With Wednesday’s news that the Chicago Sky were signing Candace Parker, it seemed inevitable that free-agent forward Cheyenne Parker was going to be on her way out of the Windy City. And, well, that’s what happened:
— WinsidrAryeh (@WinsidrAryeh) January 28, 2021
Parker will head to Atlanta to join a Dream team that’s in a really weird spot. They’re reportedly in the midst of an ownership change. They went from winning 23 games in 2018 to posting consecutive seasons with single-digit wins. They drafted an exciting young player in Chennedy Carter, but also have one of last year’s top players, Betnijah Laney, heading to New York in free agency.
But one thing is very, very clear: the Dream just got an exceptionally talented player in Cheyenne Parker.
How Good Is Cheyenne Parker?
I’ve spent all offseason beating the “a team like New York or Dallas really needs to sign Cheyenne Parker” drum. So, on a personal level, I’m disappointed that she’ll be in Atlanta, a team I don’t actively cover, because it means I won’t get to write about Parker as much as I want to write about her. I think that’s some pretty high praise: being upset you don’t get to write about a player as much as you want to.
Anyway, let’s talk about what Parker is bringing to the Dream, starting on the offensive end.
Parker, the No. 5 overall pick in 2015, finally got her chance to start the majority of the game she played in season last year, her sixth year with the Sky. What’d she do in that expanded role? Oh, just averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game on 55.4 percent shooting, plus a 46.9 percent mark from deep. Parker took what we in the basketball world call The Leap.
She went from a valuable role player to being someone who has the potential to be a high-end starter in this league. Parker might not ever reach the “star” threshold, but she’s someone who can enter a starting lineup and help make that lineup better.
Case in point: per Positive Residual’s on/off data, the Sky last season had an offensive rating of 106.8 and defensive rating of 103.8, which left them with a +2.9 overall net rating.
But with Parker on the floor, that offensive rating was 107.5 and the defense was about the same (technically, Parker lineups allowed 0.4 fewer points per 100 possessions than the team as a whole did). That led to a +4.1 net rating. If we filter things down to look just at lineups without Parker, we find things looking worse for Chicago, as those lineups had a +1.4 net rating.
So, the Sky played better with Parker on the floor. That makes sense, as she’s a multi-dimensional offensive threat.
The two places where Parker was most effective last year were when she was spotting up and when she was getting involved in the pick-and-roll. The Sky scored in the 80th percentile or better on Parker’s spot-up possessions and rolling possessions. She’s especially lethal in the pick-and-roll because her shooting ability lets her also do that whole pick-and-pop thing:
The Sky offense was lethal enough that defenses had to do what they did here and double Vandersloot on the drive, which left open space for Parker. One concern I have in Atlanta is that because the Dream don’t have the same kind of offensive personnel, Parker might face some tougher defensive looks. That’s why the pick-and-roll will be so important. One player defenses have to account for at all moments is Chennedy Carter. Getting these Carter/Parker pick plays going is going to be a way for the Dream to get their two best offensive players involved at the same time, creating mismatches and helping Parker get some more of these open looks. I don’t know if her spot-up looks will feature as much openness as before — Synergy has 83.3% of Parker’s catch-and-shoot possessions last year logged as unguarded — but I strongly believe that this team will still find ways to maximize Parker’s talent. (I’d also hope she posts up less this year, as that was her most-used play type last season. Atlanta posted up 0.8 times less per game than the Sky did last year, so hopefully that leads to even more optimized usage for Parker.)
Another thing you can do with Parker is to use her as an off-ball screener and shooter. On this play, Parker sets a screen before the inbounds pass that helps her Courtney Vandersloot to receive the pass at the top of the key. From there, Chicago runs a Vandersloot/Ruthy Hebard pick-and-roll. But as everything starts to collapse towards the paint as Vandersloot drives, the Wings defense loses Parker on the wing. She gets outside the three-point line, gets the pass from Vandersloot, and hits the open shot.
There’s also defense.
Parker led the Sky in Defensive Estimated Contribution last season. Her steal and block rates both ranked above the 80th percentile among all WNBA players. She continues to foul too much, but sometimes you just have to live with that when you’re talking about a physical defender who fixes a huge hole in your team.
Parker’s ability to defend in the post and also survive outside will add so much to this Dream team. Atlanta’s opponents had the fourth-highest field goal percentage on non-restricted area paint shots last year. Parker helps with that. Pairing her with Elizabeth Williams means that Atlanta’s opponents will have to think twice before posting up or trying to drive inside.
What Can Atlanta Do Now?
The Dream have struggled to win games the past two seasons. Does Parker change that?
Probably not, if this is the only move for Atlanta. They’ll be better, as they do now have the kind of piece that winning teams need, but they need to add another key piece still before we start to talk about a playoff run. Specifically, the Dream could use someone who can play the three and some small-ball four, especially with Laney heading to New York.
Hitting on the third pick in the draft will be important. Maybe you don’t go with Rennia Davis since you’ve got Parker and you hope that Arella Guirantes can be a high-level WNBA player? Maybe you add some depth still later in free agency?
Plenty of questions for the Dream. But one thing isn’t in question: signing Cheyenne Parker was good.