While no player is guaranteed to be playing this year until the season actually tips off in Bradenton, Florida, we are getting a sense of what the rosters will look like. Renee Montgomery, Jonquel Jones, Kristi Toliver, Chiney Ogwumike, and Natasha Cloud are prominent players who have announced they will not be playing this year.
Jones in particular will have a big impact on the actual season, as she was the second best player in the W last year and was an integral part of how the Connecticut Sun played. But that is for the Sun preview piece, coming in a couple of weeks.
The Chicago Sky for now have 10 players, with the news of Jantel Lavender’s surgery on her foot. I will be updating my season preview pieces as we go to reflect changes, though I will clearly mark where updates happened based on new info.
The Sky were unlucky to not move on and play in the semifinals against the Washington Mystics. The Aces were good, but that was a 50/50 game. In hindsight some seem to view the Aces as the clearcut second best team in the WNBA last year, but I can’t get there, given they scraped by the Sky. The WNBA should revisit their playoff structure, since this would have been a wonderful matchup to have a best of 5, or at least best of 3, series.
The Sky going into a normal season would have needed some luck to make the semifinals. But given the rosters as they stand, they have a chance at making the finals. Even with the news that Jantel Lavender is missing the season with a foot injury, they have more continuity than any other team, while they have a young player in Diamond DeShields who has the opportunity to be a top 5 player in the WNBA.
Notable additions: Azurá Stevens
Notable losses: Astou Ndou, Jantel Lavender (injury)
1st round draft pick: Ruthy Hebard
Guards: Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stella Johnson,
Wings: Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams, Kahleah Copper
Bigs: Stefanie Dolson, Azurá Stevens, Ruthy Hebard, Cheyenne Parker.
Stella Johnson is a player I am excited to see this year. A silver lining of this year’s playing situation is getting to see so many young players make rosters. Hopefully Ruthy Hebard gets some playing time, to see how she does finishing against WNBA length and holds up on the defensive end.
Playing Time breakdown:
Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley are the starting back court. They need to keep up their offensive output, and for Quigley ensure that they are not too liable on defense, to make this team work. But they are the steady, consistent part of the team. Watching two players who are married to each other play at such a high level is one reason the WNBA is an amazing league to watch.
Diamond DeShields is the biggest swing player for this team. At her peak, she has top 5 in the WNBA level talent. She, like many athletic wings, including both of her teammates Gabby Williams and Kahleah Copper, have to figure out how to maximize their games when their opponents are nearly as athletic.
For Diamond, she already has a functional 3 point shot, is the most devastating transition player in the W, and has a decent handle. Year 3 is time for her to tighten her handle, improve her playmaking for others, and take the next step.
Gabby Williams as backup point guard will probably not be tried again, but the Sky getting something out of her would be great for their eventual championship aspirations. Williams was drafted fourth behind DeShields, and has not lived up to her draft spot yet. Her issue is mainly her shot has not developed.
She plays a position of need in modern basketball, as an athletic 5’11” wing, but is not dynamic enough to function as the one non-shooting player on the floor. This is a big year, since if she does not show improvement, the Sky will have a tough decision to make as to what kind of contract to offer her.
Stefanie Dolson is a fine option at center. While she is definitely a tier below the upper tier of WNBA centers, she is good enough to play on a team that nearly beat Liz Cambage and the Aces. While cutting down on her foul rate would help, she is a stretch 5 who provides decent rim protection, better than her block numbers would indicate.
The four is the most open position on this team. A healthy Azurá Stevens would be my choice, as her shooting would help create acres of space for DeShields and Vandersloot to attack the basket with Dolson also spacing the floor. She can also provide more rim protection than the other options, though she may be a bit overtaxed chasing some fours.
Diamond Deshields should get some time as a small ball 4 next to Kahleah Copper. Plenty of matchups should present themselves where she has more than enough size and athleticism to hold her own on defense, and good luck to a more traditional four forced to defend Copper or DeShields.
Cheyenne Parker has made some strides to expand her game out to the three point line, but I am not convinced she will be effective enough against starters, though James Wade starting her would not be a surprise. Parker showing improving passing would help, as she can get tunnel vision when she catches the ball, and teams might take advantage by trapping Vandersloot in the pick and roll and forcing Parker to make plays 4 on 3 at the three point line.
The Sky should be aiming for the finals, as things stand. Semifinals are a realistic goal, anything less than a top 4 finish would be a bit of a disappointment. Four of their starters are set and this will be the third year they have played together, something that should help in such a compressed season.