Heading into the 2016 WNBA season the Chicago Sky boasted a formidable lineup. 10th overall pick Imani Boyette looked like a promising talent in the paint, Cappie Pondexter had seven WNBA All-Star appearances and two championships to her name, and Courtney Vandersloot showed signs of being an elite level point guard for years to come.
But, the undeniable focal point of the squad was Elena Delle Donne. The reigning MVP had displayed as diverse an offensive arsenal as the league had ever seen in 2015 and as this season progressed it was clear there were no signs of the University of Delaware product slowing down.
30-point nights became the norm once again from EDD, and the Sky clinched a playoff spot and first-round bye with a week left to play in the season. When they did so, in a 96-86 win over the Sun, it was without her services though. In the previous game Delle Donne had suffered a thumb injury on her shooting hand, and the star had to watch her team clinch a postseason berth for the fourth-straight season, from the sidelines.
Then, the news broke. When the team should have been game planning on how opponents were going to try and limit EDD’s production on the floor, they were deciding which doctor she should see for surgery. Delle Donne’s thumb injury proved to be more serious than once believed, surgery wasn’t just suggested, it was required.
Was their impending postseason run over before ever really starting? Many believed so, especially with the new one-and-done format in place. But, when the Dream arrived in Chicago for their second round matchup the Sky recorded a resounding 10-point victory.
A showdown with the Sparks awaited, and after dropping the first two games in Los Angeles, it was time for another elimination game on Sunday. Again, the Sky rallied, won and will try to stave off elimination for the third time this postseason on Tuesday.
With no EDD it’s been fascinating to see how the Sky’s offense has evolved as certain players take on expanded roles. No one has done so more than Courtney Vandersloot.
The compact point guard has been in the W since 2011 and has a career scoring average of 8.8 points per game. Never a renowned shot-maker, Vandersloot’s ability to run an offense has been her strong suit throughout the duration of her career.
But, with the scoring void left by Delle Donne the size of the Chrysler Building, it’s been Vandersloot who’s picked up the slack. She’s averaging a team-high 14.8 points per game in Chicago’s four playoff games thus far, a sizable jump from her 9.9 average in the regular season.
Vandersloot may not have had a more important scoring performance in her career than in Sunday afternoon’s elimination game when she dropped a team-high 17 points against the Sparks. Despite facing considerable pressure from L.A.’s Alana Beard and Kristi Toliver, Vandersloot was able to constantly get to the rim and create high-efficiency shot opportunities. Her already rapid pace appears to have found another gear in EDD’s absence.
In fact, in Chicago’s two elimination games, Vandersloot’s scoring average balloons to an even more robust 19 points per game. The playmaker has also dished out 18 total assists in those two games, reminding opponents she still runs the show in Chi-Town.
This may not be the playoff team Sky fans imagined heading into the postseason, and they certainly have more than their fair share of work to do, but at least it’s clear this team isn’t going down without a fight. And if one player is set on making sure Chicago is in it to the final whistle it’s Courtney Vandersloot.