There are many questions surrounding what life after Elena Delle Donne will be like for the Chicago Sky this WNBA season.
The Sky traded Delle Donne, who averaged 21.5 points last year before suffering a season-ending thumb injury, to the Washington Mystics in February.
Chicago not only will be without Delle Donne, but will have first-year head coach and general manager Amber Stocks on the sidelines when they open the regular season Sunday against the Minnesota Lynx.
The Sky went 1-1 in the preseason, falling to the Connecticut Sun, 81-72, before topping the New York Liberty, 85-76.
Stocks is optimistic and said she feels the energy level has been high through training camp and that the team is executing well. The question now is how that will translate over the course of the regular season with several new players and younger contributors.
Chicago does have seven returning players on a team that reached the playoffs last year, including guard Cappie Pondexter, the fifth-leading scorer in WNBA history.
Entering her third season with the Sky, Pondexter has averaged in double figures all 11 of her WNBA season but is coming off just 12.9 per game in 2016, the lowest total of her career.
Pondexter will be called upon for her leadership.
“She is one of our hardest workers, and just a professional with her approach to the game and definitely our most vocal player in training camp,” Stocks said.
It’s a role Pondexter has accepted.
“It’s always been the type of player I am,” she said. “I have been blessed with that but I am at the stage of my career where I am focused on being a better leader.”
Her vocal leadership, as well as leading by example, will undoubtedly be something that will help young backcourt players while they figure out the new system.
Stocks said to expect the team to play “like the Chicago Sky have played for the past few years, pushing the tempo with an emphasis on rebounding and adding pressure on defense.”
However, Pondexter points out there are some differences to what Stocks wants to run.
Stocks did use a unique lineup in the preseason, inserting three post players in the starting lineup.
Stefani Dolson, a 6-foot-5 all-star who came over from the Mystics in the trade for Delle Donne, was in the starting lineup in the preseason along with Imani Boyette (6-7), playing at power forward, and Jessica Breland (6-3) at small forward.
Those three players would make up one of the tallest lineups in the WNBA and would give the Sky a size advantage against most opponents.
In addition to getting Dolson in the trade, the Sky also received the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and selected South Carolina star Alaina Coates, who missed the Gamecocks’ run to the national title with an injury.
While there is no timetable for Coates’ return, she will eventually be another long rim protector and aggressive rebounder.
The Sky also drafted guards Tori Jankoska and Makayla Epps as well as forward Chantel Osahor before trading her to Minnesota for Keisha Hampton.
With Jamierra Faulkner out for the season with a torn ACL and Courtney Vandersloot set to spend time in Hungary to play in the European Championships, the Sky could need both Jankoska and Epps to make immediate contribution.
“With the way our team is and the way this league is, I expect them to be ready when there number is called,” Stocks said.
Jankoska, who was the ninth overall pick, can help at point guard position even though she projected as more of a combo guard, while Epps, a third-round pick, could be called upon for some of the ball handling duties.
“I like them,” Pondexter said of the rookies. “We don’t have many but overall we are a young team that is trying to gel.”