What Diamond DeShields needs to improve on to lead the Sky to a championship

DeShields is one of the most promising talents in the league. She's already good. Here's how she can become great.

Hi, it’s Matt Ellentuck, for an evening edition of the newsletter.

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Diamond DeShields’ game needs to take a year-three leap for the Chicago Sky to win their first-ever championship in 2020 (or whatever the hell year the league plays next in.) While the rest of the WNBA’s best teams added star talent in free agency, Chicago stood relatively still, making smaller changes like moving Katie Lou Samuelson for Azura Stevens, signing backup guard Sydney Colson, trading forward Astou Ndour away and drafting Ruthy Hebard. The team’s room for growth mostly lies in what DeShields can add to her game.

Last season showed a lot of promise for the Sky. The team finished with a 20-14 record — fifth in the league — losing to the Aces in a win-or-go-home playoff game on the most ridiculous buzzer-beating halfcourt shot in recent basketball memory. There was a lot to like about Chicago. They were competitive, though well short of the reigning champion Mystics.

Without a blockbuster move, GM and head coach James Wade appears to be rolling the dice that DeShields’ year-to-year improvement will be felt in a similar way to the Mercury adding Skylar Diggins-Smith, Aces adding Angel McCoughtry, Sparks adding Kristi Toliver, Storm getting Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart back, Mystics adding Tina Charles and Sun adding DeWanna Bonner. Is he right?

Why the Sky think a more experienced DeShields’ is the answer

DeShields, at 6’1, might be the most athletic player in the league. Her first step is vicious, and she has unreal hang-time on drives to the basket. Watch her play once, and you’ll find yourself pointing at the TV and yelling about something she can do and others can’t. That’s why Chicago took her with the No. 3 pick two years ago.

But while DeShields the athlete has been ready for years, DeShields the superstar basketball player isn’t there yet. Despite making the All-Star Game in 2019, her 16 points per night came at a shade under 40 percent shooting. She turned the ball over (2.2 per game) nearly as often as she dished assists (2.4 per game.) She made just 32 percent of her three-point looks. The eye-test told a better story than her numbers read.

Of course, DeShields is already among the best players in the world despite her flaws. But in an Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart WNBA, being among the best won’t be enough to win a title. And that’s what a team with 31-year-old Courtney Vandersloot and 33-year-old Allie Quigley should have in sight.

So what does DeShields need to improve on to take the Sky to the next level?

Here’s what a deep-dive into Synergy’s statistics showed me about DeShields' game:

DeShields takes too many dribble pull-up twos

I’ve thought a lot about Diana Taurasi’s four-hour Instagram live with Sue Bird where she insisted that scouting reports were bullshit because she could do anything she wanted against any team. And she’s right when talking about herself, because Taurasi has very few, if any, offensive limitations. Forcing her to one side of the basket or the other is a pick-your-poison type of death. But DeShields, in year two, obviously wasn’t there yet. Sometimes, she was her own worst enemy.

The most frequent play-call Wade runs for DeShields is a pick-and-roll in which she’s the ball-handler, per Synergy. That makes sense. DeShields’ speed is her best attribute, and coming off a screen, she should, in theory, be able to take virtually anyone to the basket or kick out to open shooters when necessary.

But DeShields has a bad tendency to take a dribble or two wide off of a screen, like purer shooters do, and pull up from long-two territory. Shooting off the dribble is the more difficult way of shooting a basketball, and DeShields isn’t a great shooter to start. That means she’s coming away with a lot of empty possessions that could’ve been much better looks.

On 112 pick-and-roll tries where she used a screen last year, DeShields took a whopping 68 dribble jump-shots. That’s more than 60 percent of the screens given to her ending in lower-percentage looks. She only made 22 of those shots (33 percent shooting.)

Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about:

The fix: DeShields has a scorer’s mentality, and that tunnel vision often times has her launching shots she shouldn’t. Driving to the rim is often the better option in a one-on-one scenario for her, and she’s already one of the league’s best at drawing fouls. She’ll also need to do a better job keeping her head up to kick out to open shooters on the perimeter when she draws double teams.

DeShields needs to improve her left-handed ball-handling and finishing

For someone so outwardly confident about her skillset, it’s bizarre seeing something on-court she isn’t, and that’s true about her left hand. DeShields is noticeably better at taking screens from the left side of the court than the right side, because she’s a much better ball-handler and finisher with her dominant right hand.

Crossing from right-to-left, DeShields is less likely to take the ball to the basket, and often settles for those long-twos she shouldn’t. And when she does drive to the hoop, a worrisome number of looks end in a right-handed layup attempt from the left side. That additional motion usually ends in her shot being blocked or thrown entirely off-balance. It’s a weak point teams take advantage of.

Fix: For DeShields to become a complete Taurasi-like scorer, she needs to be as comfortable on both sides of the floor. Teams will target her weak hand as she evolves into the Sky’s best pure scorer. She needs to be ready to counter.

Will DeShields go from All-Star to superstar?

There’s a good chance. If DeShields limits low-percentage looks and turns her weak side into a strong one, that’s going to make a helluva difference. DeShields is already really good in most other areas as a scorer.

Last year, nobody had more possessions in transition than DeShields, who scored 159 points in 138 possessions. She’s freakin’ quick if I haven’t made that clear enough, and she’s a crafty leaker. Out of all players who had 75 possessions or more in transition, only Dearica Hamby scored at a better points-per-possession rate. When teams are off to the races, DeShields rarely loses.

DeShields is also extremely good at drawing contact, going to the line more often than all but six players in the league (Delle Donne, Arike Ogunbowale, Natasha Howard, A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and Teaira McCowan.) And she made 117 of those 140 attempts (84 percent.) That’s a key component to becoming one of the best scorers in the league, too.

DeShields is already a very good player, but she could be a great one — and soon. The Sky think this could be her season, and I see why. DeShields’ development as a multifaceted scorer could be one of the biggest influences in the balance of power in the WNBA.

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Also if you haven’t yet, please read the wonderful Katie Barnes on The maddening promise of Diamond DeShields.

If you have any suggestions for stories you’d like to see in the Here’s Basketball newsletter, please reach out to me, Matt Ellentuck, on Twitter (@mellentuck) or by email: mellentuck10@gmail.com

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