PG: Courtney Vandersloot/Jamierra Faulkner
SG: Cappie Pondexter/Allie Quigley
SF: Elena Delle Donne/Tamera Young/Betnijah Laney
PF: Jessica Breland/Cheyenne Parker
C: Erika de Souza/Imani Boyette/Clarissa Dos Santos
Guard Yvonne Turner is still in camp, but seems unlikely to beat out any of the 12 above.
Significant additions: Boyette, they hope. That’s literally it.
Significant losses: Also virtually nothing. This is a rinse-and-repeat squad, hoping for internal growth and a little more luck than last year.
The Sky haven’t changed much from last year because they didn’t feel like they had to. And that’s understandable. Elena Delle Donne made that extra leap from star to MVP, stayed largely healthy over the course of the season, and if that repeats they’ve got every chance to be one of the best teams in the league once again. Courtney Vandersloot has developed into one of the better point guards in the WNBA, both as the manager of Chicago’s offense and as a shooter willing to fire away when the opportunity presents itself. Cappie Pondexter fit in nicely last year as Delle Donne’s second-banana, looking happy to have the weight taken off her shoulders rather than annoyed at no longer being her team’s star. And when they need more perimeter scoring, Allie Quigley’s still there coming off the bench.
The questions for Chicago come on the interior, and at the defensive end. Delle Donne will play plenty of power forward, so they don’t need 80 minutes from their collection of posts, but they do need some modicum of rim protection and an attention to detail that was lacking at times last year. They don’t have the distraction of Sylvia Fowles’s holdout hanging over their heads this year, but they also don’t have anything resembling the interior presence she used to provide. Erika de Souza is back, but looked a shadow of her former self even before being acquired by the Sky midway through last season. Jessica Breland offers some range with her elbow jumper and some hard-nosed play at the 4, but in some ways is an awkward fit with Delle Donne. The superstar’s most effective position, at both ends of the floor, is probably also power forward, so matching up the defensive assignments can be awkward with Delle Donne, Breland and a big all on the floor. Beyond that, you’re hoping for the young bucks to step forward and demand time. Cheyenne Parker showed occasional flashes as a rookie, but little that looked deserving of being the #5 overall pick. Boyette is long and athletic, but looked raw even in college. As in various previous years, Pokey Chatman is going into the season not knowing quite what she’ll get from several pieces, and hoping they add up to enough to get the job done.
Best Case Scenario
This isn’t particularly complicated, because we pretty much saw it last year (until the playoffs). Delle Donne stays healthy, puts in another MVP-calibre season, and leads a talented roster to a second consecutive year as the best offense in the league. Ideally, she also becomes a better defender, because some of Chicago’s issues in the paint are also down to her own deficiencies at that end. Maybe the lack of changes since last year play in their favour, with continuity and familiarity helping the squad mesh and become a stronger defensive unit.
Worst Case Scenario
The last time anyone repeated as WNBA MVP was Cynthia Cooper in 1997/8. In many cases that’s just been down to exceptional seasons from other candidates, or a little voter fatigue pushing the award in other directions. But it’s also because players break down. Delle Donne’s yet to go overseas, so she gets more rest than most of her contemporaries, but her health history always leaves you concerned that she could fall to injury or illness. Pondexter tends to get beaten up as well, and losing her would be a significant hit to their perimeter scoring. If they lose Delle Donne, this squad is strong enough to cope for a couple of games here or there over the course of the season. But without her they certainly wouldn’t be winning any trophies at the end of it.
This team has every chance to be just as good as last year. You don’t want to stand still for too long as a sports team, because other franchises will improve and overtake, but you can’t blame them for basically trying to roll back 2015 again. They’ve got a little more experience now, and maybe a little more cohesion, and if they’re healthy at the right time they’ll be a threat to anyone when the playoffs come around.