Defensive mentality will carry Sky through 2021 season

Candace Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, said there’s still a lot more to work on but establishing that identity is a step in the right direction.

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The Sky intend to put more emphasis on defense this season.

The Sky intend to put more emphasis on defense this season.

Sean D. Elliot/The Day via AP

The Sky are threatening.

Taking a look at their roster, which still isn’t complete days ahead of the team’s season opener at noon Saturday on the road against the Washington Mystics, there is no shortage of weapons.

The knockdown shooting skills of Allie Quigley, combined with the court vision of Courtney Vandersloot, the versatility of Diamond DeShields, the inside presence of Stefanie Dolson and the game-changing greatness of Candace Parker, means this team is going to bully its opponents offensively.

On defense, it’s a different story.

“We’ve fallen short defensively,” DeShields said.

The Sky had the worst mark among playoff teams last year in the bubble with a rating of 102.7, struggling to control opponents in the paint.

This year, coach and general manager James Wade said with more time to prioritize defense ahead of the season, he’s expecting better results. Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, said there’s still a lot more to work on but establishing that identity is a step in the right direction.

“I was telling [the team] ‘a lot of times you’re a great defensive team, but you struggle to score in the half-court,’ ” Parker said. “That’s not the case with the Sky.”

Parker said the Sky can control their own destiny, but it’s going to take picking it up defensively for the entire 32-game season.

DeShields said she wants people talking about her defensive performances this season. It’s easy to notice what she’s capable of with the ball in her hand. The emphasis for her has been on being a disruptive defender. When talking about what she and Kahleah Copper will accomplish together on the wing, she had one word to describe it.

“Chaos,” DeShields said.

Wade has placed a huge responsibility on Copper and DeShields to wreak havoc, DeShields said.

Personally, as DeShields heads into the 2021 season, she has a list of games circled on the calendar. In the bubble last season, she said she got kicked when she was down and took note of it. She didn’t elaborate on who the teams were and said the effort is the same against every opponent, but there are a few teams she’s looking forward to facing.

Last year the Sky gave up an average of 36.6 points in the paint, and while Parker will certainly add to the team’s ability to contain teams down low, she can’t do it all.

The rotation of bigs will be fluid to start the season. Dolson will leave following Saturday’s game to attend to her Team USA responsibilities for the 3X3 Olympic qualifiers. When she returns in the middle of June, the team will lose Astou Ndour-Fall.

Dolson said they are over-communicating about responsibilities at the center position so that there isn’t any falloff when one player leaves. While the Sky roster is deep, it will be a struggle to develop continuity with that much movement to start the season.

Rookie Shyla Heal is finally on her way to Chicago but will be temporarily suspended until she clears the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The Sky are expected to sign guard Brittany Boyd to a replacement contract while they are without Heal.

There’s no avoiding the lofty expectations for this Sky team. Players and Wade say they don’t give any attention to the expectations.

Still, every player addressed the desire to bring a championship to Chicago during media day. To do that, defense has to be the priority and egos have to take a backseat.

“With this group, we’re all willing to [put our egos aside],” Quigley said. “I don’t think anyone is naturally selfish on this team. We’re going to work on staying accountable to each other and ourselves every single day. That’s what it takes to win a championship.”

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