December 10, 2021
How each Chicago Sky player can improve their game overseas
Kahleah Copper can facilitate more, Diamond DeShields can become more consistent ... but what about the Vanderquigs?
WNBA free agency is less than a month away, but there is plenty of action happening overseas. The Chicago Sky currently only have four players signed through 2022, but head coach and general manager James Wade told The Next it is a priority to figure out who his core will be for the foreseeable future.
Before any free agency moves can be made, the Sky have nine players who have committed to overseas teams this offseason. I break down what each player can improve on heading into the 2022 WNBA season.
Kahleah Copper: Facilitating
If Copper comes back to the WNBA in 2022 as the same player she was during the WNBA Finals, the team that signs her this offseason will have no problem with that. Her outside shot improved dramatically during the Sky’s postseason run, and opponents constantly lamented her ability to torch them in transition.
The next step in Copper’s development is improving as a facilitator. With Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot in the fold last season, Copper primarily played off the ball. However, according to Synergy Sports, she ran the pick-and-roll at the second-highest clip for the Sky last season (20.5%), which might be useful for her to have in her bag in case Vandersloot departs in free agency.
Meanwhile, she’s already making ridiculous shots like this in Spain.
Copper is already a star. By adding a modicum of playmaking to her game, she can take her game to another level.
Diamond DeShields: Consistency
Last season, the WNBA saw two versions of DeShields. There was the glimmering Diamond who became the first player in WNBA history to record 30 points and five or more assists and rebounds off the bench in a single game. The other version struggled to score in the half court and shot a career-worst 39.3% from the field.
I am higher on DeShields than others are at this moment. She doesn’t get enough credit for how she had to adjust to a new role multiple times last season. Heading into 2021, DeShields was tasked with learning how to maximize her opportunities with Parker coming into town. When the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year went down (along with Allie Quigley), the Sky turned to DeShields to carry the scoring load alongside Copper. Upon Parker’s return, DeShields then had to readjust to impacting the game in other ways and eventually was benched in favor of Quigley.
That is a lot to handle in a four-month span, and DeShields has been open about her struggles with mental health this past season.
Whether it is with the Sky or a different organization, DeShields has to learn to be a more efficient player. Wade told me a month ago he iterated the same sentiment to her during their end-of-season interview. The talent is there. She told the Chicago Sun-Times recently that she believes she is a starter in this league. Regaining her superpowers overseas would benefit the former All-Star heading into 2022 campaign.
Azurá Stevens: Staying healthy
One of the most underrated moves in the WNBA over the last two years was Wade trading for and extending Azurá Stevens. After being acquired from Dallas in 2020, Stevens’ ability to protect the rim and stretch the floor boosted the Sky to a 5-2 start in the bubble, but her season came to a halt after she suffered a left leg injury. Wade and the training staff were cautious with Stevens for the first half of the 2021 season before she saw an uptick in minutes after the Olympic break.
Stevens and Parker in the same front court is borderline unfair. Their versatility is the reason Wade and his coaching staff were able to hedge as aggressively as Chicago did in the playoffs. With Stevens on the floor in the playoffs, the Sky had a 15.4 net rating. Health is the only part of the equation that would stop Stevens from having another solid 2022 season, and managing her workload in Russia will be important.
Ruthy Hebard: Adding a 3-pointer
Hebard didn’t see the floor as much as fans clamored for in 2021. The former first-round pick played 10.6 minutes per game after the Olympic break, but she remained one of the most efficient players in the league. On 72 possessions, Hebard ranked in the 96th percentile on shots around the rim, according to Synergy Sports.
The one aspect of her offensive game she could improve on is her ability to stretch the floor. Wade, admittedly, is infatuated with bigs who can dial it in from long range. She didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer while she was at Oregon, but Hebard has the touch on her shot to become effective in that area. If she comes back from Italy as a threat to hit from outside, Hebard will see more playing time next year.
Dana Evans: One-on-one defense
After excelling with the Sky in the second half of the season, Evans looks like she could be the backup point guard the team has sought since Wade took over in 2019. Her instincts facilitating in the pick-and-roll were impressive for a young guard, and she raised the ceiling of the second unit any time she was on the floor.
Of course, heat checks like this helped raise her stock as well.
Now playing in Israel, Evans could benefit from honing her one-on-one defense on the perimeter. There were times last season where Evans struggled to contain crafty guards. In those instances, Wade opted for veteran Lexie Brown to lock down on defense.
Most rookies in the WNBA have work to do on the defensive end. Evans provides verve on both ends of the floor, and this element of her game will come with time.
Astou Ndour-Fall and Lexie Brown: Outside shooting
After being waived by the Dallas Wings last offseason, Ndour-Fall and the Sky were a perfect fit for one another. She experienced the most success in the latter half of the 2019 season with the Sky, and Chicago was looking for another veteran big who wouldn’t take up too much of the salary cap.
She proved to be valuable in Chicago’s WNBA Finals run, but her shooting numbers dropped off dramatically from 2019 to 2021.
|17.5 minutes per game
|17.1 minutes per game
|49.2% shooting from the field
|39.7% shooting from the field
|42.4% shooting from 3
|23.5% shooting from 3
We have seen Ndour-Fall be an effective stretch five. If the Hamby Heave of 2019 hadn’t gone in, more people would have talked about the clutch corner three she hit to give the Sky a late lead. Her 3-point ability is an asset she could rediscover in Italy this winter.
The same can be said for Brown, who shot 38.9% from beyond the arc in 2019 compared to 24.2% in 2021. Her defense and ability to keep the offense moving kept her in the rotation as Evans caught up with the rest of the group after being acquired halfway through the season. Brown is a restricted free agent but could be back with Chicago if Wade wants to split minutes between her and Evans again.
When Quigley was honored by her alma mater on Allie Quigley Night, her former coach at DePaul, Doug Bruno, said she is playing the best basketball of her career. The same can be said about her wife, Vandersloot, who averaged 11.5 points, 12.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game in the Finals.
The only question about these two heading into free agency is whether they will be in Sky uniforms in 2022. Quigley is pondering retirement while Vandersloot is set to test the free agent market for the first time in her career.