STEVENS LOOKS TO SKY FOR BIG SEASON
FORWARD ready to bounce back from injury-plagued 2019, fill lavender’s shoes
Sky coach James Wade is counting on new forward Azura Stevens to have a “big year” after an injury limited her to nine games last season.
Acquired in a shocking trade that sent 2019 first-round pick Katie Lou Samuelson to the Wings in February, Stevens had seasonending foot surgery last August to address an injury that had been bothering her since 2018.
Though she hasn’t played in a game in over a year and is in a new environment, Stevens is hoping to adapt quickly with the Sky.
“I do definitely want to come back in with more of an attack mindset,” she said. “Last year was just a hard year all around for me, dealing with the injury, and I wasn’t really able to display my game the way I wanted to. But now that I’m feeling healthier, I just want to play my game . . . [and] just add positive things whatever that means offensively or defensively.”
That’s exactly what the Sky are going to need from her with forward Jantel Lavender out for the season.
This week, Lavender had surgery on her left foot for the fifth time, the team said.
What it means for Lavender beyond this year is unknown. She’s 31, won a WNBA title with the Sparks and has started to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.
While Lavender’s future remains in flux, the Sky are left with somewhat of a dilemma at power forward.
Last season, Astou Ndour replaced the injured Lavender in the starting lineup in August, leading to the 6-5 forward’s second-half breakout.
Ndour received outside interest after her surge. As a restricted free agent, she received an offer sheet the Sky couldn’t match because of salary-cap restrictions. The Sky ultimately sent her to the Wings in a sign-and-trade deal for a 2021 first-round pick.
With Ndour out of the picture, the Sky will rely on Cheyenne Parker and Stevens to fill the void left at the four spot.
Wade likes the energy and leadership Parker brings off the bench, so there’s a chance he might use Stevens in the starting lineup.
Stevens has a similar game to Ndour’s, but she’s on a much cheaper contract. She has strong defensive instincts and can give the Sky an added presence in the middle.
Stevens also has shown that she can have an impact on both ends of the court. In 2018, she was named to the all-rookie team after averaging 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots in 34 games.
“She has a very high upside,” Wade said of Stevens, who’s set to earn $57,000 this season — a whopping $128,000 less than Ndour’s salary, according to High Post Hoops’ database. “There’s not many players in the league with her skill set and her size and her mobility . . . that can move like [her].”
Teams with the most success in the WNBA have athletic bigs who can switch, stretch the floor and attack closeouts.
Wade said he felt the team was missing that after the Ndour trade, but he believes Stevens can fit that mold in time.
“This could be a big year for her,” Wade said. “Our offense is probably suited because we like to run, we like to play at a pace that’s really accelerated and it gives [Courtney Vandersloot] a long talent with long arms that she could play to.” ✶
“She has a very high upside. There’s not many players in the league with her skill set and her size and her mobility . . . that can move like [her].”
Sky coach james wade, on newcomer azura Stevens
The Sky acquired Azura Stevens from the Wings in February for Katie Lou Samuelson and a 2021 first-round draft pick.