Coming off their win in the season opener, the Chicago Sky looked poised to embark on a special season. Candace Parker bullied the Mystics on both ends of the floor, Kahleah Copper put on a show in transition, and Diamond DeShields displayed her signature flash:
Still processing this play from Diamond DeShields in the Sky's 70-56 win over the Mystics yesterday🔥 pic.twitter.com/5ljP0DW1k2
— The Skyhook Podcast (@skyhookin) May 16, 2021
Since then, though, things haven’t quite gone as planned.
Parker sustained a sprained ankle during the team’s shootaround on May 19 and in her absence, the team went 1-7. Visa issues kept 2021 first-round pick Shyla Heal from making her debut until May 23 before she was traded ten days later in favor of making room for veteran Lexie Brown. Add untimely overseas commitments to the mix, and the Sky are now looking up at ten other teams in the standings.
Despite Chicago starting off 2-7, there are a few positives coming out of Skytown. They rank first in defensive rating and looked more like the team most expected them to be in two recent wins versus the Fever (both in which Parker played 16+ minutes in).
However, the team has a lot of ground to make up. The worst start a WNBA Finals winner has ever had through 11 games was 6-5, and the Sky have yet to play the top-three teams in the league (Seattle, Las Vegas, and Connecticut). With or without Candace Parker, now is the time for Chicago to find its footing before it’s too late.
The Sky’s biggest flaw this year has been the regression of their halfcourt offense. After exhibiting one of the best offensive attacks in the league over the past two seasons, Chicago has struggled to find consistency when they slow the tempo down.
|Year||Points Per Possession (half court)||League Rank|
*Statistics from Synergy Sports Tech
This is partially indicative of three-time All-Star Allie Quigley nursing a hamstring injury that kept her out until the team’s June 3rd matchup versus the Mercury. According to Synergy, the sharpshooter ranked in the 98th percentile in points per possession in the half court in 2019 and 92nd percentile in 2020. Even on a minutes restriction, Quigley, a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter, should also provide some firepower to an offense that hasn’t found its rhythm from beyond the arc (Chicago ranks ninth in the league in three-point percentage). Stef Dolson’s return from participating in the 3×3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament should also alleviate some of the Sky’s offensive woes.
Being snakebitten by key players’ absences does not tell the whole story for Chicago’s early-season hiccups. Turnovers and faltering late in games have been detrimental to the team finding consistency in 2021.
The turnover issue isn’t a new trend for the Sky. Chicago has committed the second-most turnovers in the WNBA since 2019. The difference between 2020 and this season is opponents have taken advantage of Chicago’s sloppiness and are converting 18.4 points off turnovers, the second-worst rate in the league.
Even with some nagging offensive proclivities, the talent on this team has kept things close through nine games. Before the last two wins versus the Fever, Chicago had four losses decided by five or less points, one of them coming from a Euro-step half-court shot from Kia Nurse at the end of regulation.
KIA NURSE WILD GAME-WINNER FROM THE LOGO 🚨
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 2, 2021
Improbable shots aside, head coach and general manager James Wade has made the point to his team that it needs to avoid putting itself in a position for games to come down to the wire as frequently as they have.
“We have told [the team]there is some stuff we have to correct,” said Wade after the team’s loss to the Sparks on June 5. “We have to play better basketball at the beginning of the game and have a sense of urgency. We have to be able to play for each other and hold these leads when we get them. It’s not that we have lost seven [games]in a row, but the fact that we lost four in the same way.
“We have to keep pushing through.”
Parker’s recent return is already making a sizeable difference but her teammates are going to determine whether Chicago has enough to make a run at the Finals. Diamond DeShields has shown flashes of superstardom but hasn’t been able to piece together a string of games where she is the best player on the court. Courtney Vandersloot leads the league in assists but is turning the ball over 3.8 times per game, the second-highest mark in the WNBA. Azurá Stevens continues to be on a minutes restriction and has yet to be fully unleashed.
All the talk about Chicago’s potential doesn’t need to cease. There is still time to turn the season around and to peak at the right time heading into the playoffs. The Sky put together their best offensive showing against the Fever on June 9th and Parker said she isn’t back to 100 percent health yet. But after almost letting Indiana run away with a win the following game, there are still improvements the team needs to make before being penciled back in as true contenders.
“We won two games in a row but it is just the beginning hopefully,” said Dolson on June 12 after the Sky’s win versus the Fever. “We have to enjoy this one but know we have a quick turnaround with Minnesota and a few really good games coming up. We have to refocus our mind on what’s next and start preparing.”