PG: Courtney Vandersloot/Jamierra Faulkner
SG: Cappie Pondexter/Allie Quigley/Jackie Gemelos
SF: Tamera Young/Betnijah Laney
PF: Elena Delle Donne/Jessica Breland/Clarissa dos Santos
C: Cheyenne Parker/Sasha Goodlett/Victoria Macaulay
Significant additions: Pondexter, and hopefully Parker.
Significant losses: Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince
After the quiet of Atlanta, now we move on to the storm of Chicago. They’d already made one of the biggest transactions of the offseason, swapping shooting guards with New York to bring in Cappie Pondexter for Epiphanny Prince. Then around the draft news finally broke that star center Sylvia Fowles had asked for a trade, and wouldn’t be playing in the league at all unless her request was fulfilled. It later emerged that Minnesota appeared to be her desired destination. Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman decided that she didn’t like any of the offers on the table for Fowles, and would rather let her sit on her couch and rot than trade her for whatever she could get. That leaves Chicago with a talented roster that still looks threatening, but a big hole in the middle and only question marks to fill it with.
First let’s start with the good news. That begins with Elena Delle Donne, who spent the entire offseason in the US rather than overseas like most of the rest of the league, and appears to have recovered from the various injuries she was fighting through by the end of last season. Her well-documented battles with Lyme disease always make her something of a health risk, but when she’s on the court she’s an unguardable offensive force who can score from anywhere and rack up points in a hurry. They’ll need her to take on a heavier load with Fowles out, but the offense may open up a little without a star post constantly demanding the ball down low. If she plays 34 games, Delle Donne in an MVP candidate.
Help will come from Pondexter, who might be a better fit back home in Chicago without always being expected to lead the offense with the ball in her hands on the perimeter. Her performance and percentages have dropped off badly in recent seasons, but she did get a little more rest than usual in the offseason thanks to playing in Australia rather than Europe. They’ll be hoping to see some of the old Cappie, rather than the beaten up version New York had the last couple of years. Courtney Vandersloot should also be better this year, after missing a significant portion of last season due to a knee injury (and being noticeably slowed when she returned). She’s developed into a solid pro point guard, capable of running the team and hitting open shots, and was improved significantly on the defensive end before the knee issue. They also have Allie Quigley for offense on the perimeter (once she returns from representing Hungary in EuroBasket Women) and Tamera Young for defense. Both have holes in their game, but both can be solid role players around the stars.
But what about the interior? Delle Donne will play plenty of power forward with Young sliding in at the 3, and Jessica Breland showed last year that she can be a solid piece at that spot as well. But at center everyone’s guessing. Chatman took a little bit of a risk in the draft, reaching for Cheyenne Parker at #5, higher than most expected her to be selected. She’s athletic and mobile for a big player, but after a somewhat checkered college career no one’s quite sure what they’re going to get from her. After that they’re down to Sasha Goodlett, who Chatman lost confidence in as last season progressed, and hoping Victoria Macaulay or Clarissa dos Santos can surprise and produce. Thanks to all the threats they’ve got on the perimeter, the Sky don’t need this motley crew to provide much offensively. But the defense could look a lot different without Fowles to anchor them in the middle. Goodlett’s been questionable on that end in her time in the WNBA, while the others are all yet to see a single regular season minute in this league. We might see Chatman try to break out more zone, or go ‘small’ with Breland and Delle Donne playing together inside, but it’s going to be a work in progress for a while – and maybe all season long. Parker’s going to have plenty of chances to step right in as a rookie, and they’ll be desperately hoping that she swims rather than sinks.
Personally, I’d like to have seen Chatman swallow her pride and accept a trade for Fowles. There were various offers available, all of which would’ve returned useful players that could’ve helped Chicago win this season and in the future. Some of that is a selfish wish to have all the best players in the world available for us to watch as fans. But some of it is also the belief that it would’ve helped the Sky. While having Delle Donne as their core building block means they’re still relatively ‘young’, the Prince/Pondexter trade accelerated the window for this specific group. They’re built to win right now, not in a few years. The Sky should be fun to watch – maybe more fun than in the past, without the offense grinding to a halt while they try to feed Fowles – but they could have trouble slowing down their opponents. A return trip to the playoffs and even another run once they get there is still a possibility, but it all would’ve looked so much easier without the Fowles drama.