When Candace Parker joined the Chicago Sky, it raised the level of excitement and anticipation in Chicago. It made national news, WNBA Twitter was confused, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke during her introductory press conference. The Chicago Sky had their own superstar. It was no longer the feel-good story, but the team that was under the dog just talked about the massive fans. They arrived on the scene and had new expectations.
So far, the team has not lived up to expectations. After the disappointing 80-76 defeat against the Dallas Wings, they fall back to .500 with an 11-11 record. Just as many wins as losses. Good enough if you want to see it, but bad enough that it has not been proven yet.
Despite the fact that the WNBA only returned from the Olympic break last week, the season is soon over. The Sky has only 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 clear. Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper all made it to this year’s All-Star Game. Allie Quigley was this year’s 3-point champion, Diamond DeShields was an All-Star, and starting center Stefanie Dolson has just returned from Tokyo after wins an Olympic medal for Team USA in 3×3 basketball. Did I mention that they are coached by the coach of the year James Wade of 2019 and that he led the team to the playoffs, both seasons he coached the team?
So what is the problem? Why does such a stacked team face mediocrity? What is missing? Well, part of it was just accident. Health is promised to no one or any team, and the Sky is no exception to this rule. Candace Parker has missed seven games due to an ankle injury, Stefanie Dolson has missed games due to Team USA commitments, and Allie Quigley has struggled with thigh muscle problems early in the season.
During Parker’s absence, the Sky lost every game and had a 2-7 record when she returned. The rest of June they dug themselves out of this hole, which they did. Everyone got well, everyone knew their role and James Wade made some grid moves to improve the team’s depth. The Sky has shot on all cylinders and looks like it is an elite team.
Since then, they have been mediocre. They both lost their matches in July and split their matches in August. Yes, they have star power, but they also average more than 15 turnovers per game and struggle to win close matches. They are 1-6 in matches decided by five points or less.
This is no surprise, given the injuries and lack of cohesion Parker had with her new teammates. Prior to the 2021 season, Parker spent the first 12 years of her career at the Los Angeles Sparks. Switching to a new team and automatically achieving the goals of the championship is a lot to ask, especially in an Olympic year, given all the injuries the team has sustained. Yes, there was a glimpse of excellence. A hard win against the Storm, a blow victory over the Lynx and several winning streaks. For every winning streak, however, there is a losing streak. For every impressive win, there is a disappointing loss, like the one where they scored only 58 points against the sun.
At 11-11, the Sky is currently sixth in the WNBA. Just half a game behind the Phoenix Mercury for fifth place. So, with just 10 games left, will the Sky pretend or be 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 not to figure it out. Even with all the obstacles in their way, they are only two and a half games out of fourth place. I believe they will reach at least the fifth seed and can grow as high as the four. And given the WNBA playoffs with several elimination rounds, I can not imagine many teams looking forward to playing the Sky. They are sized, can turn on defense and have a deep bench.
Can the air still become contenders? I believe they are already. Now they have ten more games left to prove it.