
If James Wade’s emphatic message of “We don’t have a ceiling, we are the f****ing Sky!” wasn’t clear enough, Chicago is betting on its high upside this season. They are not interested in noise coming from outside the bubble and have made it apparent they won’t shoulder expectations others have placed on them.
To quote DeShields, “The Chicago Sky are not here on vacation… we are here to compete for a championship.”