The Chicago Sky finished with the third worst record in the league in 2017. They started 0-3 through the 2018 preseason, averaging just 61 points and allowing opponents to score 82 a game.
Then, they rolled right into the regular season on a two game winning steak, something that had not transpired since 2014. They averaged 81 points per game in the stretch and only allowed opponents to score 70.
Followed up by an 81-63 loss this past Wednesday to Atlanta at home.
With any team, let alone a young team in the middle of a rebuild, you can expect the season to be a rollercoaster. As evident in in the Sky's very young season so far. Second year head coach and GM, Amber Stocks, has been granted the task of rebuilding and reshaping the Sky into a Championship contender. We’ve seen a lot of change within the organization over the last two years, but the most important is the roster.
That change begins with three of the top picks in the last two drafts. The Sky acquired Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams as the number three and four picks of the 2018 draft. Alaina Coates was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2017 draft, but was unable to play due to an ankle injury. This rookie class is a critical building block and foundation of this new team, but getting them clicking on all cylinders and adapted to the league? Well, that takes time.
What I will point out, is Chicago appears to have a great team dynamic early, even without veteran guard Courtney Vandersloot. This is a credit to the leadership of the coaching staff and returners like WNBA All-Star Stefanie Dolson and Allie Quigley. "They have great camaraderie. They’re bought in to the game, they’re bought in to Chicago, but more importantly they’re bought in to each other. And they really will go all out for each other,” said Stocks following the game.
That veteran leadership and locker room culture is the key in how Chicago responds to the loss.
Atlanta jumped out early and were in control of the game from the start. They out rebounded the Sky 41-28, resulting in second chance opportunities and points in the paint. They shot the ball 46 percent from the field versus Chicago’s 37 percent. Veteran guard and WNBA All-Star, Tiffany Hayes lead both teams in scoring with 22 points.
Another major change has been in Stocks rotational philosophy. Fans have witnessed more of a hockey-style substitution approach of five players coming in and five players subbing out, an unusual method but it has proven effective with the Sky in particular in terms of depth.
Jamierra Faulkner, another key returner who missed the 2017 season with a knee injury, spoke on the unorthodox approach following their last victory over the Liberty. "I bought in. At first it was different and something I wasn't used to. But to actually see it take place in a game, it has worked. We've got fresh legs. Tina Charles noticed too. She was like 'Dang, five fresh ones?' We can tell," she added with a smile.
"These guys have done a great job in playing together, staying together and using our depth to our advantage," said Stocks in a post-game press conference. ""The beauty of how we practice is that everybody’s skill sets are made evident, so you know who can bring what to the table. Everyone has a special piece to the puzzle that they offer," she added.
The fact is, it is still very early and we are talking about one of the youngest teams in the league, currently still missing their veteran point guard. The rollercoaster will more than likely still continue as time goes on, but this is a team capable of making some noise and beating anyone any given night I feel. Building a culture takes time and you will certainly hit many road bumps along the way.
The Sky will get a chance to get themselves back into the win column this Friday, May 25 as they head to Seattle to take on the Storm at 9pm CT.
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