What's next for Chicago, with or without Vanderquigs?

What’s next for Chicago, with or without Vanderquigs?

Almost everything has broken right for the Chicago Sky this offseason.

With Stefanie Dolson and Diamond DeShields’ departures leaving holes on the wing and in the post, head coach and general manager James Wade swiftly found replacements. He reportedly locked in Emma Meesseman (the terms of the deal haven’t been announced) and signed Crystal Bradford to a training camp contract worth $60,141. Every need was filled, assuming the Sky’s starting backcourt would return for one more run at a title.

However, ESPN’s Holly Rowe shocked the WNBA world when she reported on Feb. 1 that Chicago offered three-time All-Star Courtney Vandersloot a contract below what her camp is seeking. According to Rowe, Chicago’s all-time leader in assists is mulling an offer from her overseas team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, to sit out the 2022 season.

Contrary to earlier reports that both Vandersloot and Allie Quigley are “likely to return” to Chicago, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile said on “The Skyhook Podcast” that a league source told her that the longest-tenured players on the Sky aren’t close to a deal “yet.”

“It’s becoming more clear that, if Courtney’s going to play in the W next season, it’s going to be for the Chicago Sky,” Costabile said. “You can make the same assumption for Allie Quigley. But things need to happen in order for that to happen.”

Chicago didn’t waste time finding a backup option if Vandersloot decides to accept UMMC’s offer. The Sky acquired Indiana Fever guard Julie Allemand in a three-way trade that also netted Chicago a 2023 first-round pick from the Phoenix Mercury. However, life without Vanderquigs would be a tough blow to a team that has most of its eggs in 2022’s basket. After trading for German, the Sky only have four players signed through 2023. This upcoming season, to a certain degree, hangs in the balance of Vandersloot and/or Quigley returning to the team.

If Vanderquigs returns

Before Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, Candace Parker said she thought the Sky had “yet to play their best basketball.” The 2021 regular season was emotionally and physically exhausting for Chicago. After long losing and winning streaks in the first half of the season and an inconsistent stretch after the Olympic break, the Sky found their groove and finished the playoffs with a positive 10.8 net rating. For context, in their lone playoff game, the New York Liberty had the second-highest net rating of 0.1.

If Vandersloot and Quigley return to the Sky, Chicago will be the de facto favorites to win the title in 2022. Everyone on the roster will have defined roles, which was something the Sky struggled with during a chaotic 2021 season. DeShields wanted to be a starter but settled for a bench role, which she did admirably, when Wade decided to go with Quigley in the second half of the year. Bradford comes in knowing she will back up Copper if Vandersloot and Quigley return. Forward Azurá Stevens has been playing significant minutes for the Russian team Nika Syktyvkar and won’t be on a minutes restriction like she was before the Olympic break.

German and Meesseman could serve not only as valuable bench pieces, but also as relief for some of the veterans on the roster. Vandersloot was playing over 32 minutes per game at one point last season and could benefit from having German, who is capable of starting, play more minutes off the bench. Meesseman can take on extended minutes if Wade wants to preserve Stevens and Parker before the playoffs.

If the Sky’s front office comes to terms on deals to bring back its starting backcourt, Chicago can sit comfortably as it waits for the start of the season.

If Vanderquigs doesn’t return

As the Sky continues to negotiate with Vandersloot and Quigley, options to replace them continue to shrink. Riquna Williams, Rebecca Allen and Tiffany Hayes, all possible fits in Wade’s system, have reportedly agreed to return to their respective teams. German would most likely start if Vandersloot accepts UMMC’s offer, but there are no obvious free-agent alternatives to Quigley.

Multiple times last season, Wade said that the offense runs through Quigley, whether she is starting or coming off the bench. Even after missing the beginning of the season due to a hamstring injury, Quigley was the most lethal shooter in the WNBA last year. She shot 45.6% from 3-point range on 4.6 attempts per game and decimated opponents by getting herself open looks with her activity off the ball.

Numbers provided by Synergy Sports Tech.

But Quigley is more than a shooter. Her screening off the ball is quietly one of her most valuable attributes.

It doesn’t come as a shock that the Sky were worse when Quigley wasn’t on the court. When the three-time All-Star was on the floor, Chicago had a positive 6.8 net rating, which was the highest of any Sky player. When she took a seat, the Sky’s net rating dipped to -2.9. The gravity she brings is indispensable compared to the remaining options in free agency.

Without Quigley, Chicago could opt to put Kahleah Copper at shooting guard and start Meesseman, Stevens and Parker together. However, their bench depth would be limited. German can fill in for Vandersloot, but it is impossible to completely replace one of the greatest point guards in basketball history. The Sky’s ceiling heading into 2022 will be lower if they are unable to bring back Vandersloot and Quigley.

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