Women's Watch: Elena Delle Donne top hit for Sky
School's out, but there are progress reports to write up.
It's mid-term time for the WNBA, which plays its All-Star Game in Connecticut today (2:30 p.m., ABC 7). The Chicago Sky has logged 17 of its 34 games and is one game out of first place in the Eastern Conference with an 11-6 record.
Not a bad showing so far. Here's a more detailed breakdown of the first-half hits and misses for the Sky:
Hit: Elena Delle Donne. Duh.
Delle Donne is the leading vote-getter among all-stars and a favorite for most valuable player. She has been spectacular in her third WNBA season, which has been highlighted by a 45-point game (including 19-for-19 free throws) against Atlanta.
The 6-foot-5 forward leads the WNBA in scoring (24.5 ppg) and free throw percentage (95.2%) and is third in rebounding (9.8 rpg) and blocks (2.47 bpg). She's also third in minutes (34.3 mpg), which is especially impressive.
That's the part that concerned me before the season. Delle Donne was coming off a season in which she was tormented by a flare-up of her Lyme disease and missed 16 games. Fatigue is a huge part of the disease and I was wondering how many miles Delle Donne would be able to log this season. She has been a workhorse thus far and has looked strong and healthy.
Hit: The backcourt.
I'm loving the addition of Chicago native and shooting guard Cappie Pondexter, who was just named to her seventh all-star team.
Pondexter, a graduate of Marshall High School, was acquired in a trade for Epiphanny Prince and has fit in seamlessly. She's averaging 16.1 points per game and provides all the moxie and leadership a savvy vet and two-time WNBA champion should.
There also has been an uptick in point guard Courtney Vandersloot's game. She's driving with more confidence and she's the third most efficient 3-point shooter in the WNBA (42 percent). She also averages 12.2 points per game and dishes out 5 assists per game, which ranks second in the WNBA.
Pondexter and Vandersloot make it tough for defenses to be just fixate on Delle Donne.
Hit: X-factors Allie Quigley and Clarissa Dos Santos.
Whether these two start or not, they have been crucial to the Sky's success.
Quigley, the WNBA's sixth woman of the year last season, is ditching her 3-point specialist reputation. She has become a go-to scorer anywhere on the floor and is averaging 11.6 points per game.
Dos Santos, listed at 6-foot-1, plays much bigger. She's physical with other post players, can rebound well and has shown the ability to be offensive-minded.
Miss: Defense. And that's like nails on a chalkboard to Sky head coach Pokey Chatman, known for being defensive-minded.
The Sky scores the most points in the WNBA (85.8) but also gives up the most (79.8 ppg). The Sky also allows the highest percentage for opponents on three-point field goals (37 percent).
This is where I think the Sky misses 6-foot-6 all-star center Sylvia Fowles, who is sitting out the season after demanding to be traded. Fowles, who has won multiple defensive player of the year awards over her career, is a shot-blocking specialist and an imposing force in the paint. Her presence forced opponents to alter their offenses, or prevented them from doing certain things.
While the Sky's offense has been more free-flowing without Fowles hunkering down in the paint (a good thing), the defense has been more porous (not such a good thing) without her on patrol.
If the Sky is to return to the Finals, something must be done about the defense.
You know what they say: "Offense wins games. Defense wins championships."
Not a Shocker:
After six years of battling bad luck on the court and a lack of traction with fans, the WNBA is leaving Tulsa.
Next stop: Dallas.
The WNBA owners on Thursday unanimously approved the relocation of the Tulsa Shock to the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. The team will finish this season in Tulsa before beginning play on the University of Texas at Arlington campus in 2016.
"The WNBA is extremely grateful to the city of Tulsa and the team's loyal fans. The support they have shown for the Shock and women's professional basketball over the past six seasons has been tremendous," WNBA President Laurel J. Richie said in a statement. "We look forward to having our first team based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area."
This and that:
By virtue of coaching the Sky to the WNBA Finals last season, Sky coach Pokey Chatman and her staff have been designated as the coaching staff for the Eastern Conference all-star team.
Sky forward Jessica Breland, in a boot after last week's win over San Antonio, should be back from an ankle injury after the all-star break. By then, Sky forward Tamera Young, who has missed the last 13 games with a thumb injury, should also be close to returning.
Speaking of a return, Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker is planning to make her season debut after the all-star game. The former Naperville Central star sat the first half of the season to rest her body and focus on her health. The Sky hosts the Sparks on July 31. It will be Parker's second game back.
Follow Patricia on Twitter @babcockmcgraw. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.