Diamond DeShields is defending the strong-side corner when the Chicago Sky force a turnover. By the time Courtney Vandersloot hits her with a lead pass, she’s at half court, a step beyond Phoenix Mercury center Britney Griner, retreating from her high post position.
There’s no contest as DeShields finishes the reverse.
She’s three minutes into her first playoff game, a dominant 105-76 single-elimination win over Phoenix in which DeShields would blitz the Mercury again and again with her unmatched athleticism. A close halftime score balloons into a blowout as she scores ten in the third.
Before a shot is rebounded, she’s a powder-blue blur, streaking past the perimeter players and into the open court. Late in the game, she swallows a board herself, then weaving through defenders like a running back on a screen pass, she drives left, finishing left for a punctuating and-one that caps her game-high 25 point performance.
The Chicago Sky’s 2019 season, though culminating in a heartbreaking loss to the Hamby Heave, was a huge success. The team improved by seven games, climbing from 13-21 to 20-14 behind first-year general manager and head coach (and Coach of the Year), James Wade.
Chicago’s run-and-gun offense led the WNBA in pace at 99.50, and their offensive rating fell short of only the champion Washington Mystics. Three players were named to the All-Star team: four-time assists leader Vandersloot; all-time 3-point percentage leader Allie Quigley; and DeShields, the flashy sophomore guard.
Growing Up and Showing Out
Diamond is no stranger to the spotlight, coming from a family of professional athletes. Her mother, Tisha was an All-American athlete at Tennessee; Her father, Delino Sr., was a 13-year major leaguer; and her brother, Delino Jr., recently completed his fifth MLB season with the Texas Rangers.
Her confidence radiated off the page when asked about her inspirations in a pre-season article from the Chicago Sun-Times: “It’s almost like you should say Michael Jordan as a basketball player or LeBron,” DeShields said. “But for me, it wasn’t that, because the thing I’m trying to do hasn’t been done before.”
She’s a ball of energy, always talking, impossibly cool and confident in her unique goggles, high bun, headband and her one-arm shooting sleeve. Her personality—on display in the concise quote-tweets and observations that pepper her social media—shined beneath the lights of All-Star weekend and, specifically, the Skills Competition.
There, she topped Minnesota Lynx guard Odyssey Sims, Atlanta Dream forward Elizabeth Williams, and Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones to claim the trophy:
In her second season out of Tennessee, DeShields came into 2019 looking to build on the 14.4/4.9/2.2 line she put up during her first year. Chicago put more of a scoring load on her shoulders, and she answered, improving her output to 16.2/5.5/2.4.
Those 16.2 points per game placed her eighth in the W.
Pushing the Pace
DeShields improved significantly from month to month.
May’s one-game scoreless sample was the outlier, but it would also prove to be one of only four games in which she did not score in double figures. While her defensive rating fluctuated, DeShields’ overall net also increased as the season went on.
Though a small two-game sample, her playoff offensive/defensive/net ratings split proved equally impressive: 106.6/97.3/9.3.
What’s the reason for this progressive improvement? Well, it all starts with her athleticism.
Diamond DeShields 2019 Ratings, courtesy of WNBA.com
Each month, DeShields saw an uptick in pace, ranging from 95.28 in May to 103.44 during September. Her 100.84 pace was the fastest for a player with at least a dozen starts. She ranked sixth in points off turnovers, scoring 3.5 points a game, capitalizing on her ability to leak out on misses and turnovers.
DeShields topped the Sky in usage percentage (25.1), 13th league-wide, and her aggressiveness got her to the line over four times a game. She was top-ten in free throw makes and attempts, shooting a remarkably consistent 117/140 for the second straight year, good for 83.6 percent.
We're gunna tell our kids that this was The Flash. ⛹️♀️💨 pic.twitter.com/BWfotaX8ZN
— Chicago Sky (@wnbachicagosky) November 22, 2019
Her attacking style is predicated on her ambidextrous finishing at the rim.
Among guards, DeShields tied for second in points in the paint at 6.1 alongside Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes and the Dallas Sky’s Arike Ogunbowale, (albeit behind Minnesota’s Sims’ 7.4 paint points per game).
If there’s a large area for improvement on the offensive end, it’s in her shooting.
While DeShields converted 57.6 percent of her shots within five feet, she only made 31.8 percent of her shots from everywhere else, including 31.6 percent from deep. With the exception of the left corner, she profiled as a below-average 3-point shooter from sideline to sideline in 2019.
A good sign there is that she’s a catch-and-shoot player from long-range and assisted on 94 percent of her makes. She rarely forces a shot from the perimeter that is not within the flow of the offense, a testament to her basketball IQ and placement within Coach Wade’s system.
Courtesy of wnba.com
Defensively, she posted the second-best win shares on the team behind Stef Dolson. She ranked second on the team in steals, though there are times she relies too heavily on her athleticism. Anticipation of passing lanes or run-outs will catch her out of position.
For a team that finds its success in the frenetic up-and-down controlled chaos, though, she’s a gamebreaker.
This season saw her top Chicago in minutes played, despite her seemingly boundless energy during every moment on the court. She was named to the All-WNBA Second Team, an accolade that will likely make her hungrier for more success. For the Sky to continue their ascension, Diamond DeShields must continue her improve, and I’m not one to bet against her.
She’ll crack that infectious smile when the final whistle blows and she’s hoisting a trophy.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.