Not only did Chicago Sky guard Epiphanny Prince demonstrate the potential to become an elite perimeter scorer last season, but there also encouraging signs that she could improve in her second year in the league.
Statistically, she had the highest valuable contribution ratio (VCR) of any player with similarly high perimeter scoring tendencies (1.28) which suggests that she could probably continue to produce with an increase in minutes. And with Jia Perkins traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars this off-season, Chatman definitely expects Prince to play more than the 19.3 minutes per game she played last season.
"Yes I expect her to look at me and ask for a sub," first-year Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman said half-jokingly in an interview with Swish Appeal last week. "I expect those minutes to be a lot higher."
However, as beneficial as it might be that Chatman coached Prince in Euroleague with Spartak, Prince's tenure in Russia might also create a tough situation for the Sky: as a condition of her Russian citizenship, Prince is expected to participate in training camp activity or games for the Russian Women's National Team if requested to do so.
On May 10, FIBA reported that the Russian team has already begun their training camp and that "Prince will join the group later in the preparations." Chatman addressed Prince's status with the Russian Women's National Team in a teleconference with media this afternoon and essentially said they aren't clear about when Prince might leave the team.
"We're still waiting for when Epiphanny will have to depart from us, and I planned for it the minute she started playing well in Russia and Europe and became a focal point of what they wanted to do with respect to her contract and the agreement that she had that was prior to Chicago," Chatman said when asked about Prince's situation. "So that status is day to day. They're still playing in tournaments and they're preparing for the day to day situation."
With Shameka Christon also out for "at least eight weeks" with an injury suffered during training camp the Sky would not only lose another perimeter scorer, but also a player capable of creating their own scoring opportunities on the wing.
"She's going to be one of the main players that we're going to lean on this year," said Dominique Canty in an interview this weekend.
And this year the Sky are planning on leaning on Prince for more than just her scoring.
What Chatman said has improved most about Prince's game this WNBA off-season is her ability to run the offense, which is partially the result of tutelage from Sue Bird and partially gained from experience.
"I just think the fact that she can slide to the one, but by nature she's a scorer," Chatman said when asked about Prince's development overseas at Spartak. "She really took a leadership role on the team. We played the first two months of the season without Sue Bird so Piph was at the point...She really put us in position to reach the Final Four. Then Sue comes in and Piph easily slides over to the two guard and she leads us in scoring. And for someone that's 22-years-old that left school early on a top Euroleague team, I have a lot of respect for Piph in that regard and hopefully it will translate into confidence for her."
With the Sky losing Perkins' defensive presence on the wing, both Chatman and Canty also noted the progress she's making defensively.
"Epiphanny: she's been doing a great job defensively," Canty said when asked about what players have stood out to her in training camp. "I think she's stepping up as a second-year player and she's doing her job on both ends. And I think it's going to help us a lot."
According the FIBA website, Russia will be participating in the Eurobasket women's tournament, which runs from June 18 to July 3. Not including travel time, that overlaps with six Sky games, including two against the 2010 Western Conference finalist Phoenix Mercury.
Although six games don't destroy a season, in a 34-game season they definitely become more significant: three games were all that separated first and fourth in a competitive Eastern Conference last year.
Without further details about how Russia will choose to handle this situation, it's too early to panic but definitely something to watch for as the Sky's season begins.