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Sky Wed Jun 19 2013

Prince to Return Sooner than Expected to Struggling Sky

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for chicago sky logo.gifAfter winning their first three games by an average of 18 points, the Sky have gone 1-2 in their last three tilts (their lone win was by a two-point margin.) Epiphanny Prince has been playing for team Russia in the EuroBasket Tournament during that period, but after the team was unexpectedly eliminated by going 1-2 in the first round, Prince will return to the Sky sooner than expected. The timing couldn't be more perfect. Instead of desperately trying discover ways to win without their leading scorer for six more games, they can get back to working on their foundation as a complete team.

Offense was hard to find for the Sky over the last three contests. Elena Delle Donne did her part in picking up the slack by posting monster numbers over the last three games. She's averaging 21 points a game while shooting 25-for-27 from the charity stripe. The rookie understood that the team needed more from her and she stepped up to the challenge, which earned her the second spot on this week's Race to the MVP power rankings via WNBA.com.

Aside from Delle Donne, no one was able to fill Prince's vacant shoes consistently. DePaul product and reserve guard Allie Quigley tied her career high in points twice over the last three games with 14, but only mustered six at home against San Antonio. Courtney Vandersloot has been solid, but with Prince out, she needed to do more than stay the course. Sylvia Fowles is leading the league in rebounds at 14 per, and has done a great job on defense but hasn't been able to contribute as much on the offensive side of the ball. This team shouldn't have had as much trouble as they did in this stretch of games. All in all, it's been a mistake-filled, forced-shot case of mistaken identity for the Sky. Aside from the obvious subtraction of an all-star, what went wrong?

The three-ball has killed this team.

In the Sky's two losses they've shot 19% from three point range. Prince, a career 38% shooter from beyond the arc, was posting gaudy numbers from deep this season, going 10-for-19 (52%). The Sky have been looking to be bailed out by the trey, but it just hasn't fallen. If only the Sky could drink some of the magic deer antler spray-infused San Antonio filtered water Spurs guard Danny Green drank prior to the NBA Finals.

Since Prince's absence coach Pokey Chatman has gone with a much taller lineup. She's shifted Delle Donne to the two-guard position and placed Tamera Young at small forward. Young has only attempted one three-pointer in her run as a starter. The deep ball threat just isn't in this starting lineup anymore. The team is relying on mid-range jumpers much more than usual. The offense's identity has changed for the worse. They're less aggressive from the paint, and stretching the floor is a cumbersome task which has yet to be seen for long stretches in the game.

Not only are the Sky not hitting the three, but they're not defending it either. Without Prince's closing speed on help defense while defending the arc, the Sky have struggled to protect against the long range jumper. In the first three games with Prince, opposing teams were making the deep-ball at a 31 percent clip, and in the last three, teams are shooting 44 percent. Prince, who leads the team in steals (two a game) likes to intercept cross-court passes in which the opponent finds an open teammate for a look from three -- when she's not there, these teams complete the passes with ease.

Overall it is worrisome that this team struggled mightily in that three game duration sans Prince. Though the Sky have the best starting five when Prince isn't playing hoops abroad, without her the lineup rotations are dissonant, and the bench is exposed for how thin it is. They're an elite, championship caliber squad with Prince, and average without her. There's no word yet if she'll make the opening tip vs the Tulsa Shock on Thursday (11:30 am), but that shouldn't be too much trouble seeing how Skylar Diggins' Tulsa Shock are the worst team in the WNBA at 1-7. Crisis averted for the Sky, but let's hope they learned some lessons on rising up as a team when facing adversity in the future.

 
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MichaelC / June 19, 2013 11:08 AM

Very nice breakdown of what is currently ailing the Sky. As off kilter as they have been without Prince they still could have won either of the games they dropped during her absence, and there isn't anything wrong with the team that better execution and taking care of the basketball won't cure. All in all these are just "identity" problems that will be addressed as the season progresses. I just hope that more folks start paying attention to the fact that we have another excellent sports franchise in our city.

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