In their final home game of the regular season on September 1st, the surging Chicago Sky routed the Phoenix Mercury, running away with a 105-78 victory.
I had the pleasure of being at Wintrust Arena watching the Sky drop these 105 points—their season scoring high in a single game, as well as the second most points any team has scored in a game this regular season. The energy in the arena was electric. Chicago has been hungry for a serious basketball contender since the Jimmy Butler-led Bulls detonated and probable 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne left the Sky back in 2017.
The Chicago Sky, with rookie head coach James Wade and their big three of Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, and second-year player Diamond DeShields, showed on Sunday what they’ve shown throughout the back half of this season—that they’re a serious contender worthy of Chicago’s basketball heritage.
The Sky have sneakily become the league’s second best offense without a single volume scorer—instead, they’re built around elite ball movement and playmaking. The Sky, as a team, are second in the league in points per game, assists per game, offensive rating, assist percentage, and true shooting percentage, while leading the league in pace, or possessions per
game. What that list of stats essentially means is that the Sky’s offense is built around playing fast, moving the ball incredibly well to create high quality shots, which they convert with elite efficiently. The Sky trail only the Washington Mystics, who hold the league’s best record, in almost all offensive stats, save for assist percentage. Could there be an opportunity there for the Sky to dethrone the Mystics by dissecting their defense using ball movement and their signature fast pace? As the Sky showed against the Mercury on Sunday, most teams cannot keep up with the rate at which Chicago scores, nor can their defenses withstand the dynamic ball movement scheme orchestrated by floor general Courtney Vandersloot.
Vandersloot, or “Slooty” to fans, is the best playmaker in the WNBA, and one of the best in professional basketball. Her 9.1 assists per game lead the league this season by a huge margin, trailed by Kristi Tolliver averaging 5.9 per game. She is an offensive system onto herself like few others are, anchoring the Sky’s offense with her elite playmaking IQ and passing ability. It has been a down year for Slooty in terms of shooting; the Sky would benefit from her returning to form from deep during the postseason. But even if Vandersloot’s shooting remains where it is, she’s an all-time great playmaker who has the benefit of playing with one of the WNBA’s most prolific shooters—her wife.
Allie Quigley is 33 years old, but don’t be fooled by that, she’s in her prime and has plenty of basketball left to play. Quigley compliments her backcourt partner’s even handed playmaking with a fierce attack mentality and wet perimeter shot. Quigley hit the most total threes in the WNBA this season (73 so far), shooting at a clip of 43.7% for the season so far. Quigley is a highly efficient shooter from the midrange as well, and she’s been jockeying between second and third in true shooting percentage, currently at third with 62.8%. Part of the path to success for the Sky is continuing to get Quigley good, open shots from the three as defenses amp up their intensity in the playoffs. Quigley was only 1 of 5 from deep in the Sky’s win over the Mercury Sunday, but I trust that’s an anomaly. The ‘Splash Wives’ (please let that catch on) are going to be a load for opposing defenses this postseason.
Rounding out the Chicago Sky’s big three is second year player Diamond DeShields, their third All Star, and one of the most promising young players in the league. She’s shown flashes of two-way excellence this year, and has shown she can do a little bit of everything, passing, defending, rebounding, and, of course, scoring from multiple spots of the floor. DeShields’ breakout season has clearly helped push the Sky back into relevance, and she still has so much room to grow. The post season is the perfect opportunity for Diamond DeShields to reach another level of greatness and step into the spotlight. Fashionable, friendly, and funny, DeShields is ready to become a beloved figure in this league and a household name.
The architect of this system of course, is first year head coach James Wade, a certain Coach of the Year contender for leading the Sky to the playoffs for the first time since the departure of stars Elena Delle Donne and Cappie Pondexter. More impressive, Wade has done this with essentially no roster overhaul, instead guiding the development of Diamond DeShields and crafting a system that better employs the teams veteran stars. Allie Quigley has particularly thrived under Coach Wade’s modern, fast-paced perimeter oriented offensive system. Quigley’s three-point attempt rate rose from .443 in 2018 to .524 this season, which helps account for her elite true shooting percentage of 62.8%, also up significantly from last season (.586).
Perhaps more important than the offensive adjustments has been Wade’s implementation of a new defensive scheme. The Chicago Sky had the worst defensive rating in the WNBA last season, allowing 109.9 points per 100 possessions, and was close to the bottom of the league in defensive rebounding. Wade, again, largely with the same roster, has helped improve the Sky’s defensive rating to 99.4, but more impressively, the Sky have dominated the defensive glass this year, grabbing the second most defensive rebound per game behind only the Las Vegas Aces.
In order to make real noise in the playoffs, the Chicago Sky are going to need to take another step forward defensively. The Sky currently allow 37 points in the paint every game, making them the league’s worst team at defending the post by far. Even in the Sky’s shutout against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, they still allowed Brittney Griner to get off 26 points. WNBA bigs are having a golden age, there’s a lot of talent at the four and five right now. The Sky’s trio of Astou Ndour, Cheyenne Parker, and Stefanie Dolson have done a great job with keeping up with that on the boards, but they’re going to need to lock down star bigs if the Sky want to make a deep postseason run. Bonus points if they can provide an extra offensive punch, as Ndour and Parker did on Sunday, notching 18 points a piece.
Defensive concerns aside, the Chicago Sky are a sleeping offensive juggernaut waiting to cut your team to shreds with their passing and smart shooting. Watching the Sky, both on the floor and on the bench, you can tell this a group of players who genuinely enjoy playing with each other, and being with each other. There’s a family feeling to the Sky’s roster, probably bolstered by the fact that their two veteran stars are married. You can really feel how well the team knows each other as they move the ball around at their signature fast pace—they know exactly where to get their teammate so she can thrive. This team, and the fans they represent, are hungry for a deep playoff run, and I wouldn’t bet against them getting one.
All stats taken from Basketball-Reference or stats.wnba.com, unless otherwise noted. For definitions of advanced stats, check out Basketball-Reference’s glossary.
Dani Bar-Lavi is a comedian, writer, and guest contributor to SportsAreFromVenus. You can find them on Twitter @dblfluidity.
Image Source: AP Images