The Sky’s season opener Saturday against the Lynx marks the start of a new era.
After accumulating 25 combined wins over the last two seasons, the Sky hope to hit the ground running this season.
“We don’t want to be counting at the end of the season like, ‘OK, we have to win this game to get in,’” coach James Wade said. “We have to play like our backs are against the wall from the very first day.”
Though Wade is hesitant to set expectations, his players know what they want to achieve.
The tangible goal is to make the playoffs this season — something the Sky haven’t done since 2016. However, multiple players said they want to do more than just that.
“Overall, we’re just trying to change the culture and turn this into a winning franchise,” forward Gabby Williams said.
That culture shift starts with changing the team’s mindset, veteran Allie Quigley said.
In past seasons, the Sky defended their shortcomings by pointing to their young and inexperienced roster. The term “rebuilding” was often also associated to the team’s under achievements.
That won’t be the case this season.
”We’re tired of that,” Quigley said. “We’re too good to have that excuse.”
But to move forward, the Sky can’t fall victim to their past habits.
The Sky’s success this season is contingent on several factors — the main ones being defense and taking care of the ball.
Over the last three seasons, the Sky has been one of the worst defensive teams in the WNBA. In 2018, they allowed a league-most 90.1 points per game.
“When you look at it, it’s like, how can they improve? It’s the same players,” guard Diamond DeShields said. “But defense is more … a will. I think coach Wade breathes that into us. He gives us no option but to get stops and rebound.”
Throughout training camp, Wade has put an emphasis on the Sky increasing their intensity on defense.
“He’s really into getting into passing lanes and ball pressure on defense,” Williams said. “We didn’t have that spunk to us last year.”
Wade’s defensive philosophy is more fluid than what the Sky tried to do last season. He wants players to feel comfortable switching positions.
“Don’t think so much about it,” Williams said. “He just wants us play.”
Wade has also stressed the importance of taking care of the ball. Last season, the Sky led the league in turnovers, averaging 15.1 per game.
As for personnel, the Sky’s roster looks similar to 2018 with the exception of a few adjustments.
The Sky’s backcourt is stacked with DeShields, Quigley and point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who set a WNBA record with 258 assists in 30 games last season.
The Sky also added versatile guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson and point guard Chloe Jackson from this year’s draft. Both will likely see their fair share of time off the bench.
Meanwhile, the Sky’s frontcourt — anchored by Williams, center Stefanie Dolson and an upgraded Cheyenne Parker — is a work in progress. Wade addressed the Sky’s lack of depth in that area earlier this week by acquiring forward Jantel Lavender, who won a championship with the Sparks in 2016.
Wade also believe Lavender can play an integral part in changing the Sky’s culture.
“It was important to get that voice in here that knows what it takes, ho has actually been through the battles,” Wade said. “You bring in a proven champion, that’s where it starts.”