May 12, 2021
2021 WNBA season preview: Chicago Sky
Is a championship on the horizon?
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After a Covid-shortened, bubble-wrapped 2020 season, highlighted by a disappointing 12-10 record (going only 2-8 in their final regular season games) and a first-round playoff exit, Head Coach James Wade was determined to take his team to the next level, seemingly, by following the legendary coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant’s admonition that “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”
The 2021 season feels and looks different, because of:
The potentially lethal acquisition of LA Sparks two-way superstar/Chicago native Candace Parker
The return of center/forward Astou Ndour
Candace Parker: The Game-Changer
Ever since the Sky acquired LA Sparks superstar/and Chicago native in the offseason, nothing has seemed impossible or off-limits for the 16th season of the franchise.
Parker, the 35-year-old, two-time WNBA MVP, who averaged 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last season, said in a Zoom press conference that she was ready to come home and take charge of the court after 13 seasons in LA.
So, did Parker come to training camp and start trash-talking her new teammates, in the same way Michael Jordan called Chicago teammates like Will Perdue ‘Will Vanderbilt’ because “Will didn’t belong in a Big 10 school”? Not exactly.
According to her new teammates, Parker is the kinder, gentler, yet still-effective version of Jordan leadership, explaining that what she does is “communication” on the court. Veteran center Stefanie Dolson agrees, saying Parker has been “a little nicer” than Jordan during practices.
Coach Wade has been impressed with the developing chemistry of Parker, DeShields, and Copper in practices.
Wade envisions a Parker-DeShields pairing.
“You have two players that complement each other,” he explained. “Both players are playmakers and both are willing passers. Diamond is a good cutter and Candace is a good passer on the move, especially high-low passes to players that cut. Candace handles the ball in transition and Diamond likes to run in transition.”
“On paper, we could be unbelievable,” she said. “But I keep telling (DeShields) we’ve got to actually do it in real life.”
Defense Wins Games
Dolson transformed her body in the offseason, losing nearly 30 pounds and amping up her workouts. She says her lighter frame is helping her move faster on the court.
And there is Mack, who famously declared on Draft Day:
“I need to prove that I should have been in the first round. It’s as simple as that and that’s what I am here to do.”
Can Mack repeat her record-setting 112 blocks and 4.0 blocks per game average? Those stats earned her Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.
In training camp, Mack said she was “humbled.” She said in a Zoom call that she’s working on her WNBA speed and learning from those around her.
Life Goes On: The Gabby Williams Story
It’s a non-story now, but no story was bigger in Sky training camp than the saga of forward Gabby Williams, who had reportedly requested a trade in April and wasn’t on the training camp invitee list, raising questions about 2018’s fourth overall draft pick. Williams had committed to the French national Olympic team, apparently coming as a surprise to Wade and Sky management. She was suspended for the year, and finally traded to the Los Angeles Sparks for guard Stephanie Watts, the 10th pick of the 2021 WNBA Draft, and the rights to German national player Leonie Fiebich.
A Wrinkle in Time
It may not be as frightening as the Tesseract, but complicating all WNBA rosters this season is the impending Tokyo Olympics and the departures of key players like Dolson, who will leave to compete in Team USA’s Olympic qualifyer in Indonesia, in late May, and Ndour to the Spanish team in June.
This was one of the reasons why finalizing the 11-person roster was crucial now.
The Sky’s season opener is Saturday, May 15 against the Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics. With Heal still on Covid protocol, and Azura Stevens on limited minutes, their opening lineup is down to nine. But they only need five well-performing, connected players on the floor at a time to achieve their dreams.
What are the possibilities for such a lineup?
There’s only one thing that I want to accomplish,” said DeShields, “and that’s to be holding the trophy at the end of the season.”