After two disappointing seasons ending in trips to the WNBA Draft lottery, Amber Stocks was replaced as Chicago Sky head coach by former Minnesota Lynx assistant James Wade. Wade has experience coaching Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg, and Chicago hopes that this championship pedigree can rub off on its talented core of young players.
That core — which includes record-setting point guard Courtney Vandersloot, three-point champion Allie Quigley and all-rookie performer Diamond DeShields — showed glimpses of greatness in 2018. The Sky has plenty of offense, there’s no doubt about that; it’s the defense that will need to improve for Chicago to return to contention in 2019.
Season outlook: The Chicago Sky in 2019
Other than the revamped coaching staff, the Sky will look almost the same as it did in 2018. Vandersloot and Quigley are the team’s mainstays, both among the steadiest at their respective guard positions. Under Stocks, Vandersloot assisted on 41.9 percent and 43.4 percent of her teammates’ baskets in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and Quigley shot 42 percent or better from long range on over six attempts per 36 minutes. Even if their volume is reduced somewhat this season, Chicago’s backcourt will once again be hard at work.
In the frontcourt, the Sky will roll out Stefanie Dolson and a much-improved Cheyenne Parker. Dolson had a down year in 2018 after an excellent 2017; her outside shooting and passing should be well-utilized under Wade. Parker averaged a career-high 18.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, though she started just five games. We’ll see if that performance was good enough to earn her a more permanent starting role in 2019.
Elsewhere, the team will feature elite athletes in Gabby Williams and Kahleah Copper and a strong young center in Alaina Coates. All of these players have plenty of room to grow. Williams, in particular, started 30 games in her rookie season and ranked among the league leaders in steals. No matter what Wade’s starting lineup looks like, he’ll have good depth with these players at his disposal.
With Vandersloot’s passing, Quigley’s shooting and an array of explosiveness on the wing, the Sky figure to be a pretty exciting team in 2019. And that’s not even including Jamierra Faulkner, who is still recovering from a nasty knee injury suffered last season. When healthy, Faulkner pushes the envelope offensively and adds another dimension to an already potent offense.
The Sky selected Katie Lou Samuelson in the first round of the 2019 draft, which gives a good idea of how Wade wants his team to play: fast and with maximum floor spacing. Samuelson finished second in UConn history in three-pointers made, and at 6-foot-3 will be able to provide that knockdown shooting ability for athletic slashers DeShields and Copper. Moreover, she’ll ensure that Chicago has at least one elite shooter on the floor at all times.
Baylor product Chloe Jackson was selected by the Sky at No. 15. The tough-nosed guard won hearts with her stellar performance in the NCAA championship game, and while she won’t have as big of a role on the Sky, she’ll play solid on-ball defense and compete against Linnae Harper for the team’s backup point guard position. Jackson and Harper will also be fighting for a more permanent roster spot; it’s unlikely that both will remain on the team once Faulkner returns.
Here are the biggest challenges the Sky will face this season:
- Defense. Chicago ranked last in the WNBA in defensive efficiency last season, allowing a league-high 109.4 points per 100 possessions. With Wade seemingly going all-in on scoring in the draft, it will be up to the Sky’s returning players to play good enough defense to give their offense a chance. They’ll also have to do better at finishing defensive possessions with rebounds, which was another category the team ranked last in last season.
- Frontcourt continuity. Outside of Dolson and Parker, what the Sky will do with its frontcourt is still a mystery. Coates figures to have a larger role than she did as a rookie, but will Wade continue Stocks’ experiment of using Williams as an undersized power forward? Who will win the final frontcourt spot: Astou Ndour or former lottery pick Evelyn Akhator? Such questions will need to be answered quickly and definitively for the unit to build chemistry and work on its defense.
- Establishing an identity. For all its talent, the Sky lacked an identity last season. It certainly wasn’t a defensive-oriented team, and it was just middle-of-the-pack offensively. Chicago didn’t stand out in any specific offensive category (free throw rate and three-point rate, in particular). In 2019, what will the Sky hang its hat on?
Indiana Fever vs. Chicago Sky
When: Tuesday, May 14, at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
How to watch: To be determined
Notes: The Sky will play two preseason games in 2019, both of them against the Fever. Following this contest, the Sky will take a quick bus trip down I-65 for a rematch in Indiana. We’ll see if Wade makes any cuts in between games, though seeing as how the second game will be played just two days after this one, he might just use it as extra evaluation time before making his final roster decisions.
Season home opener
Seattle Storm vs. Chicago Sky
When: Saturday, June 1, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
How to watch: WNBA League Pass
Notes: The Sky didn’t have much success against the Storm in 2018. They dropped all three games of the series, including a pair of fourth-quarter meltdowns in Seattle. Things will be different this time around, though: Seattle will be without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart, who injured her Achilles overseas and will miss the 2019 season. With Stewart on the mend, Chicago figures to have an easier time against the Storm, who they’ll play at home again on June 9.
Chicago Sky vs. Minnesota Lynx
When: Saturday, May 25, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
How to watch: CBS Sports Network
Notes: The Sky will make its regular-season (and CBS Sports Network) debut on May 25 in Minnesota. It will also be a homecoming of sorts for Wade, who won a championship as a Lynx assistant coach in 2017. Chicago has had decent success against the Lynx lately, going 3-3 against them over the past two seasons. This time around, they won’t be facing Maya Moore, who is sitting out the 2019 season.