On Monday, the Chicago Sky announced that guard Courtney Vandersloot would miss six to ten weeks due to an MCL sprain. Given that the Sky's regular season ends on August 17, that effectively means that Vandersloot is out for the regular season.
Injury Update: Sky PG Courtney Vandersloot sidelined 6-10 weeks with sprained MCL. For more information visit http://t.co/VTcK4Rb8hD— CHICAGO SKY (@wnbachicagosky) June 30, 2014
This injury adds to a number of woes that the Sky has suffered throughout the season. Before the season started, center Sylvia Fowles was sidelined due to a torn labrum and did not play until Friday, June 25. Then over last weekend, the tteam announced that forward Elena Delle Donne would be sidelined indefinitely due to a Lyme Disease flare up. Delle Donne is currently at her home in Delaware to get treatment. Vandersloot is now the third starter on the team who will miss significant playing time.
With all of that said, what have the injuries done?
First let's take a look at how things were last season. In 2013, the Sky was relatively healthy for the entire years, with Delle Donne, Fowles, Vandersloot, Epiphanny Prince, and Swin Cash starting at least 30 games each. The team went 24-10, with Delle Donne winning the 2013 Rookie of the Year, and Fowles winning the Defensive Player of the Year awards that season. The Sky also ranked high in the WNBA for team offensive and defensive ratings, where they were third and fourth in those areas respectively.
This year, the Sky has had a considerably different starting lineup where Vandersloot, Delle Donne, Tamera Young, Jessica Breland, and Sasha Goodlett have started most of the team's 15 games that have been played so far. And with less continuity, that has in part turned into a 7-8 record, where the team is sixth in offensive and 10th in defensive rating.
With the Sky's best playmaker and their best scorer out, there will be more pressure on Fowles to put up numbers as a scorer as she gets back into the fold. But it appears that it will be a stretch to see this team have a second straight 20-win season.
Implications on the Eastern Conference race
Let's take a look at the Eastern Conference standings as of July 1st:
As you can see, only one team, the Atlanta Dream is above .500 and has the inside track to the #1 seed in the East, barring injury or an about face in their performance.
The Sky, at least when healthy, should be a team that is a factor to win the Eastern Conference. But injuries are partly to blame as to why they are only 7-8 right now and third place in the Conference. Let's say that Vandersloot isn't injured and Delle Donne didn't have her Lyme Disease flare, it isn't a stretch to see this team rekindle much of the chemistry from 2013 and come out with at least the #2 seed in the East.
But with Chicago looking like a shell of what it was in 2013 personnel-wise at least, that also opens the playoff race for the Eastern Conference, especially if the team stumbles the rest of the way. The Connecticut Sun is currently 8-8 and the #2 seed, which is admirable for one of the youngest teams in the league, but it's not a safe bet that they will be #2 when the season is over.
The Washington Mystics are currently fourth with a 7-10 record and just one game behind the Sky. If they string up some wins together, they could perhaps clinch consecutive playoff berths for the second time in franchise history. They also happen to be just one game behind the Sky and 1.5 games behind the Sun.
The Indiana Fever is fifth in the East with a 6-9 record, and it's admirable that they're here considering the absence of Tamika Catchings. The New York Liberty is sixth place in the East with a 5-11 record, but are just 2.5 games behind the Sky and three games behind the Sun. If the Libs can get their act together (and they have more than enough talent to do it), a playoff appearance should also still be realistic at this point.
In short, buckle up your seat belts fans. The second half of the WNBA season and the playoff race in the East should be interesting indeed.