Sky’s Azurá Stevens is ready for whatever is thrown at her

As the Sky’s season opener at Wintrust Arena against the Los Angeles Sparks approaches, Stevens is operating at 100%, ready for an expanded role in coach/GM James Wade’s system.

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Azurá Stevens poses for a portrait Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Azurá Stevens is coming into the 2022 season 100% healthy for the first time since her rookie year.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Last season, during the Sky’s single-elimination playoff game against the Minnesota Lynx, Azurá Stevens arrived.

Not in a literal sense. Stevens, the sixth overall pick in 2018 acquired from the Dallas Wings in a 2020 trade for Katie Lou Samuelson, has been dealing with injuries after her rookie season in 2018.

She started the 2021 season on a minutes restriction after having surgery during the previous offseason. By the time the Sky limped into the postseason, Stevens was ready to go.

The Sky advanced to the semifinals after beating the Lynx 89-76, and Stevens’ defense on Sylvia Fowles was a difference-maker.

With the season opener Friday at Wintrust Arena against the Los Angeles Sparks, Stevens is operating at 100%, ready for an expanded role in coach/GM James Wade’s system.

“Azurá is like a unicorn of sorts,” Wade said. “She can play offense like a guard and play defense like a post.”

Stevens’ versatility has drawn comparisons to her teammate, two-time WNBA champion and league MVP Candace Parker. Stevens has worked closely with Parker since Parker signed with the Sky before last year’s championship season.

Candace Parker, left, and Azurá Stevens pose for a portrait Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Candace Parker, left, and Azurá Stevens pose for a portrait Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Before leaving the WNBA bubble early in 2020 with a knee injury, Stevens was averaging career highs in nearly every statistical category.

This offseason, Stevens prioritized being mentally in tune with her body and accepting certain limitations after having surgery. Since the start of camp there’s been an emphasis on her three-point shooting. Wade wants to see her return to her 2020 form, when she was shooting almost 40% from beyond the arc.

Getting extra shots up after practice is something Stevens hasn’t skipped in nearly three weeks of training camp.

“The difference [when Candace Parker is on the floor with Stevens] is you have another post that can create for her,” Wade said. “But when we put her on the other [practice] team, we put the ball in her hands. Candace is like a mentor to her.

With Candace back it kind of makes Azurá more courageous because she sees her doing certain things. It’s awesome to see.”

Candace Parker, left, and Azurá Stevens pose for a portrait Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Candace Parker, left, and Azurá Stevens pose for a portrait Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Wade’s roster has the most versatility of any Sky team he has coached in his tenure. With 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman in the fold, he has another passing big who can shoot.

The lineup possibilities are endless and Stevens is preparing to play in whatever role Wade has for her.

“It’s been really cool [sharing the court with Parker and Meesseman],” Stevens said. “We are interchangeable between positions three, four and five. It speaks to our team and the versatility we have in the post especially.”

Courtney Vandersloot jumps on Azurá Stevens’ back for a piggyback ride during media day Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Courtney Vandersloot jumps on Azurá Stevens’ back for a piggyback ride during media day Tuesday afternoon at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Stevens has expressed multiple times that the Sky’s roster is a cheat code. The versatility also isn’t lacking at the guard position. Between Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper and Allie Quigley, their backcourt’s skill set covers all the bases.

In 2021, the Sky excelled at running a fast-paced offense with tons of ball movement. Wade said he isn’t looking for players who are putting up 25 shots a night. He has once again put together a team that thrives on sharing the ball, and Stevens’ role in that system will be significant.

“We know what we can do when she’s on the court and she’s healthy,” Parker said. “Last year she grew up a lot during the playoffs. I think that’s huge.”

(From left) Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Azurá Stevens pose for a portrait Tuesday at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

(From left) Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Azurá Stevens pose for a portrait Tuesday at the Chicago Sky’s practice facility, the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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