The Chicago Sky are off to a strong 10-5 start this season, and are not only well on their way to making the playoffs for a second straight time, but are in position to challenge for a top-two seed, which means a bye straight to the semi-finals. Unfortunately, that task just got a great deal more difficult.
Early on Saturday afternoon, the team announced that Diamond DeShields and Azura Stevens have both left the league's bubble at IMG Academy. DeShields left for personal reasons, and her potential return is unclear, while Stevens is dealing with a knee injury, and is out for the season.
The leading scorer for the Sky last season, DeShields was expected to have a breakout campaign, but has been limited by injuries all season long. She didn't start a single game, and was playing just 17 minutes a night. While she showed flashes of her usual self at times, most of her performances were forgettable at best.
In addition to the knee injury she was battling since the start of the season, she also hurt her quad last week. Between the injuries, the personal things she is dealing with and being away from everyone inside the bubble, this had to have been a tough time for DeShields. If she doesn't return this season, hopefully, she will be able to return next summer 100 percent healthy, and ready to pick up where she left off in 2019.
That the Sky were able to keep cruising along despite DeShields' injury problems was because other players, including Stevens, had stepped up. The third-year big arrived in Chicago this offseason in a trade with the Dallas Wings, and immediately became a key part of their rotation.
Though not always the most consistent 3-point shooter, her ability to space the floor on offense and protect the rim on the other end are a rare and valuable combination of skills, and not easily replaced. She was in the midst of her best season yet, putting up career-high numbers in every major statistical category, and was leading the league in blocks at 1.8 per game.
Chicago still has a strong team, especially with Courtney Vandersloot leading the way, but losing DeShields and Stevens is a huge blow, even if the former hadn't been all that effective this season. They're going to make the playoffs at this point, but their chances of taking down top teams like the Seattle Storm or Las Vegas Aces in the playoffs just got a lot smaller.
It's going to be interesting to see how they respond over the last few weeks of the regular season. Making sure they get at least a top-four seed, which would guarantee a bye to the second round of the playoffs, is even more important now.