by Sherron Shabazz / @SherronShabazz
The Chicago Sky beat the odds last fall when they snagged the second overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft lottery.
Chicago selected Delle Donne with the second overall pick to fill their scoring void in the frontcourt. Delle Donne, a prolific scorer in college averaged 26.9 points per game in her three seasons at Delaware while shooting 47 percent from the floor, 39 percent from the three-point line, and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
The fifth-leading scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history with 3,039 points, Delle Donne has been called the Dirk Nowitzki of women’s basketball. Like Nowitzki, Delle Donne receives praise for her offense and criticism for her defense. Delle Donne told SLAMonline that improving her defense will be a focus during her transition to the pros.
“I love that Pokey is a defensive coach,” Delle Donne said of Sky head coach Pokey Chatman. “She’s going to be able to help me a lot with my game and tell me what I need to do. I’m going to spend extra hours in the gym with her and do whatever she wants.”
In seven seasons since the team’s inception, Chicago has never made it to the playoffs. Adding a big-time scorer like Delle Donne to a lineup that includes Sylvia Fowles, Swin Cash, Courtney Vandersloot and Epiphanny Prince may lead the Sky to its first post-season berth in franchise history. Chatman hopes to make that happen.
SLAM: Why’d you decide to draft Elena Delle Donne with the second overall pick?
Pokey Chatman: In assessing our team’s roster and what was missing last year, I think she filled the holes the most in terms of what we need to better as a team and possibly a playoff contender. I told everyone that when we were awarded the number two pick that we had a real opportunity to pick a really good player. As time went on I felt that Elena was someone that filled the need the most.
SLAM: How do you think Elena will fit in early on? Do you think she’ll be ready to start right away?
PC: That’s a lot to put on any player but I think she has the skill set. Obviously it puts her right there in the mix. They’ll be some veteran players that will welcome her to the league and make sure that she’s ready but she definitely has the skill set to make that possible.
SLAM: A lot of critics have talked about her defensive game in college, or lack thereof. What positives do you see in Elena defensively?
PC: Well, not just critics but coaches also mention every rookies defensive game when they come to the league just because they need to adjust to the pace and physical nature of the game. Even Elena mentioned the fact that she’s going to have to work on it. I think it’s more about she’s versatile so she can play a perimeter or a small forward. Playing the power forward requires a physical nature so it’s more about her being able to play three different positions that she’ll have to have that adjustment. She’s a smart player. She’ll use her length, her size, and her smarts but it will definitely be an adjustment.
SLAM: Was there any serious thought about drafting Skylar Diggins?
PC: Of course, Skylar is a tremendous player. She’s a special player. She’s a winner. At the end of the day it came down to what we needed the most at this particular moment.
SLAM: You’ve spoken positively about Courtney Vandersloot’s growth. Do you think you have enough offensive weapons now to take some of the scoring pressure off of her?
PC: You know, I think so. But this is her third year. By the third year they turn that corner, feel more comfortable, start figuring things out, and mature a little mentally. I want Courtney to understand that she can score the basketball. With some of the pieces that we’re trying to put around her this year it will take a little bit of the pressure off of her.
SLAM: Last season turnovers were a big issue. How can the team turn things around and become a low turnover team?
PC: I think you start with improving the skill set. You become a better passing team, you become a better ball handling team, you put players out there that are comfortable in a variety of things not just catch-and-shoot but also coming off the dribble. Along with the skill set the players that we have also feeling more comfortable, and I think having a Delle Donne and having some of those players return that gained experience last year due to some of the injuries, I think they’ll be game ready.
SLAM: Along with Delle Donne you also added some players that’ll be competing for the final roster spot. Talk a little about Brooklyn Pope, Allie Quigley, D’Andra Moss and Michelle Campbell.
PC: I’ll start with [Sharnee] Zoll; she’s the first one that we signed, she’s the consummate point guard and that’s always good for us. You look at someone like Michelle Campbell she’s someone that I’ve had the opportunity to watch for the last three years in Europe. Every year she’s playing against some of the top post players in Turkey from Sancho Lyttle, Sylvia, Ann Wauters, and Asjha Jones. She’s getting a lot of good minutes there. She’s the true power forward that we were missing. And D’Andra Moss is someone that I remember watching back when I was recruiting Maya Moore back when she was in high school. She suffered a couple of injuries coming out of college but has worked her way up in the ranks in four different countries for the last five or six years. She’s a powerful 2-3 player, a slasher and a rebounding guard.
Brooklyn Pope is another one at that position of power forward. She’s a good rebounder, she played at a championship level, and she’s accustomed to playing alongside top quality post players. She’s well coached. She went to Baylor so she understands what it takes. And then there’s Allie Quigley. She’s someone that’s bounced around a little bit in the league because she has a true skill set. She can shoot the basketball and she led Europe in three-point shooting. I think what she’s done over the years, especially in the last year in Europe, is she’s able to play off the dribble a little bit better. She’s worked on her pick-and-roll; she’s averaged about 16 or 17 points a year, and got her team to the final four in Europe. So I think with all those players we try to meet some of the needs that we’re missing from our particular team.
SLAM: So it’ll come down to who plays the best in camp or who fits the biggest need?
PC: Both, I think there will be competition camp. We know what we’re looking for in terms of the players and the skill set, it’s just a matter of who can complement the roster the best. So I think it will be an epic battle in training camp.
SLAM: When Sylvia went down Big C [Carolyn Swords] played really well and when she didn’t play a lot she was efficient in the minutes that she played. Do you see a bigger role for her in the coming season?
PC: I think so. You look at that third year when they turn the corner. Carolyn is also in Turkey and did well with her particular team. She’s going against those same post players that I mentioned with Campbell. She did really, really well. I want to say she averaged 17 points and 8 or 9 rebounds. I was extremely pleased, not surprised with Carolyn. I think we went 5-4 down the stretch without Sylvia. We had wins against Connecticut, L.A. and Minnesota. That’s the positive minutes and experience that some of those players who will have a bigger role this year were able to gain.
SLAM: Last season you were just edged out of playoff contention by New York and now the Liberty have improved a lot with Bill Laimbeer taking over and bringing in a lot of the old Detroit players. Indiana, Connecticut and Atlanta aren’t likely to disappear. What makes the Chicago Sky a playoff team in 2013?
PC: I think you look at the key components of players that have been there. They’re the cornerstones. I think you look at the players that we brought in last year like Swin Cash from a leadership standpoint. We’re working on her game and how it meshes together but also the new players that we brought in. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Epiphanny Prince. She’s had All-Star years for the last couple of years. She’s actually in Russia right now and I get to watch her play. She’s had a tremendous year. Look at Tamera Young, we ask her to do all the dirty work. She’s the defensive stopper, she’s a rebounder, she gets all the loose balls and she’s one of those players that we have coming back. We have solid shooters that can stretch the floor like Shay Murphy and Allie Quigley. I think all those players that got a year of experience and know how close we were [will help], but close is not good enough. You add Delle Donne and a couple of possible free agents and I think we put ourselves right there in the mix.
SLAM: Is the roster set or are there other moves on the horizon?
PC: No it’s not set, other moves are possible. Everyone is kind of assessing their roster right now and getting some final indications on certain things. But it’s possible that a couple of other things could shake out before we get started.
SLAM: You mentioned Tamera, how important was it to re-sign her in the offseason?
PC: It was huge. I’m so glad you asked because I feel like I’m always ranting and raving about her. Not many people besides the true basketball fanatics can appreciate what she can do. It was huge. She’s that person that I can put on Diana Taurasi or she can guard a Becky Hammon. The difference is she relishes the role. Don’t misunderstand me, it doesn’t mean that she can’t be effective on the offense of end of the floor. She understands how she can be effective. She’s not going to take a bad shot, she’s going to attack the basket, she’s going to get offensive rebounds, she’s the consummate blue-collar worker. It’s something that’s infectious. It fires up our players and the crowd, and it’s something that we need. It was a top priority when the season ended last year.
SLAM: What can Sky fans anticipate in the upcoming season?
PC: The coaches and I were talking about this. We’re trying to put ourselves in a position to be a more up-tempo team. With the players that we’ve added I think we can be a heck of a lot better in transition. We put people on the wings that actually give Courtney Vandersloot some options in terms of passing ahead, attacking the basket, and pick-and-roll opportunities early because we’re fortunate enough that Sylvia Fowles is 6-5 but she runs the floor like a guard. I think Courtney will be more comfortable with the basketball than she was in the past. We want to play more up-tempo but I think our biggest key is our ability to take care of the basketball. When the game is slowed down in the half court we have to be able to execute and not be tops in the league in turnovers. Last but not least, we need to be a better rebounding team. It’s something that we addressed and it’s not that it just need to be Sylvia, Big C or the forwards, we need to put a little more pressure on our guards to be better rebounders and I think that’ll take care of a lot for us.