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2014 WNBA Finals Preview: Sizing up the Chicago Sky

The Chicago Sky struggled for consistency: in terms of their play, wins and losses and lineups. Sylvia Fowles, Epiphanny Prince, Elena Delle Donne, Jessica Breland, and Courtney Vandersloot, four of the five starters in preseason, missed time due to injury. The Sky pulled it together in the playoffs and became road warriors in advancing to the first WNBA Finals in franchise history.

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

Chicago has overcome tons of adversity to be in this position but don't expect the Sky to pack it in and take pictures with the Mercury after they drop the series. Pokey Chatman and company are a proud bunch and feel like they're right where they belong. When healthy, the only thing that shocks you about this team is their current seeding.

G - Courtney Vandersloot, 5'8"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Courtney Vandersloot

6

29.8

0.38

0.22

0.83

2.8

6.3

1.5

0.17

2.17

7.5

Sloot has struggled shooting the ball this postseason but  her scoring numbers nearly mirror her career numbers (7.9 to 7.5)  while her assist numbers are up (4.8 to 6.3) and turnovers are down, (2.81 to 2.17) both in comparsion to career numbers. In the double-OT Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, Sloot had her best game since returning, scoring 18 points and adding 5 assists, but most of all only 1 turnover in just over 41 minutes. If the Sky want to win their first championship, Sloot will need to continue to take care of the ball and set her teammates up for easy scores.

G - Epiphanny Prince, 5'9"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Epiphanny Prince

6

29.8

0.27

0.23

0.87

4.3

2.8

1.17

1.17

1.17

9.5

Epiphanny Prince has struggled mightily for the Sky in these playoffs. A career 40% shooter, Piph is only making 27% percent of her shots, not to mention shooting 23% from three (38% career). Before hitting three triples in game three, Prince had made just 2-16 in the ECF against Indiana and had scored just 13 points since Game 2 of the Atlanta series before chipping in 11 in the decider in Indianapolis. Prince's performance is key for the Sky. If she picks up her play, they could shock the women's basketball world. If she doesn't, their first trip to the WNBA Finals could prove short and sweet.

G/F - Elena Delle Donne, 6'5"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Elena Delle Donne

6

33.5

0.47

0.38

0.96

3.3

2

0.17

1.83

1.17

17.3

EDD's health could be the one factor that could tip this series. During a fantastic Game 3 comeback to eliminate the Atlanta Dream in the first round, Delle Donne aggravated her back and has visibly struggled since. Indiana's physical defense that relies on help and rotation didn't help at all but her presence on the floor proved enough of a threat to help her team. The time off probably aids EDD more than anyone as she just returned from extended time off due to complication with her Lyme Disease. It'll be interesting to see how she looks Sunday afternoon.

F - Jessica Breland, 6'3"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Jessica Breland

4

10

0.5

N/A

2.8

1

0

0.75

0.25

1.5

I'm expecting Chatman to at least consider switching her starting lineup for this matchup. Chicago has one of the few front lines that can match up with Phoenix's size, going 6'3", 6'5", 6'6" when they start EDD at the three with Breland at the four. Since injuring her shoulder in the first game in the Atlanta series, Breland hasn't been much of a factor in the postseason. Although she's been on a major decline since before the All-Star break, the forward out of North Carolina was still a first-time All-Star this season. If she can get back to that level, it would be huge for the Sky.

C - Sylvia Fowles, 6'6"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Sylvia Fowles

6

38.2

0.63

N/A

0.73

10.5

0.2

1.67

1.83

2.5

17.2

Big Syl seems to have saved her best for last this season. Heading into the playoffs, Chicago was a bit of an enigma and Fowles is mostly why. When engaged and in attack mode, Fowles is one of, if not the best, centers in the world. She's got elite speed and leaping ability for a center and is strong enough to finish through contact. In the playoffs Syl has been the beast that Pokey Chatman needs, averaging 21.3 points and 9.3 boards, along with 2.7 blocks per night in the ECF versus Indiana.

G - Allie Quigley, 5'10"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Allie Quigley

6

24.8

0.47

0.36

0.89

1.8

2.3

0.33

0.67

2.33

14.5

The 2014 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year has taken her game to another level in the playoffs. With Prince struggling in the conference finals versus the Fever, Quigley averaged 18 points and 3 assists while shooting 52% from the field and 53% from three, all in 29.7 minutes per game. Quigley has improved her ball-handling and finishing ability exponentially, but what's most impressive is the confidence level she's carried all season. The Sky organization showed confidence in Quigley's ability when they allowed Shay Murphy to walk and Quigley paid them back with interest. Chatman is comfortable leaving Quigley on the floor and will likely receive the call if Prince continues to struggle.

F - Tamera Young, 6'2"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Tamera Young

6

33.5

0.46

N/A

0.47

4.5

1.8

0.33

0.5

1.17

9.7

Young is a bit of an enigma herself. She comes in with a reputation as a defensive stopper without much of a threat from the perimeter. But after setting a career-high in shooting percentage (44%) during the regular season, Young has taken it to another level in the playoffs, shooting 46%. In fact, prior to shooting 32% from the field in the Indy series, Young actually averaged 12 points per game on 57% shooting in the first round versus her former Atlanta team. In the ECF, however, Lin Dunn left Young completely open from the perimeter and dared her to shoot jumpers. The aforementioned 32% was the result. Young may need to knock down some contested shots, much less open ones, if she wants to help her team shock the Mercury.

C - Sasha Goodlett, 6'5"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Sasha Goodlett

6

3.8

0.25

N/A

0.5

0.8

0

0.33

N/A

0.5

0.5

Goodlett, who is likely riding high after seeing off the team that cut her a year after drafting her, serves as the primary backup to Fowles; meaning she doesn't see very many minutes. But Goodlett held down the fort when Fowles missed the start of the season, finishing the season leading the league in steals per 40 minutes and 7th in the WNBA in offensive rebounds per 40. Goodlett has built a career on playing solid defense, rebounding the ball and setting good screens. Having gotten into the best shape of her life, Goodlett was brought in by Pokey Chatman herself and finds herself competing for her second WNBA championship in as many full seasons -- Goodlett was cut by the Indiana Fever after playing 25 games, including 1 start, in her sophomore campaign.

G - Courtney Clements, 6'0"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Courtney Clements

3

4.3

N/A

N/A

N/A

0

0

0

0

0

0

Clements came over to the Sky in the Swin Cash trade right before the season started and many wondered if she'd even make the roster. Clements, equipped with a solid mid-range game proved versatile enough on both ends of the floor that she found her way onto a team that asked her to play double-digit minutes for the first time in her career. In the playoffs Clements has been used simply to spell key players in the first half but Clements is a solid player off the bounce and made all of her free throws this season.

G - Jameirra Faulkner, 5'6"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Jamierra Faulkner

6

5.7

0.39

0

1

0.5

0.3

N/A

N/A

0.33

2

Faulkner, along with teammate and cancer survivor Jessica Breland, was a part of the biggest feel-good story in the WNBA this season. Faulkner, a point guard out of Southern Mississippi, played her way onto the roster as a third round pick after leading all NCAA Division I players in assists and steals her senior season. Faulkner will need to increase her range and add a floater to stick long-term, but she's extremely quick and finishes well at the rim. She's also a creative passer and doesn't lack for confidence at all. She used her quick crossover and ability to create contact to score a career-high 27 points in leading the Sky to a win on national television against the Los Angeles Sparks in her first start after Vandersloot's injury.

C - Markisha Gatling, 6'5"

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

TRB

AST

Stl

Blk

Tov

PTS

Markeisha Gatling

2

2

N/A

N/A

N/A

0

0

0

0

0

0

The rookie center out of NC State came into camp and made the roster as the third center for Chatman's Sky squad. Gatling showed flashes of potential on the way to shooting 65% from the field for the season, good for first in the league had she seen enough shots. Gatling's size and finishing ability were her biggest strengths coming out of N.C. State and she used that to her advantage in the W. She likely won't see much time against Griner unless Fowles/Goodlett/Breland see extensive foul trouble but Gatling is in a great position, able to go up against the likes of Fowles/EDD/Breland/Goodlett each day in practice.

F - Gennifer Brandon, 6'2"

Playoff Stats: Has not played in 2014 playoffs

And the winner for craziest hair in the WNBA finals goes to......Brandon hasn't seen the floor in the playoffs and that's unlikely to change unless we see a few 40 point leads in this series. Brandon was a bouncy rebounder coming out of Cal and that earned her a spot in Chicago but she isn't ready to play meaningful minutes in the WNBA and will benefit from playing on a team overseas where's she a main option. Playing the role of victory cigar is always easier when you're winning and Brandon is a fantastic teammate, willing serving the "Bazemore" role for the Sky.

STRENGTHS

  • DEPTH: Chicago finished the regular season with the second-highest scoring bench in the WNBA and that continued to ring true in the postseason. Not only do they feature the current 6th Woman of the Year, Breland has come off the bench so far in the playoffs and was a 2014 all-star, Faulkner started 18 games in the regular season, and Goodlett started 15. Pokey Chatman isn't afraid to use her bench and while they may not be as talented, on paper, off the bench, theirs has been more productive and it's likely to continue that way.
  • TALENT: Regardless of whether they start Breland or Young, Chicago is one of the few teams in the WNBA that's able to start the caliber of talent similar to that of Phoenix. EDD and Fowles are likely to be on the 2016 Rio team and Vandersloot is in the mix of a large group of young point guards looking to take the torch from Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen. Epiphanny Prince, a 2011 All-Star reserve is a naturalized Russiana and has represented the country on several occasions. Breland, as mentioned earlier was an All-Star this season and Young does whatever the team needs. Usually, in series' like this, the team with the most talent wins out. The Sky can rest comfortably knowing they at least have the talent to give the Mercury a scare, on paper, of course.
  • COMEBACK KIDS: Chicago came into the WNBA playoffs as the 4 seed in the East and knew that if they were to achieve their team goals, they'd have to do it as road warriors. They didn't know, nor will they have desired to, but the sky have done a fantastic job of competing until the very last buzzer and leaving it all on the floor. That never-say-die attitude could prove crucial as the intimidation factor of the Mercury will be less imposing if they jump out early on the Sky, considering since winning Game 1 in Atlanta, they've had to come from deficits to win games.

WEAKNESSES

  • TRANSITION PLAY vs THEIR OWN TURNOVERS: The Sky are the worst team in the league, both regular season and playoffs, in terms of scoring points off their opponents turnovers. Chicago was amongst the worst teams in the league in total steals, nullifying the fact that the team blocked the second most shots during the regular season. In addition to their own struggles in transition, the Sky aid their opponents in upping their own points off turnovers. Chicago currently sits second of playoff teams in terms of most opponent points scored off turnovers. The one team that gives up more? The same LA squad that was obliterated by the Sky's next opponent.
  • HEALTH: On paper, this is one of the most talented teams in the WNBA. In fact, I personally feel like their starting lineup is behind only Phoenix and Minnesota. Delle Donne has struggled with the back, Breland hasn't played much since injuring her shoulder and Sloot missed the second half of the regular season with a knee injury. Not only will the team need to stay healthy and not add any new injuries to the mix, the team will need to ensure they walk the line in the days leading up to Sunday, ensuring that players are able to recover and get as close to full strength as they can.
  • LACK OF PERIMETER SIZE: Even if Chatman decides to move EDD to the perimeter and start Breland, that still leaves 5'8" Vandersloot or the 5'9" Prince to guard either Taurasi (6'0"), Taylor (6'1"), or Bonner (6'4"). The Mercury don't really post Bonner as often as they should but Taylor and Taurasi nightly pad their numbers by simply being bigger and stronger than their defender. Chatman's hand may be forced to even play EDD at some 2 in order to key the Merc from riding their size advantage to a championship. Fowles also becomes central in this situation because she'll be left on an island in help defense if Sloot and Piph can't do the job.
Let's not forget, the same way we've discussed Phoenix's core being the same, Chicago's is as well. One could actually argue that whomever the first starter has been between Breland/Young has had a better season than Swin Cash did for the Sky during their 24-10 regular season last year. If Pokey is able to manage the injury bug better than she did throughout the regular season, this WNBA Finals matchup has the potential to be the best ever.....at least on paper.

For more on the Mercury and the championship series, check out our 2014 WNBA Finals storystream.