The injury comes as a major blow to the Chicago Sky’s otherwise positive regular season
Lavender sustained the injury in the third quarter against the Las Vegas Aces on Aug 9, coming off the court for the remainder of the game.
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The veteran center has been instrumental to the Sky’s success, both on the court and in the locker room. Lavender is averaging 10 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and has started in every game but the season opener. She has also been widely cited by head coach James Wade and her teammates as a significant force in reshaping the Sky’s culture this year.
“Jantel’s leadership and spirit will stay with us as she gets through this injury and as we get through it as a team,” Wade said. “The responsibility Jantel takes and her on-the-floor leadership—it’s a big blow to us. We are sad, but it gives her teammates the opportunity to step up in her absence. We will get through it.”
As far as who will step up, the answer is not clear cut.
Wade will likely look to veteran post Stefanie Dolson to help fill the offensive gap left by Lavender’s injury. Dolson, who is averaging 25 minutes per game, will likely see her playtime bumped up a bit. The former All-Star’s passing and ability to stretch the floor has been a key factor in unlocking Wadeball’s potential, but she is too often hindered by foul trouble.
Regardless, Dolson alone cannot fill in Lavender’s 27 minutes every night.
Astou Ndour, who missed much of the season due to overseas commitments, and Cheyenne Parker, who has had both dominant and lackluster performances throughout the season, are the most obvious choices moving forward.
Ndour started in Lavender’s place against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, scoring seven points to go along with seven boards in the loss. In terms of skill set, Ndour is the closest player on Chicago’s roster to Lavender in terms of her playstyle. But the 6-foot-5 center has only played 10 or more minutes in a game five times this season, and missed most of June to play in EuroBasket, where she was named tournament MVP and led Spain to a championship.
Parker has made significant contributions off the bench this year with her athleticism, defense and ability to crash the boards. But she has been inconsistent in her production—she averaged 9.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in just 20 minutes of playtime in June, but then careened down to four points and four rebounds per game in July. Her August performances thus far have been a return to form, but she will need to sustain that output if the Sky hope to somewhat replace Lavender’s contributions.
Wade also has options in Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson. Williams, however, has spent much of her time at point guard this year, and is undersized as a four in the WNBA. Samuelson, the fourth pick in the draft this year, has not played much at all this season, and is still unproven as a viable rotation big.
Without a clear replacement for Lavender’s impact, Wade will need to tweak how Chicago can be productive. And he will not have much time to figure out how—the Sky host the Sparks and Aces this weekend, and then travel to Georgia to face the Dream on Tuesday.
With eight of their final ten games coming against likely playoff teams, there is no room for Chicago to sputter. While the Sky have a solid buffer to stay in the playoffs—the ninth-seeded Indiana Fever are five wins back from Chicago with only nine games left—the margins for a first round bye are razor thin.
This season’s Sky team has so far differentiated itself from its two most recent predecessors with its grit and ability to bounce back, but losing Lavender will be their biggest test yet.
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