The Chicago Sky enter the 2021 WNBA Draft with a roster that is, for the most part, ready to compete for a WNBA championship. The signing of five-time All-Star Candace Parker officially ended Chicago’s rebuilding phase, putting the Sky in a position to win now — but with Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley all in their mid-30s, it’s a championship window that may not be open for long.
With that in mind, expect the Sky to draft a player who they think will contribute immediately to their 2021 title run. While Chicago has plenty of skill in the backcourt, athleticism on the wing and defensive playmaking in the frontcourt, the team has a weakness that has been an issue in recent years: lack of guard depth.
Vandersloot is one of the best point guards in the WNBA, but even her record-setting performances haven’t been enough to cover for the minutes she’s had to sit. Dating back to 2017, Chicago has been outscored by 17.3, 13.1, 11.8 and 18.7 points per 100 possessions with Vandersloot off the court — statistics that, while far from perfect, illustrate the Sky’s annual struggle to initiate offense in non-Vandersloot minutes.
The Sky, whose first pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft comes at No. 8, should finally have the opportunity to fill their hole in the backcourt with more than just a stop-gap, and with just enough cap space to roster one draftee, it stands to reason that Chicago will take that avenue. The question, of course, is how much of a choice they’ll have; there are a handful of point guards in the 2021 draft class who can be considered first-round talents, but how many of them will still be available by the time Chicago is on the clock?
Let’s run through some of the Sky’s best options in the 2021 draft, including their strengths, weaknesses and what they’d be able to bring to Chicago.
Aari McDonald (Arizona)
If there’s a WNBA prospect whose draft stock was raised by her performance in the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, it’s McDonald. The electrifying Wildcat guard led her team to an improbable NCAA title game appearance — one Arizona was within seconds of winning — while averaging 24.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. The run was highlighted by back-to-back 30-point efforts in upset wins over Texas A&M and UConn.
In fact, McDonald has become so popular so quickly that it seems unlikely Chicago will have the opportunity to draft her at No. 8. While McDonald’s ball-dominant style and paint-heavy shot distribution don’t make her the best theoretical fit with early-drafting teams like Dallas, Atlanta and Indiana, there’s a strong possibility that someone will draft McDonald anyway as the best player available before the Sky can snatch her up.
Would it be worth it for Chicago to trade up, then? Keep in mind that the Sky recently traded for a 2021 second-round draft pick — a move that, given Chicago’s cap situation, doesn’t make much short-term sense unless head coach and general manager James Wade is planning on including it with the No. 8 pick in an attempt to move up a few slots.
If Wade is indeed trying to trade up in order to draft McDonald, it would certainly be easy to see why. Playing McDonald alongside athletic wing players like Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams and Kahleah Copper would make for one of the WNBA’s most explosive lineups, and her relentless on-ball defense would be key in manufacturing transition opportunities.
McDonald isn’t the strongest 3-point shooter, however, despite a hot stretch in the NCAA Tournament. WNBA teams will likely dare her to shoot from the outside, both to take away her driving lanes and, in Chicago’s case, to collapse on Parker. If she’s drafted to the Sky, we’d be seeing McDonald in a much lower-usage role than she played at Arizona, and she’d have to establish consistent off-ball gravity to be an ideal fit with the Sky.
Dana Evans (Louisville)
Unlike McDonald, Evans’ greatest strength is shooting the basketball, making a potential decision between the two an interesting one for Chicago. While her 3-point shooting percentages dipped during her senior season, one must account for Evans being the primary focus of opponents’ defenses, and at 5-foot-6 it was often difficult for Evans to get her shot off against bigger defenders.
While Evans’ height is reason for concern, she wouldn’t be attracting nearly as much defensive attention in Chicago as she did at Louisville. There’s no denying her shooting ability, and even though the Sky need consistent, quality backup point guard minutes, Wade could stagger his lineups in a way that would play Evans off the ball and next to Vandersloot, Parker or both.
Positional versatility is growing all the more important in today’s WNBA, and it’s something Evans offers in a theoretical fit in Chicago that some of the Sky’s other draft options don’t. Since the Sky’s cap dilemma will force the team to carry just 11 players this season, drafting a player who can back up both Vandersloot and Quigley would make a lot of sense for Chicago, especially if Wade can trust Evans enough out of the gate to give her meaningful minutes.
Kiana Williams (Stanford)
Fresh off a national championship, one could argue that Williams is the most pro-ready point guard in the 2021 draft class. Four years of playing for Tara Vanderveer has molded Williams into a steady player and leader, and as Stanford’s recent tournament performance proved, she’s not one to shrink from a challenge.
Williams doesn’t have the strength or speed of McDonald and her jump shot probably isn’t as dangerous as Evans’, but she does have the most balanced game of the three. Playing in Stanford’s egalitarian system has Williams used to a mid- to low-usage role (per Her Hoop Stats, she recorded usage rates of 22 percent, 23.7 percent and 22.3 percent in her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, respectively), and while she’s more than content running an offense, she can create and hit difficult shots with the shot clock winding down if need be.
If there’s a “safe” player for Chicago to draft at No. 8, it’s probably Williams. She’s also the most realistic option. While there’s a strong chance one (or both) of McDonald or Evans will already have been drafted when it’s Chicago’s turn, it’s harder to see another team reaching for Williams in that range. She’d be great for what Wade would ask of her: Do whatever it takes to help the Sky win a championship.