The biggest question for the Sky heading into this past season was whether guard Diamond DeShields could take her game to the next level in Year 3.
Coach James Wade had high expectations for DeShields, who was coming off an All-Star season during which she averaged a team-high 16.2 points. After bringing back a roster close to that of the 20-win team of 2019, Wade made it clear that success depended heavily on DeShields’ progress.
“We’re going to lean on her to continue to grow in our system,” he said in July. “You’ve only seen the beginning of what she could be.”
But DeShields fell short — hampered by a series of injuries to her knee and thigh that kept her out of the starting lineup and limited her production. She played in just 13 games and averaged only 17.2 minutes, down from 30.2 the season before. Toward the end of August, she prematurely and abruptly left the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton, Florida, for what the team called “personal reasons.”
The Sky dealt with their fair share of adversity, but by far the biggest blow was not having DeShields at full strength. Although scoring wasn’t an issue — the Sky set a WNBA record with a 49.1 field-goal percentage — they were unable to get into a defensive rhythm for long stretches. In fact, they posted a 102.7 defensive rating, the worst among playoff teams and eighth-worst in the league overall.
There are multiple reasons why the Sky failed so badly on defense — their inability to find an identity being one of them — but Wade believes that will change next season, when DeShields returns to embody the aggressive and disruptive style he seeks.
“Two years ago, she led the league in transition points,” Wade said. “If we’re a better defensive team, she’s going to be in transition a lot. So she can be a trigger for that, being our leader defensively and . . . not only holding herself accountable but holding her teammates accountable. And she can do that if she’s our best defensive player on the floor.”
DeShields hasn’t been available for interviews to discuss this past season and the specifics of her early departure, although one can guess her mounting injuries might be a factor. Once the season ended, Wade didn’t offer much insight other than to say DeShields was “fine.”
He now reports she’s back in the gym working out and making progress.
“She’ll be 100% by the time the season comes around,” he said. “I’m not worried about her. She’s looking good. She feels a lot better. . . . So she’ll be fine — she’ll be back to the old Diamond or even better.”
He remains confident DeShields will one day find herself among the WNBA’s best.
“She’s going to be an All-WNBA player and someone that’s going to have a high usage rate for us,” he said. “I don’t see that changing because she was unhealthy this year. . . . She gave a lot for us this year when other players on other teams probably wouldn’t even play.”