How Azurá Stevens’ 2022 season put her in prime position for free agency

As an unrestricted free agent, Stevens can negotiate with any team when free agency begins in mid-January.

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New York Liberty v Chicago Sky - Game One

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Sky forward Azurá Stevens had a milestone season in 2022.

Not only because it was her fifth season in the WNBA but because of the growth in her game, which undoubtedly will be a catalyst for the upcoming free-agency period.

The 6-6 Stevens had her most successful season, starting eight games for the Sky and being a valuable player off the bench in 27 others.

Maybe the most impressive development from Stevens was her evolution into one of the WNBA’s promising point forwards, a style of play teammate Candace Parker long has used.

‘‘When I got back from [playing overseas in] Russia last year, I took some time off from training,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘But when I got back into it, I focused on getting up a lot of shots with one of my trainers, a lot of repetition shooting.

‘‘I’ve always been a versatile player, but I was more confident in showing that part of my game last year.’’

In the 21.9 minutes she averaged last season, Stevens displayed skill off the dribble, in catch-and-shoot scenarios and in the pick-and-roll. She shot an impressive 47.2% from the field and 36.2% from three-point range, the second-highest three-point shooting percentage of her career. (Her highest three-point shooting percentage was during the WNBA’s bubble season in 2020, during which she played in only 13 games, starting all of them.)

‘‘It was a great year for me to display my skill set,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘And the second year for me to be fully healthy, which was a huge accomplishment for me.’’

Stevens fit perfectly into the Sky’s fast-paced, high-octane offense that could pick teams apart from the inside out and proved she’s capable of starting in the WNBA.

The question is, will that be with the Sky? As an unrestricted free agent, Stevens can negotiate with any team when free agency begins in mid-January. She isn’t ready to divulge what her expectations are for her future in the league, but she did say she will be testing the waters.

‘‘Having the year I had last year will help in those talks and negotiations,’’ Stevens said.

She is right on the money. Several teams would be able to fit Stevens into their systems seamlessly, so what is it going to take for her to re-sign with the Sky?

Sky coach/general manager James Wade declined an interview with the Sun-Times to discuss the upcoming free-agency period, but the team has a clear path to re-signing Stevens.

Parker has indicated she will return for the 2023 season, but — as she frequently says — she has more years behind her than in front of her. Continuing to develop Stevens alongside Parker would be a huge asset for the Sky’s future. Of course, both would have to choose to re-sign with them first.

Stevens has made no mention of coming off the bench being a deal-breaker for her, but if Emma Meesseman opts out of the 2023 season or chooses to sign elsewhere, that would open the door for a starting role with the Sky.

After the Sky’s championship season in 2021, Wade’s plan for free agency was to re-sign the core. But after a Game 5 loss to the Sun in the semifinals in 2022, the path forward is a little less clear. There’s a balance the Sky must walk between winning now and developing players for the future.

Re-signing Parker and franchise player Courtney Vandersloot needs to be top priority to win now, but re-signing Stevens might ensure the Sky’s future success.

Stevens currently is playing in Turkey, where she’s averaging 14.5 points and 10.8 rebounds for Galatasaray in the Turkish League and 20.5 points and five rebounds in EuroCup play. She arrived for her overseas season in October before returning to spend a good chunk of November in the United States. 

She returned to Turkey soon after the Thanksgiving holiday for the longest stint of her overseas season. This will mark the first time Stevens will be overseas for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

‘‘I want to be with my family, obviously,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘But I have cool teammates, and hopefully I’ll get some of my family members over here.’’ 

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