June 7, 2021
After the best-laid plans…seven straight losses
How will the Chicago Sky recover?
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“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley. (often go awry)
I lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
(To A Mouse)
Collected Poems of Robert Burns
Ah yes…the best-laid plans of mice and men…so often thwarted by forces beyond one’s imagination.
Not so long ago, the Chicago Sky looked like they had the best-laid plan for a WNBA championship trophy. At least on paper:
Candace Parker, hometown hero, WNBA champion and MVP who averaged 19.4 points per game
The promise of long-term success in their #8 draft pick, Aussie Shyla Heal, who’d been playing pro ball since she was 14, and #16 Natasha Mack, the BCOA Defensive Player of the year, heralded for her talent and perseverance
Center Stefanie Dolson arrived in camp nearly 30 pounds lighter.
A talented and deep roster, including Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper, Ruthy Hebard, Diamond DeShields, and Allie Quigley
The season started with two promising wins, the second against the Atlanta Dream with a Parker-less roster. Natasha Mack was waived, re-signed, and waived again.
Then, the best-laid plans seem to turn to dust.
The team knew it would be without Dolson as she competed in the Olympic-qualifying 3-on-3 tournament, but disaster seemed to strike when Parker injured her ankle after the first game of the season. The team lost their leader. Then, veteran Allie Quigley injured her hamstring and had to sit out. The team lost their most consistent outside shooter.
Since then, there have been no answers in seven straight losses…five at home and two on the road.
It’s not that they’ve played so badly, or been blown out. More often, it’s that they’ve missed the little things, such as turning the ball over, not protecting their lead, or defensive breakdowns.
Last week was tumultuous.
On June 2, the Sky traded Shyla Heal to the Dallas Wings for guard Dana Evans and draft considerations. Heal was then waived by the Wings and is now preparing for the Australian basketball season.
Why trade the future?
“It’s tough, but due to visa issues and injuries, Shyla wasn’t getting the chance to prove herself here, and it was unfair.” Wade said. “This team isn’t the same team we initially expected Shyla to play with, so we had to adjust. Trading her salary allows for us to bring in more veterans”
The Sky’s home and home against Phoenix on June 1 and 3 tells the story of the season.
In game 1 at Wintrust Arena, despite the Sky scoring 31 points on turnovers, the Mercury responded by outscoring the Sky 34-23 in the fourth quarter, sending it to overtime.
In a heartbreaker felt throughout the fans at Wintrust Arena, the Sky’s 83-84 loss came on a half-court buzzer beater from guard Kia Nurse.
“I never make that shot!” she giggled in a postgame interview.
On June 3 in Phoenix, with Dolson and Quigley back, in the final 2:54 of the third quarter, the Sky went on an 8-2 run for an eight-point lead, only to lose the lead as the Mercury went on a 5-0 run at the end of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. During overtime, after falling behind by two, the Sky, led by Kahleah Copper with 14, responded with a 7-0 run over 1:31 for a 72-67 lead. But then, the Mercury, led by Skylar Diggins-Smith, went a 10-2 run over the final three minutes, to win the game 77-74.
And yet, the news wasn’t all bad. Guard Courtney Vandersloot surpassed Mercury legend Diana Taurasi to claim the No. 4 spot on the WNBA All-Time Assists, with 1,970.
Forward Azurá Stevens, playing limited minutes, had a season-high ten rebounds, finishing the game with eight points and ten rebounds.
In her first game back, Dolson scored 12 points, including six of the Sky’s nine points scored in overtime.
Dolson remained positive about the Sky’s situation.
*l’m going to bring the things I know I’m good at: screening, finding people when they’re open, scoring when I have to and playing good defense,” she said.
She continued. “If you continue to get down on yourself, you’re going to go on a downward spiral. I was pleasantly surprised around this team to see how positive they are going forward and doing everything we can to get a win.”
Not everyone shared Dolson’s sunny outlook.
When asked about the positives they could draw after their 68-63 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday, despite forward Ruthy Hebard’s third double-double of the season (fourth career) with 14 points and 10 rebounds, Kahleah Copper was honest.
“l can’t find anything to be positive about,” she said “For me, winning is positive.”
As he awaits the results of a WNBA investigation into Wade alleging a referee’s racial slur in May, Wade continues to make positive statements regarding the Sky’s eventual turnaround.
We have some stuff we have to correct,’’ said Wade. ‘We have to play better basketball at the beginning of the game and have a sense of urgency. It’s not that we lost seven in a row, but we lost [the last] four in the same way. We just have to keep pushing through, and we will. We will. We’ll be OK.’’
The Sky (2-7) returns to Chicago to host the Indiana Fever (1-9) on Wednesday, June 9 at 7:00p CT. Wade is hopeful that Parker will return to the lineup that night.
And maybe, a return to the “W’ column as well.
good article, good questions. After mentioning the trade Heal for Evans, you asked the question: “why trade the future?”. Now, that seemed to be rhetorical more than a personal opinion, but I would suggest that getting Dana Evans in this manner is a round about way to obtain the player who should have been picked #8 in the first place. Once projected a top 3 pick in the 2021 draft, Evans had the misfortune to drop drastically for no particular reason other than the arbitrary questions: is she too small and can she completely convert to the 1? Many bad decisions were made in this draft before she was picked at 13, but that’s life. This drop caused her to land in a place that was already well covered at the point guard, but couldn’t pass on her at 13. Time will tell about Dana, but I argue that maybe Chicago traded FOR a piece of their future, rather than trading it away.
Heal is a great young talent, but “young” is the operative word. She needs the ball in her hands and at 19 with no experience at THIS level, she isn’t going to get that and has to learn how to play a role. I suspect this girl will be back and be quite good, but she needs time. Too bad that her father and representation didn’t put her in the draft with the promise of an arrival in Chicago in 2022 or 2023.
Mike, thanks so much for your insights! You have a great understanding of the game and especially, of Heal’s role and ability to fill said role. I look forward to more comments from you!
Yes, good article. I think the issue begins with roster construction. The Sky entered the season with six bigs -: Candace Parker, Azurá Stevens, Stefanie Dolson, Astou Ndour, Ruthie Hebard and Natasha Mack – and no experienced backup point guard. Trading a rookie for a rookie obviously wasn’t going to solve that problem, and in fact Wade made it clear that the only reason for the trade was to take advantage of Evans’ lower cap hold in order to be able to sign Lexie Brown – a marginal rotation player who isn’t going to fix what ails the team either. I disagree with the previous comment that Heal’s age is a negative. She has played at a professional level since the age of 15 and therefore came in with a far higher level of maturity than the typical 19 year old athlete – if anything, her age suggests more room for physical growth than would be the case with an older player. But she obviously needed more than a handful of games to develop. As for Evans, it’s hardly arbitrary to question whether she is a true point guard. It’s a difficult position to play and not every player can master it. Heal, however, has been playing that position almost literally her entire life. Wade’s trading the player that he had identified as his point guard of the future so early in the season in order to add a bench player was a short-term panic move that illustrates the perils of the coach also being the GM.
Real good points Ron! For clarity, the actual reason for the trade was slightly different than the one you gave. First off, there isn’t much difference in salary between #8 and #13. Secondly, the reason Heal was traded and not cut was because of the corresponding effect on the salary cap. I can explain that if needed.
About Heal, you may be right about her readiness for the WNBA, but I don’t think she’s ready for most teams. Talent wise, no doubt, but again… she has been the “show” her whole life. It’s an adjustment to understand you aren’t the best player, they don’t need you to score, you have to inspire confidence in your teammates and you have to come in an maintain some quality minutes on the floor. This is nothing against her, but she hasn’t been in a situation to learn this subtlety. Admittedly, I don’t know her game that well, but those comments are from GM’s and WNBA coaches I’ve spoken to about her. Again, fabulous talent, but she can’t follow her dad’s path if she wants to play here. No doubt she can make money in Europe and be a star in Australia, but she needs some time for this level.
By the way, it isn’t that unusual for the top foreign talent to have been playing professionally since they were 15-16, some earlier. It’s impressive regardless, but it isn’t some anomaly that we don’t often see. You may very well be correct about Heal! Many GM’s, coaches and agents are wrong about players everyday and I certainly may be in this case… but I don’t think so.😊
I appreciate your comments, . Mike! Shyla told me herself how much faster the WNBA plays than in Australia. Her ‘seasoning’ and her time will come.
Thanks Allison. In full disclosure, I have more than a passing interest in this stuff, but have almost never commented in the past. However, with the surge of social media over the last decade or more and wildly speculative opinions out there, I have become a little more active in at least correcting information that isn’t factual and educating a little bit, at least from my slightly unique perspective.
Well I just watched game three of the WNBA finals with Dana Evans playing strong and the Sky going up 2-1 in the series after a blowout 86-50 win.
So it appears that for one, the Sky has made the right moves. And Dana can definitely play at this level. Loved watching her tonight. And the rest of the team.