With the acquisition of one of the greatest players of all time in Candace Parker to a draft night surprise pick, the Sky have really set themselves up to contend this year and perhaps beyond. Chicago has one of the highest potential ceilings of any team in the W, but with that comes a few questions. Here are the biggest three facing Chicago as we get set to begin the 2021 WNBA season.
1. BATTLE OF THE BACKUP POINT GUARD
I know what you’re thinking, there haven’t been many times in the W (or any league) when anyone might get excited about a backup role! But I believe if there ever was a time for that, it’s now in the Sky training camp’s backup point guard spot. Going into the draft everyone knew the Sky had a glaring need to backup the best PG in the league in Courtney Vandersloot, and draft someone who could compliment her talents in the backup role and perhaps eventually take over for her down the line. The Indiana Fever threw a wrench into the mix with a surprise selection in the number four spot which left the Sky some options that they didn’t expect they’d have. Ultimately they decided to pull a wildcard and draft Australian phenomenon Shyla Heal. A surprise pick for sure given her young age and the more established names left on the board, but the Sky did their due diligence. When all is said and done, it may be the most underrated pick of the entire draft. While no player is guaranteed anything going into a pro sports league, Heal’s pedigree, consistent performance and work ethic seem to scream success. Combined with the chance to train under and alongside Courtney Vandersloot, the possibilities seem endless for Heal. The selection sets up a great battle at training camp between Heal and veteran Brittany Boyd as well as the explosive Lexi Brown who spent her off season giving up her oversea opportunities in order to fine tune her game. Boyd’s resume as a reliable veteran speaks for itself, Brown showed flashes of excellence and with the time spent this off-season, this should create one heck of battle for the backup point guard spot.
2. THE IMPACT OF PLAYER ABSENCE DUE TO INTERNATIONAL COMMITMENTS.
We have some good news and bad news when it comes to international commitments for the Sky. The good news is that the three players absent won’t be overlapping or full absences. The bad news is for one of them, some questions about her time away from the Sky remain. Let’s take a look at Stephanie Dolson who looks to miss some time at the end of May. I consider this to be the most essential of the absences because I think it provides the Sky with the best chance to pickup some wins despite her absence because they’ll play some games against the Liberty, Dream and Sparks who are still in building phases, plus Candace Parker is likely going to have some extra motivation against the Sparks. Next is another fan favorite in returning Sky player Astou Ndour who will miss a larger chunk of time from roughly mid June until the Olympic break. During her absence, the Sky will face some heavy tests against the talent-packed Dallas Wings and the perennially contending Connecticut Sun. While Astou Ndour isn’t a starter, her talents and importance off on the bench should not be underestimated. Can the Sky withstand that test? Which brings us to the final big absence: Gabby Williams. Williams has given her all and done everything the Sky have asked of her during her time in the W. She’s played multiple positions, established herself as a premier defender and been a favorite of her teammates as well as fans. There are some questions as to how long she’ll remain in a Sky uniform and combined with her first half absence, one has to wonder what effect will that have on the team in the early going? Will Williams have a place with the Sky moving forward?
3. THE ON AND OFF THE COURT IMPACT OF CANDACE PARKER
Some folks may say that Candace Parker’s years in the W are soon coming to a close. Maybe yes, maybe no. What we do know for sure is that she is one of the best to ever play the game and her talents are in no way diminished. It’s hard to argue with her MVP-caliber production year last season. Whether it be as a player, broadcaster, advocate or mother, she has shown a drive and ability to excel at the highest levels. Now that she’s returned home hungry for a championship and with a chip on her shoulder, there might be no stopping her. Reports out of training camp have already described her immeasurable impact on the team. In that respect, we can expect her to create one of the best storylines of the season. The Sky have been a team that’s always been touted for its great chemistry between players and staff. Who can resist Dolson’s dance videos or the videos of the team getting together outside work to swim, go out or just enjoy each other’s company. Chemistry can be a powerful but tricky thing, and adding new talent with big personality always poses a risk to interfere with what’s already in the pot. The good news is that we’ve already seen some videos and evidence of Candace and the team getting along and having a good flow.
There’s no doubt that different questions will arise for the Sky as we get into the season, the Olympic break and beyond. We’ll just have to wait and see how the team comes together in their quest to end the season with a championship.
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