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Sports Saturday

It’s time for Sky to look in mirror and get defensive

The main takeaway from the Sky’s exit interviews this week is their dire need to improve on defense, especially if they want to become legitimate title contenders.

Ruthy Hebard
The main takeaway from the Sky’s exit interviews this week is their dire need to improve on defense, especially if they want a legitimate shot at being title contenders.
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Few teams could match the Sky’s offense this year. They were loaded with an arsenal of weapons, to whom playmaker and Most Valuable Player candidate Courtney Vandersloot could feed the ball.

Midway through the season, the Sky were a top-four team and had the makings to be a real title contender.

But their inability to get stops and a lack of defensive energy caught up to the injury-riddled team.

After the Sky left the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, last week after their first-round loss to the Sun, coach James Wade and his staff spent this week conducting virtual exit interviews. In those meetings, Wade stressed the Sky’s need to improve on defense if they want a legitimate shot at winning a title in 2021.

Scoring never seemed to be an issue for the Sky, who were one of the best offensive teams, even without 2019 leading scorer Diamond DeShields. The Sky averaged the third-most points (86.7) this season and set a WNBA record with a 49.1 field-goal percentage.

But the Sky’s top-tier offense couldn’t make up for the team’s lapses on defense.

The Sky’s 102.7 defensive rating was the worst mark among playoff teams and eighth-worst in the league. Specifically, they struggled to contain their opponents down low, allowing an average of 36.6 points in the paint.

“On the other side of the ball, we have to improve,” Wade said. “And even though our defense has improved since [last season], we still have a higher ceiling we have to get to.”

Wade’s idea of what the Sky’s defense should look like has been the same since last season. He wants his players to showcase their athleticism on defense, and he urges them to be more aggressive and disruptive.

Athletic two-way players like Azura Stevens and DeShields typified the defensive identity the Sky were eager to embody. Without them, though, the Sky were unable to get into defensive rhythm for long stretches.

To make matters worse, the Sky never really had the chance to address their defensive woes outside of games due to the lack of practice time with the condensed schedule.

“We all knew that was our weakness,” Allie Quigley said. “We just struggled finding our identity between injuries and not practicing. It was like you would try something in the game, didn’t really like it, so you would try something in the next game and we just never found our identity. . . . [It’s] definitely something we all have to own individually and as a team and just try to have that focus next summer.”

Wade wants to see his players enhance their defensive intensity with their overseas teams this offseason. He might also choose to address the Sky’s defensive deficiencies in the draft or free agency.

Before potentially re-signing free agent Cheyenne Parker, the Sky have around $150,000. If Wade wanted to be aggressive, he would have to get creative to go after a marquee defensive-minded talent, such as Sparks star Candace Parker, who went to Naperville Central.

“They have a job to do as far as improving on defense and certain things they have to work on, but we have a job to do, too, as far as improving our roster defensively,” Wade said. “And that’s something we have to approach and look at and say, ‘how can we improve as a defensive ball club?’ We have to improve if we want to make the necessary steps to push us over the top as far as how far we’re going in the playoffs and what kind of contending ball club we’re going to be.”