When Candace Parker joined the Chicago Sky, it raised the excitement and expectation level throughout Chicago. It made national news, WNBA Twitter was abuzz, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke at her introductory press conference. The Chicago Sky had their very own superstar. They were no longer the feel-good story, the underdog team only the die-hard fans talked about. They had arrived on the scene and had newfound expectations.
So far, the team has fallen short of those expectations. After Tuesday’s disappointing 80-76 loss to the Dallas Wings, they have fallen back to .500 with an 11-11 record. Just as many wins as losses. Enough good if you want to see it, but enough bad that they are still unproven.
Despite the WNBA only returning from the Olympic break this past week, the season will be over soon. The Sky only have ten games left in the regular season and no one can emphatically answer the simple question, “are the Chicago Sky contenders this year?”
The talent on the roster is obvious. Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper all made this year’s All-Star Game. Allie Quigley was this year’s 3-point champion, Diamond DeShields has been an All-Star, and starting center Stefanie Dolson has just returned from Tokyo after winning an Olympic medal for Team USA in 3x3 basketball. Have I mentioned that they are coached by the 2019 Coach of the Year James Wade and that he has led the team to the playoffs both seasons that he’s coached the team?
So what’s the problem? Why is such a stacked team staring into the face of mediocrity? What’s missing? Well, part of it was just bad luck. Health isn’t promised to anyone or any team and the Sky are no exception to this rule. Candace Parker missed seven games due to an ankle injury, Stefanie Dolson missed games due to Team USA obligations, and Allie Quigley battled hamstring issues early on in the season.
During Parker’s absence, the Sky lost every single game and had a record of 2-7 when she returned. They spent the rest of June digging themselves out of this hole, which they did. Everyone got healthy, everyone knew their role, and James Wade made a few roster moves to improve the team’s depth. The Sky were firing on all cylinders and looked poised to be an elite team.
Since then they’ve been mediocre. They lost both July games they had and have split their August matchups. Yes they have star power, but they also average over 15 turnovers a game, and struggle to win close games. They are 1-6 in games decided by five points or less.
This is no surprise given the injuries and lack of cohesion Parker has had with her new teammates. Prior to the 2021 season, Parker spent the first 12 years of her career with the Los Angeles Sparks. Transitioning to a new team and automatically achieving those championship goals is a lot to ask, especially in an Olympic year and given all the injuries the team has had. Yes, there have been glimpses of excellence. A hard-fought win against the Storm, a blowout win over the Lynx and multiple winning streaks. However, for every winning streak there is a losing streak. For every impressive win there is, there is a disappointing loss, like the one where they only scored 58 points against the Sun.
At 11-11, the Sky currently rank sixth in the WNBA. Just a half game behind the Phoenix Mercury for fifth place. So, with just 10 games left, will the Sky be pretenders or contenders when the season ends?
I believe they will be contenders. Unless they have a serious injury to a key player I just believe they have too much talent to not figure it out. Even with all the obstacles thrown their way, they are only two and a half games out of fourth place. I believe they will at least reach the fifth seed and can get as high as the four. And, given the WNBA playoffs having multiple single-elimination rounds, I can’t imagine many teams looking forward to playing the Sky come playoff time. They have size, can switch on defense and have a deep bench.
Can the Sky still become contenders? I believe they already are. Now they have ten games left to prove it.