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Should the Chicago Sky make a play for a new center?

Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles led the Sky to the only four playoff appearances in the franchise’s existence. But since their departures, the forward position has been under development and Stefanie Dolson hasn’t been the dominant center Chicago has needed for a return trip.

2014 WNBA Finals - Game Two
Elena Delle Donne has proved herself to be irreplaceable for the Chicago Sky. What must the franchise do to climb out of the bottom of the WNBA standings?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Chicago Sky have All-Stars, drafted exciting rookies in 2018 and have a not-too-distant past of playoff success. But the franchise hasn’t been able to put together a winning season since 2016 — Elena Delle Donne’s final year with the team. Her departure left a gaping hole in the Sky’s overall playmaking that, to this point, no one has been able to truly fill. Sylvia Fowles’ departure following the 2014 season also put the center position in flux, leaving the Sky without a viable option for a true center.

This particular situation doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault — not Delle Donne’s for wanting to be closer to her family, nor the Sky’s for negotiating for Stefanie Dolson (the replacement at center), Kahleah Copper and the first-round draft pick that turned out to be Alaina Coates.

Two years on, Dolson, Cooper and Coates are still with the team, and all three are contributing positively in one way or another. But the Sky haven’t been to the postseason since 2016 — Delle Donne’s last season before being traded to Washington.

The Sky in the wake of Delle Donne

Delle Donne led the Sky to all four of its postseason appearances in club history. And without Delle Donne’s production in 2017 and 2018, the Sky’s opponents outscored them in both seasons for the first time since 2014. Besides that, upon Fowles’ departure, the Sky lost one of its top three scorers in every season she was with the team.

Since Delle Donne’s trade, a frontcourt player has cracked the WNBA top three just once: Dolson, in her first year with the team, coming in second. And while 2018 draftee Gabby Williams made some noise in her first season, her scoring production compared to minutes played isn’t yet what a team seeking a championship needs in its frontcourt. Not having multiple consistent scorers at the forward position won’t bode well for the Sky’s future development and ability to contend in an increasingly competitive league.

None of this is to say Dolson hasn’t done great things with the Sky. In her first season with the team, she produced career highs in field goal percentage, rebounds, steals and blocks. But 2018 was a different story, as she was hampered by injury and, in the end, came out of the season with career-lows (or close to it) in several of the statistics she improved upon the previous season — areas where the Sky need a center to be successful consistently.

Delle Donne is one of the WNBA’s biggest talents, a one-woman show with the skill and leadership to take any team she’s on to the playoffs (considering, well, she’s done just that). And Fowles continues to produce with the Lynx, asserting herself as a top defensive talent in the league, establishing herself as a top scorer for Minnesota and being on two championship teams — one in her very first season there — even as she passed ten years in the league.

But the Sky don’t necessarily need another Delle Donne, or another Fowles — they just have to be open to experimenting at their positions.

Come draft time, the Sky’s the limit

While 2018 could have been a simple off year for Dolson, it also could be an early indication that the version of the Sky that is emerging isn’t a good fit for her anymore. As the Sky start to regroup under new head coach James Wade, perhaps it’s time to find someone new to anchor the forwards, since that’s where so much of their proven success came.

Looking at the NCAA players who will be eligible for the draft this year, there’s a wealth of talent at the center position, from Baylor’s Kalani Brown to Iowa’s Megan Gustafson and several more in between. In their own rebuilding year, the Aces leaned on a superstar rookie of their own in A’ja Wilson and nearly made the playoffs in their inaugural season in Las Vegas. Who’s to say the same can’t happen for the Sky with the addition of a lineup-changing center?

And, it might not hurt to go straight to the draft boards for the Sky’s newest star, as the team is already trending young. Williams and Diamond DeShields started in 30 or more games apiece in their first season last year, and both seemed to mesh well with the team. The only thing truly holding them back was experience, but playing with the returning veteran backcourt of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley gave them plenty of moments to shine anyway.

It’s hard to see the Sky turning things all the way around in just one year — at least, without finding another once-in-a-decade player like Delle Donne who can more or less transform things by herself — so why not add a rookie center to the mix who can produce right away?

Considering Dolson’s contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, there almost couldn’t be a better time to draft another big, give her a year to develop and see where things stand after her first year in the WNBA. If the Sky are destined to succeed under Wade, revamping the frontcourt is as good a place as any to start.