PG: Courtney Vandersloot/Sharnee Zoll
SG: Epiphanny Prince/Eshaya Murphy
SF: Elena Delle Donne/Tamera Young
PF: Swin Cash
C: Sylvia Fowles/Carolyn Swords/Ruth Riley
(plus SG Allie Quigley or PF Michelle Campbell, pending a final cut)
Significant gains: Elena Delle Donne, Sharnee Zoll might be significant if they’re lucky.
Significant losses: Sonja Petrovic, Le’coe Willingham and Ticha Penicheiro are all gone, but none will be missed much on the floor.
There was only one significant change for the Chicago Sky over the offseason, but it was a doozy. The #2 pick in the draft produced Elena Delle Donne, a 6-5 scoring marvel from the University of Delaware, providing yet another ray of hope for the Sky that they might finally become a contender in the WNBA. Beyond that, this is the same group of players and the same coaching staff that flattered to deceive last year before tailing off and missing the playoffs yet again.
It feels like we’ve all been saying this for years about the Sky, but if they can put all the pieces together they ought to be a very good basketball team. Shooting guard Epiphanny Prince was in the midst of a breakout season last year before injury slowed her down, but if she can touch those heights again she becomes one of the scarier perimeter scorers around. In the post, center Sylvia Fowles has been a remarkably efficient scorer ever since she was drafted – whenever they can get her the ball – and remains a powerful defensive presence around the rim. However, she had injury problems last year as well (not for the first time) and followed it up with a very disappointing season in Turkey. With Prince blossoming and Delle Donne joining up, maybe some of the pressure will come off Fowles and she can work through the season without so much weight on her shoulders. Her ability to stay in one piece is almost as important to the Sky as head coach Pokey Chatman figuring out smarter ways to feed her the ball.
They’ll also be hoping that Delle Donne’s shooting ability will stretch the floor and make everything easier for Prince and Fowles. Their new rookie weapon put up remarkable numbers both from 2-point and 3-point range in college, and at 6-5 she’ll still be able to shoot over most of the players defending her in the pros. Defensively is where many are concerned about her transition to the WNBA, which is where veteran forward Swin Cash becomes vitally important. Delle Donne is an unusual talent and as a combo-forward she’ll either have to keep up with the speed of 3s or stand up to the strength of 4s. Cash will likely take the more dangerous player of the two options, while Delle Donne covers the other. The quicker Delle Donne adapts to the pro game, the less the Sky will have to compensate for her and help with others around the floor.
Running the show for Chicago will once again be Courtney Vandersloot, who’ll be hoping to stay out of Chatman’s doghouse as much as possible. Chatman tends to micromanage her point guards, jerking them in and out of games and punishing them for turnovers which are often partially caused by the static structure of her offensive sets. However, regardless of Chatman, it’s time for Vandersloot to take a step forward. She’s had two largely underwhelming years in the WNBA, with only occasional flashes of the exciting ballhandler and creator we saw in college. Delle Donne’s presence should create a little more space, and offers an extra target, so Sloot’s in position to be more productive. The alternative option at the point this year is Sharnee Zoll, who blew out her knee just before her season with the Los Angeles Sparks was set to begin in 2012. Zoll’s developed as a player and built her reputation in Europe, but she’s still an unknown at WNBA level. Chatman will likely flit between the pair of them as the year goes on.
The rest of the roster has some talent, but most of them are limited. Carolyn Swords and Ruth Riley are both big and fairly slow post backups, who the Sky will be hoping to use sparingly. Swords had some moments last year, but if she’s playing much more than 10 minutes a night something’s probably gone wrong. On the wing, Eshaya Murphy’s aggressive mindset can offer a sharp boost to a sagging offense at times, while Tamera Young is the more defensive option. After an impressive year in Europe, Allie Quigley may also make the roster (there’s one cut still to come at time of writing) as another perimeter shooting threat. With Delle Done filling the forward slot nicely, the Sky’s bench starts to look a little sturdier. A player you never want starting and featuring for 30 minutes can suddenly seem pretty decent as a 15 mpg backup.
So for what seems like the thousandth time, the Sky – on paper – seem poised to finally make the postseason. If they stay healthy and find some chemistry, while Chatman and her staff do a better job than they’ve done in Chicago (or Moscow) in recent years, the ceiling could be much higher than just making the playoffs. When you add a stellar talent like Delle Donne to pieces like Fowles and Prince, you ought to have a hell of a team on your hands. But this is the Chicago Sky – at this point, we’ll believe it when we see it.