Powering the Sky’s resurgence, Courtney Vandersloot makes her case as the WNBA’s best point guard

Taking the ball from Stefanie Dolson in the backcourt, after a missed shot by the Atlanta Dream in the opening minute of the fourth quarter during their early August matchup, Courtney Vandersloot immediately turned and pushed the ball up the Allstate Arena floor, tossing a long outlet pass diagonally across the court to Cappie Pondexter.

A few seconds later, with the Dream’s defense in scramble mode due to her decisive move up the court, Vandersloot found herself wide open, took a pass, and drilled a 3-pointer. The shot cut the Sky’s deficit to seven, and sparked their monstrous fourth quarter run, which saw them outscore the Dream 28-13 in the final frame, giving them a crucial 91-86 victory in the midst of the playoff hunt.

That play, in and of itself, wasn’t all that spectacular or noteworthy, but it was emblematic of Vandersloot’s ever-growing impact on the Sky.

*****

From the day she entered the league as the No. 3 overall pick by the Sky back in 2011, Vandersloot has been one of the most consistent and underrated point guards in the league.

Thrown straight into the fire, the Gonzaga product played in all 34 games her rookie season, starting 26 of them after an injury to Dominique Canty, with her 6.5 points and 3.7 assists per game getting her into the 2011 All-Star Game, as well as onto the 2011 All-Rookie Team alongside the likes of Maya Moore, Danielle Robinson, and Liz Cambage.

On the back of that successful rookie campaign, Vandersloot has been a staple of the Sky’s starting lineup ever since, and is currently the team’s longest tenured player. Yet even as she’s ran the show to great success in Chicago, never finishing worse than 11th in the league in assists (she did not qualify for the league leader list in 2014 as she only played 18 games, but her 5.7 assists that season would have lead the league), and even leading the league in the category in 2015 with a career high 5.8 per game, Vandersloot has always been overshadowed.

Some of that was due to the likes of Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen having a stranglehold on the point guard power rankings, which garnered them plenty of praise in the media, as well as coveted U.S. Olympic Team spots, while Vandersloot had to get Hungarian citizenship in order to play international ball. And most of it was due to Elena Delle Donne — rightly so, to be fair — getting most of the media attention while she was starring in Chicago.

Whatever the reasons may have been, however, the past is the past, and this is now. And now, Courtney Vandersloot is no longer in the shadows.

*****

As they entered the post-EDD era, neither the Sky nor Vandersloot got off to the kind of start they wanted to in the 2017 WNBA season.

The point guard missed Chicago’s first four games while finishing up her season overseas with the Turkish side Yakin Dogu Universitesi, who she lead to the treble, winning the Turkish Women’s Basketball League, Turkish Cup, and FIBA EuroCup, and then was absent for another three games in early June as she played with Hungary in EuroBasket Women 2017.

When she did play for the Sky early in the season she was understandably out of sorts, averaging just 7.2 points and 4.7 assists a night, while shooting 44 percent from the field in May and June.

Meanwhile, the Sky won just one of their first eight games, and were a sorry 3-12 entering July, putting them on pace for their worst season since their inaugural 2006 campaign when they went 5-29.

Since the calendar flipped to July, however, things have been all Sky and Vandersloot.

Powered by their point guard, the Sky are 8-4 in their last 12 games, and have surged back into playoff contention, currently holding the No. 8 seed via a tiebreaker with the Seattle Storm, who are also 11-16. (The two teams play each other two more times down the stretch, both in Chicago.)

Of those 12 games, Vandersloot has recorded double-digit assists in nine of them, including a career-high 14 dimes against the Sparks on July 20, and has also registered nine double-doubles. In fact, her current five-game streak of double-doubles with points and assists is the longest such streak in WNBA history.

Additionally, she’s taken on an increased scoring load, pouring in a career-high 26 points on two occasions, and registering three 20-plus point games during the stretch. In her previous six seasons combined, including playoff games, she’s scored 20 points only six times.

Slooty has been impressive for the past six weeks, but during the Sky’s current three-game winning streak, she’s been almost unbelievable. As they’ve beaten the Indiana Fever, Atlanta Dream, and San Antonio Stars, Vandersloot has averaged 21.6 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds, while shooting an absurd 75.8 percent from the field, 80 percent from 3-point land, and 100 percent from the line. Of the 266 points the Sky have scored over the three games, Vandersloot has been directly responsible — either by scoring or assisting — on 137 of them, a remarkable 51.5 percent.

As it stands, Vandersloot’s 7.9 assists per game for the season would be a career high, and if she keeps up the pace she’s been at in recent weeks, she should be able to break Ticha Penicheiro’s WNBA record of 8.0 assists per game, which she set back in 2002 with the now defunct Sacramento Monarchs.

With the Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks, Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, Dallas Wings, and two matchups with the Seattle Storm remaining on the schedule, Vandersloot will face a daunting task to drag the Sky to the playoffs for a fifth straight season, something few predicted after the Delle Donne trade, and almost no one expected after their dismal start to the season.

Yet regardless of whether or not the Sky make the postseason (it’s probably better for the team in the long run if they don’t), or she breaks Penincheiro’s record, Courtney Vandersloot has made a statement this past month and a half. A statement that she just might be the best point guard the WNBA has to offer.

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