Sky's depth put to the test with loss of Lavender
The Chicago Sky is about to prove me right ... or wrong.
I have been saying all season on broadcasts that one of the things that impresses me most about this young Sky team that has a first-year head coach is its depth.
There are a lot of players on this year's roster who can contribute in a significant way. And they have.
It's not just the starters with this group. Multiple reserves have played key roles in keeping the Sky, currently in line for a playoff spot, among the top teams in the WNBA this season.
"The one thing I don't take lightly is that we have a deep roster," Sky head coach James Wade confirmed.
But, unfortunately, that list of key contributors has just been cut by one. A big one.
Last weekend, forward Jantel Lavender went down with a foot injury against the Las Vegas Aces. Lavender, a starter who was averaging 10 points per game and leading the team in rebounding (6.9 rpg), was an anchor for the Sky.
Next to all-star center Liz Cambage being sent to Las Vegas from Dallas in the off-season, Lavender being acquired by the Sky from the Los Angeles Sparks the day before media day has got to be one of the best personnel moves of 2019 in the WNBA.
So the loss of Lavender, who had surgery on her foot this week and will be done for the season, is significant. The Sky are in a tough stretch in which Lavender would have been very useful. Upcoming games against Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington, Phoenix and Minnesota feature some of the best bigs in the WNBA.
"This is a really tough blow. We have one of the hardest schedules in the league to finish. We're playing all the top teams," Wade said. "Playing (without Lavender) will definitely be an obstacle for us."
And Lavender seemed to be getting better and better as the season moved along.
Her numbers were always solid, but she was producing some extra big numbers as of late. She recently had a stretch in which she scored double-figures in five of seven games. And she had a 20-point, 10-rebound game against New York about a week ago.
Besides production, Lavender was also brought in by Wade for her veteran leadership and her championship experience. Lavender, now in her ninth WNBA season, helped the Sparks win the 2016 championship. That year, she was named the league's Sixth Woman of the Year.
"She was such a good leader for us and her energy is infectious," Wade said. "She'll still be around, in the locker room and on the bench. But now, we've got an opportunity for other players to step up."
The Sky will look to a three-headed answer to loss of Lavender. The likely starter will be 6-foot-5 center Astou Ndour, but she will split time with forward Cheyenne Parker, who has had some extremely impressive games this season, and rookie forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who, like Lavender, can stretch the floor with her outside shooting.
Wade says that perhaps even undersized forward Gabby Williams, who has been used more as a guard this season, will return to the frontcourt for reinforcements.
"We have three to four players who can fill that hole and I really think they're up to it. They've been working hard," Wade said. "Having a veteran like Jantel kind of spoils you. This is going to force me to trust my younger players more, but that's OK. I feel confident in them and the rest of our roster. I'm excited to see what we have. I think we should be more than OK.
"We have been designed for depth. We have been designed to replace a great player with another great player."
• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw