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Breaking Down the Sylvia Fowles Trade

It came as a shock to more than a few fans when, on the night of the 2015 WNBA Draft, ESPN women’s basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo broke the story on-air that Chicago Sky mainstay Sylvia Fowles had requested a trade. Details were far and few between at the time, but the full story eventually leaked out: Fowles had a specific destination in mind (perennial WNBA powerhouse Minnesota Lynx) and would thus be sitting out the season until her request was fulfilled. As Fowles had received the “core” designation by the Sky, she had the right to veto any proposed trade, leaving Sky head coach and GM Pokey Chatman’s hands tied.

Since then, WNBA fans have eagerly awaited a deal that would send Fowles to the Lynx and put the all-world center back on the basketball court. Patience began wearing thin league-wide as it became apparent that Chicago and Minnesota wouldn’t come to terms on a trade before the season began, and the story had soon been overshadowed by more of its kind in what’s been one of the biggest seasons for the WNBA in the news. Both the Sky and the Lynx had gotten off to hot starts, with Chicago heading into the All-Star break at 11-6 (good for second place in the Eastern Conference) and Minnesota a league-best 12-4. Both teams feature top MVP candidates in Elena Delle Donne and Maya Moore, respectively, and expectations of any rumored trades between the two teams were largely written off.

Finally, a day before regular-season action was to resume, it was announced that the Sky and Lynx had come to terms on a trade that would also include the Atlanta Dream as a third party. Chicago sent Fowles and a second-round pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft to Minnesota, who dealt center Damiris Dantas, forward Reshanda Gray and a 2016 first-round pick to Atlanta. The Dream, in turn, have sent center Erika de Souza to the Sky. This is quite a bit to digest, so let’s take a closer look at how the three-way trade affects each of the teams involved.

Chicago Sky

Sends: C Sylvia Fowles and 2016 2nd-round pick to Minnesota Lynx

Receives: C Erika de Souza from Atlanta Dream

At first glance, it might be easy to say that Chicago could only have benefited from this trade. After all, Fowles wasn’t playing for the Sky in 2015 anyway, and they’ve still put together a very respectable first half behind the historic play of budding star Elena Delle Donne, a rejuvenated Cappie Pondexter and the always steady Courtney Vandersloot. While the play in the frontcourt has been problematic without Fowles (the Sky are allowing teams to shoot a league-high 59.7 percent at the rim), the Sky have acquired a very capable center in de Souza. The 6’5″ Brazilian brings not only the size that the Sky have been sorely lacking, but also an aura of leadership and charisma that the veteran of her country’s national team has become beloved for.

Such commitments present a major question mark for the Sky, however. The Olympics are once again right around the corner, and de Souza (like many foreign WNBA players) will most likely miss time with Chicago next season to prepare with the Brazilian National Team. Even after the 2016 Olympics end and WNBA action resumes, de Souza will be 34 years old and many will question whether or not she’ll be able to continue bringing the high-energy, physical play that’s made her a top WNBA center in recent seasons.

One must also keep in mind that the Sky have been able to keep their heads above water to this point simply by outscoring everyone else. Delle Donne has been spectacular, yes, and the shooting of Pondexter and fellow local product Allie Quigley has given the Sky two great weapons from the wing, but the Sky have also been able to push the pace at a level most other WNBA teams cannot. Without Fowles, Pokey Chatman has been forced to field a smaller lineup, mixing Delle Donne at both forward positions along with undersized power forwards Clarissa dos Santos (a Brazilian teammate of de Souza’s) and Jessica Breland seeing significant time at the 5.

The results have been better than expected, as Chicago is far and away the WNBA’s top offensive team with a 108.4 ORtg and is a close second to the Dream in pace (77.9 possessions per 40 minutes). This begs the question: will Chicago continue to be able to outrun the rest of the league and enjoy such success on offense with de Souza receiving most of the minutes at center?

It’s true that de Souza runs the floor well for her size, and she’ll provide a big target for Vandersloot passes that had been missing from this team to this point. If Chicago is able to successfully integrate her into their potent offensive game without losing much of what’s made them dangerous so far, they may be a favorite to return to the WNBA Finals this season. But after that? Only time will tell.

Minnesota Lynx

Sends: C Damiris Dantas, F Reshanda Gray, and 2016 1st-round pick to Atlanta Dream

Receives: C Sylvia Fowles and 2016 2nd-round pick from Chicago Sky

The accomplishments of Sylvia Fowles speak for themselves: three-time WNBA All-Star, two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist for Team USA…the list goes on. For a team that’s had its own struggles in the post so far this season (a clear alpha amongst the group of Dantas, Devereaux Peters and Ashja Jones never really emerged), Fowles should be a sight for sore eyes. Her athletic, 6’6″ frame gives the Lynx an intimidating presence in the middle that most teams simply cannot match physically.

How will Fowles fit with the Lynx? On paper, it looks easy. They’ve already got Olympians nearly everywhere you look: Lindsay Whalen at point guard, Seimone Augustus (currently recovering from a knee scope) and Maya Moore on the wings, Rebekkah Brunson and Jones in the post…to put it bluntly, in terms of star power, this team is absolutely stacked. The only things they’ve been missing is a dominant center who can protect the rim and help cover for their suspect perimeter defense.

What’s more, Fowles is one of the few players in the league a coach would even consider allowing to play Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner one-on-one, though that would still be a risky proposition. With conference rivals like the Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks fielding large, physical frontcourts, Fowles’s size and athleticism gives the Lynx a piece they need to remain at the top of the league both this season and in the future.

It may not be that easy, though. Despite Fowles asserting herself as a walking double-double and a regular WNBA leader in FG%, the Sky teams with her as the primary option on offense were notoriously bad at spacing the floor and taking care of the basketball. Even in more recent years, with Fowles teaming up alongside Delle Donne and dynamic guard Epiphanny Prince, the Sky never seemed to “click” offensively, often going through long droughts of poor shot selection riddled with turnovers.

Of course, this isn’t all attributable to Sylvia, but what jumps out when looking at her career statistics is the astoundingly low assist percentage. Even when playing on the same team as Delle Donne and Prince, Fowles only assisted on 2.4 percent and 3.4 percent of her teammates’ baskets in 2013 and 2014, respectively. For a player who’s so frequently double-teamed in the post, and is now joining a trio of incredible offensive players in Whalen, Moore and Augustus, those numbers need to rise significantly for Minnesota to get the most out of their new acquisition.

Atlanta Dream

Sends: C Erika de Souza to Chicago Sky

Receives: C Damiris Dantas, F Reshanda Gray, and 2016 1st-round pick from Minnesota Lynx

It’s been a rough year for the Atlanta Dream. Second-year guard Shoni Schimmel, after wowing fans and players alike with her flashy play during an All-Star rookie campaign, showed up to training camp out of shape. This prompted head coach Michael Cooper to bench her in favor of a rotating door of combo guards, which #10 overall pick Samantha Logic seemed unable to crack herself until being traded to the San Antonio Stars about a month into the season.

The team was exceptionally short-handed for a five-game period (during which starter Tiffany Hayes and solid bench contributor Aneika Henry participated in the European Games held in Azerbaijan), and are now without defensive stalwart Sancho Lyttle indefinitely due to a torn plantar fascia. This has all added up to a last-place first half for the Dream, who are used to enjoying a spot near the top of the Eastern Conference, but are suddenly faced with questions about the health and longevity of their core.

GM Angela Taylor appears to have answered some of those questions with her team’s role in this trade. While certainly not a move that’ll catapult the Dream back to the top of the East this season, they’ve acquired a long, talented, young center in Dantas (yet another member of the Brazilian National Team), who showed many flashes of promising play with the Lynx, and will now be allowed a larger role in Atlanta as de Souza’s heir.

Reshanda Gray struggled to get off the bench in her rookie campaign in Minnesota, but as with Dantas, she may see her playing time increase in Atlanta. The strong, physical power forward is far from a finished product, but will likely be a part of Atlanta’s roster construction going forward, if for nothing else than another option to compete in next year’s training camp.

And of course, one can never underestimate the impact of a first-round draft pick. While it may not be in an optimal position (coming from Minnesota, you might as well just take a second-rounder), it still gives the Dream another asset to help rebuild their team going forward.

While the Dream may not have won this trade outright, they were able to get a head start on their rebuilding process by trading an aging star whose future is uncertain for a pair of decent assets and a young center who should be a part of their team for a long time.

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