2013 WNBA preview: The Chicago Sky's search for their first playoff berth needs to end in 2013

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

A statistical preview of the Chicago Sky based on the season preview framework described in our primer the other day. For those not interested in all these words, the tl;dr version is essentially the first section of 2012 review and the last section titled "key question". For more on the Sky's major offseason moves, check out our offseason storystream.

2012 review and offseason summary

Last year, the Chicago Sky traded their #2 pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft to the Seattle Storm for a pair of veterans with ample championship experience.

At the time the deal looked like a mutually beneficial deal: the Storm needed the cap room and young talent to prepare for the future; the Sky didn't seem to need more young talent as much as leaders that could finally help get them that elusive first playoff berth. It was probably more of a risk for the Sky because they had to make the playoffs whereas the Storm had to start looking to the future - the deal just added pressure to a franchise that was still in search of its first taste of the playoffs.

Hindsight is 20/20, but in the end the Storm - who were critiqued by a number of fans for the trade - won that deal in a landslide.

Swin Cash had among the least efficient seasons in her career while Willingham had by far the least productive year of her career after showing signs of decline for a few years. Veteran point guard Ticha Penicheiro, who was brought in to mentor and back up Courtney Vandersloot, had by far the least efficient season of her storied career as she spent much of it nursing injuries.

Compounding the fact that all the veterans they added vastly underperformed their reputations was that they all contributed to the exact same weakness that the team had before their arrival: turnovers.

eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

TeamFacs

MEV

Adj Synergy

Chi

47.79%

26.83%

32.79%

19.59%

5.07

64.49

0.23

Opp

47.48%

32.14%

25.09%

18.00%

4.97

67.01

0.30

Weighted

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Chi

0.03

-0.11

0.32

-0.13

2012 Four Factors & efficiency statistics for the Chicago Sky.

They do have valid excuses for missing the playoffs that are at least worth entertaining: the combination of Penicheiro, Sylvia Fowles, and Epiphanny Prince all missing games at various points in the season was a lot to overcome. But if you want to look at the bright side, this certainly wasn't a bad year for a team to find itself in the lottery.

2013 WNBA Draft: Elena Delle Donne

In this year's draft, the Sky found themselves holding the #2 pick once again. Keeping the pick to select Elena Delle Donne was the right move.

We haven't even gone into too much detail about Delle Donne's statistics because it's hard to know how much to read into them as a mid-major player, but if you believe that entering the pros trending upwards is a good thing then the comparison of her statistics between her junior and senior years is probably worth looking at.

At worst, a 6-foot-5 player that efficient with a 3-point percentage of 45% will make an impact as a spot up shooter. At best, she's an All-Star scorer who will be a matchup nightmare, demand a double team, and be able to make teams pay by finding the open player.

There really isn't a clear WNBA comparison for Delle Donne and people often look to the NBA's Dirk Nowtizki as the closest comparison. But a closer comparison might actually be Kevin Durant, who is more mobile and a better ball handler able to get to the rim and score off the dribble.

But finding the proper comparison for Delle Donne is neither here nor there - what matters is that she brings balance to the Sky's offense by adding another efficient scorer to complement their already deadly efficient scorers in Fowles and Prince.

Balance: Allocating less minutes to less turnover prone players key

A lot of times you can look at teams that don't make the WNBA playoffs and see very, very obvious problems. That wasn't quite the case with the 2012 Sky - they had enough to make the playoffs last year, even with Prince's injury.

And there's absolutely no reason they shouldn't make the playoffs this season, even with Prince missing 7 games.

Often the first place to look when a team has turnover problems of the magnitude that the Sky did is point guard play. And point guard Courtney Vandersloot definitely deserves at least part of the blame for their struggles last season.

Yet unfortunately for the Sky, the problem wasn't limited to Vandersloot: the Sky were just allocating far too many minutes to turnover prone players across the roster.

Player

S%

P%

I%

S-P-I style

TS

Turnover%

Oreb%

FTP

Epiphanny Prince

0.91

0.73

0.14

SP

58.44%

9.72%

3.85%

27.61%

Sylvia Fowles

0.12

0.09

0.93

IU

66.66%

14.00%

15.13%

37.40%

Swin Cash

0.5

0.4

0.56

M

46.49%

16.81%

6.75%

21.87%

Courtney Vandersloot

0.71

0.97

0.05

DS

47.61%

19.00%

0.83%

12.71%

Tamera Young

0.68

0.43

0.42

M

44.88%

11.61%

6.85%

14.60%

Eshaya Murphy

0.74

0.43

0.39

S

55.09%

10.70%

6.98%

13.04%

Carolyn Swords

0.11

0.07

0.94

IU

59.1%

14.88%

16.87%

16.48%

2012 Four Factors & playing style numbers for Chicago Sky returners and veterans.

As you can see from the table, the Sky didn't bring back their biggest "offenders": Penicheiro retired, Willingham went to Atlanta as a free agent, and both Sonja Petrovic and Ruth Riley were released during the preseason. To put that in perspective, Petrovic, Willingham, and Riley combined for about 48 minutes per game of sub-40% shooting from the field and high turnover rates. Penicheiro only played 19 games, but could be put in the same category.

In other words, the Sky just had turnover problems all over the court. One player wasn't going to ameliorate that.

As a team that was already pretty set in terms of rebounding and scoring efficiency, simply letting go of players who were really turnover prone was a a major step in the right direction; although one might look at Riley and Willingham as losses on the boards, they had such down years that it shouldn't hurt them all that much as long as they can continue to get solid rebounding from their wings.

Versatility: Minimizing inefficient wing play

So as much as we've focused on point guard play here, the Sky will improve upon that turnover problem simply by redistributing minutes to less turnover prone players everywhere and most notably the wing.

Delle Donne was not turnover prone in college and with her in the rotation they can probably play Cash, another turnover prone player, a bit less.

But one potential concern for this team is how they'll defend the league's more physical power forwards.
Defensively, Delle Donne isn't necessarily built for that and Carolyn Swords probably isn't quick enough to stay with players other than centers.

For the most part, they'll be in "small ball" mode in that they'll essentially be starting four perimeter players and Fowles; they'll be able to play a number of tall lineups but this is a team that will clearly thrive by pushing tempo rather than sitting in the halfcourt.

Depth: Lack of efficient distributors hurt in 2012


With a less turnover prone wing and interior rotation, the Sky are almost inherently deeper this year than last year. And adding another scorer who should be able to create her own shots in Delle Donne should mean that they won't have to rely so heavily on her.

But the other area they've bolstered this season is the point guard position. Last season, Vandersloot was their lone distributor and an inefficient one at that, forcing Prince to take on the role as chief scoring and ball handling option.

In adding both Allie Quigley and Sharnee Zoll this season, they'll have some options to look to in order to get the ball to all of these offensive weapons.


X-Factor: Sharnee Zoll

This is not to diss Courtney Vandersloot, who I'm rooting for to do well as much as anyone. But a major problem for the Sky for the majority of last season was that they didn't have an alternative ball handling option if Vandersloot was having an off game, especially when Prince missed games due to injury.

If Zoll can be an efficient pure distributor - and she has been in preseason games for the past two seasons now - the Sky will be in much better shape to be successful. And it's not just due to the turnover problem, but because of the point above about how these players complement one another: the Sky have plenty of scorers. They need someone who will not only defer, but also create scoring opportunities for others. Zoll can be that and if she does become that, they might be well-served to consider moving Vandersloot to the bench in order to balance the rotation again.

Complementarity: How many high usage players is too many high usage players?

The Sky demonstrated last season that having a lot of turnover prone players in the rotation is not the best formula for success. But another more subtle problem was that they may actually have had too many players creating their own shot in addition to lacking efficient distributors.

Player

Usg%

Pts/zpt

Floor%

VCR

Value added

Epiphanny Prince

26.25

2.47

50.62

1.64

-1.93

Sylvia Fowles

20.68

3.18

73

1.98

5.29

Swin Cash

21.17

1.44

46.16

0.81

-2.02

Courtney Vandersloot

21.22

1.28

37.86

0.78

-1.88

Tamera Young

19.54

1.67

47.72

0.82

-1.24

Eshaya Murphy

21.19

2.13

44.35

1.24

-0.69

Carolyn Swords

16.13

2.48

55.15

1.38

1.72

2012 usage and efficiency statistics for Chicago Sky returners and veterans.

Of course, this could be a chicken and egg problem: if you don't have efficient distributors, then perhaps the result is more players looking for their own offense. On the other hand, perhaps having too many high usage players just creates a situation where everyone is either looking at everyone else or for their own shot.

Either way, the bottom line is that they ended up with the lowest synergy rating in the Eastern Conference because they simply didn't move the ball well and relied very heavily on Prince to generate offense for them. No matter how efficient she was, that ended up being a recipe for disaster when she had to miss time due to injury.

With three scorers of the caliber of Delle Donne, Fowles, and Prince, you might hope that they are the high usage players and the two players starting along with them are lower usage players who can handle the ball efficiently, pass and defend. That's why a player like Zoll makes a lot of sense for this team as a point guard and, similarly, Tamera Young might be a better fit this season as a fifth player in that lineup with their Big Three as someone who can defend and isn't very turnover prone.

But regardless of how they start games and allocate minutes throughout, one thing that will be interesting to watch is whether players like Cash and Vandersloot - above average usage players for their style of play yet inefficient in terms of scoring and turnovers - will become lower usage players and instead contribute in other ways; if Vandersloot, for example, can decrease her usage and turnover rates she'll be a much more valuable contributor.

Key question: What, if anything, might hold them back this season?

A lot of times you can look at teams that don't make the WNBA playoffs and see a clear lack of talent. That wasn't necessarily the case with the 2012 Sky - they had enough to make the playoffs last year, even with Prince's injury. They just had a group of players compounding a weakness the team already had and a set of veterans who all had career-low years.

There's absolutely no reason they shouldn't make the playoffs this season, even with Prince expected missing 7 games.

The only thing that could limit their success, and perhaps something to watch closely, is if they once again don't have an efficient ball handler and Prince is forced to assume the responsibility of being the lead ball handler. But even in the event of that happening, having a third potentially efficient high usage scorer is a major asset because it will be much more difficult for defenses to dedicate attention to any one of them as they often did last season.

Many of us wondered this last season, but it's probably more true this season: if this roster can't find their way into the playoffs, it's probably time to make a major change - whether that be at the level of coach/general manager or personnel - because at some point the problem is bigger than merely adding just one piece.

SB Nation Featured Video
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Swish Appeal

You must be a member of Swish Appeal to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Swish Appeal. You should read them.

Join Swish Appeal

You must be a member of Swish Appeal to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Swish Appeal. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker