2021 WNBA Draft: Sky select Shyla Heal with the eighth overall pickon April 16, 2021 at 1:17 am

The Sky selected Shyla Heal with the eighth overall pick in the WNBA Draft, shocking many in the process.

But Sky coach James Wade thinks Heal was a steal.

“She’s a true point guard that we’ve been looking at for a long time,” Wade said. “She didn’t have the eyes on her like the [players in the] NCAA tournament, but she did a lot of damage playing in Australia.”

Heal, a 19-year-old guard from Australia, is one of the youngest players in this year’s draft class but plays like an experienced veteran. It’s a quality Wade credits to the fact she’s been playing professional basketball since she was 16.

The Sky’s new guard had an impressive WNBL season last year with the Townsville Fire leading the team to the grand final against Liz Cambage’s Southside Flyers. She averaged 16.7 points per game, 3.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds. Her assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.3, in line with top point guards in this draft class, Aari McDonald and Dana Evans.

Wade said he knows the WNBA is a big jump, but because of Heal’s experience, he’s confident she’ll quickly find her stride.

“She’s a professional,” Wade said. “She acts like a 25-year-old or 26-year-old. Normally players in the league come in and don’t get it right away; they have to see. She’s been doing it since she was 16.”

She’s a player that can space the floor, is great at the pick and roll game and can match the Sky’s fast-paced style of play. She shot 31% from the three-point range last season but most impressive, Wade said, is her basketball IQ.

She’s coming into an ideal situation with Courtney Vandersloot as her mentor. Because both are thinking point guards, Wade believes she’s the best player to learn from Vandersloot.

Ultimately, Heal will be tasked with running the Sky’s second unit. Most importantly, she needs to maintain Vandersloot’s productivity. The Sky’s offensive rating was 110.6 with Vandersloot on the court last season and fell to 81.6 with her on the bench.

Heal’s father, Shane, played for the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 1996/97 season, but he’s better known for his decorated career with the Australian National Team and the NBL. He famously went head-to-head with Charles Barkley during warmups at the Olympic games in 1996.

Heal carries that same toughness her father played with.

“If you watch her games in Australia, she plays with a chip on her shoulder,” Wade said.

Coming off a disappointing 2020 season that saw the Sky leaving the bubble after a first-round loss to the Sun, Wade stressed the importance of improving on defense. The Sky’s 102.7 defensive rating last year was sixth in the league. They upgraded that end of the court when they signed the reigning defensive player of the year, WNBA Champion and two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker.

With one season separating Wade and several players on his roster becoming unrestricted free agents in 2022, the Sky need to capitalize on the roster they have now in pursuit of the franchise’s first WNBA Championship. Heal can help them do that.

Early in the night, a league source told the Sun-Times the Sky weighed several trade options that included Gabby Williams. Ultimately, they ended up keeping their eighth overall pick.

Still, Williams committed to play for the French National Team Thursday morning and will not be with the Sky to start the 2021 season. It’s unclear how that will impact her season with the Sky. The team will know more before training camp begins at the end of April.

Northwestern guard, Lindsey Pulliam was listed going to the Sky with the 16th overall pick on multiple mock drafts. Ultimately, Chicago selected forward Natasha Mack out of Oklahoma State. Pulliam was taken 27th overall by the Atlanta Dream.

With limited cap space, Wade said it’s going to be an interesting training camp.

“They’re going to come in and battle,” Wade said.

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