James Wade has his backup point guard.
The Sky selected Australian guard Shyla Heal with the eighth overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, fulfilling a pledge by Wade to address the team’s backcourt depth with their first selection.
"We studied point guards that went above her, we studied point guards that went behind her, and she was the one that we thought best fit our needs," the Sky's head coach and general manager told reporters after the draft. "The fact that she can space the floor, the fact that she's really good in pick-and-rolls and the fact that she's tough."
Heal averaged 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Townsville Fire en route to Player of the Year honors in the Australian WNBL -- leading her team to a spot in the Grand Final -- last season. She canned 31 percent of her 3-point attempts and shot 85.5 percent from the free-throw line. All while acclimating to more on-ball responsibilities after playing a more complementary role the year prior.
"I think my game translates to the WNBA so well," Heal told reporters after the draft. "I really focus on my ball-handling skills, creating space, step-backs, getting my shot off quick, and I love like -- the WNBA is sort of like one-on-one breaking it down, and that's really how I like to play."
Especially intriguing in Heal's profile, according to Wade, was her experience playing professionally, which she's done since age 14.
Now 19 years old, Heal is one of the youngest players in the 2020 class, but has gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Liz Cambage and Leilani Mitchell in the WNBL -- and not only held her own, but excelled.
"She had a 30-piece on the eventual (WNBL) champions (Southside Flyers) with Leilani Mitchell and Liz Cambage in the semifinals... And they had to focus on her a little bit more," Wade said. "You talk about WNBA players with a great roster committing to stop a 19-year-old, and I thought if you command that much attention it's telling. It means something about who you are. And she handled it well.
"We just liked what we saw. And once we talked to her, she just blew us off the charts."
Heal is a tireless worker, committed enough to hire personal training and speed coaches on her own dime, Wade said -- habits that belied her age. Her father, Shane Heal, was a multi-year pro in Australia that spent two short stints in the NBA with the Timberwolves and Spurs.
As for Heal's fit in the Sky's rotation, Wade said he envisions bringing her into the mix right away. Though the Sky’s first units are helmed by reigning first-team All WNBA selection -- and veritable Point God -- Courtney Vandersloot, a whopping plus-26.7 net rating differential between Vandersloot playing and resting always pointed to the need for another ball handler behind her.
The hope is Heal can be that in the near-term while developing under the tutelage of Vandersloot. Wade called her bouncy, mature and a "perfect understudy."
"Back when I started talking to Chicago, (I) watched some tape on the team and Courtney," Heal said. "She's such a smart player, and I just can't wait to learn from her, pick her brain about being a point guard and obviously getting better each day."
Pick No. 16 overall: Natasha Mack, F, Oklahoma State
Stats: 19.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.0 blocks per game
Mack, who won Naismith and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, boasts tremendous size (6-foot-4), rim-protection prowess (as the NCAA's leading shot-blocker) and upside. Wade said the Sky had her ranked higher than 16 on their board and that he was "surprised" to see her fall.
"Hustling up and down the floor and rebounding, that's something I've always been good at since I was in third grade," Mack told reporters after the draft. "Even before I had the ball in my hands, I've always been good at that."
And she has quite the story. As ESPN’s Holly Rowe alluded to on the draft’s television broadcast, Mack at one point stepped back from basketball and took a job at a poultry plant in her hometown of Lufkin, Texas.
“Cutting 90 chickens per minute is not where it’s at, and now I’m back to doing what I love to do,” Mack told Rowe.
Now, she’s on a mission.
“I need to prove that I should have been in the first round,” Mack said. “It’s as simple as that. And that’s what I’m here to do.”
Wade’s Scouting Report: "Athletic, rangy. Fits the mold of the players that we have. Has a defensive mindset, runs really well and moves really well. So she's somebody that focuses on a need as far as defense and protecting the paint."
The Sky ranked eighth in the W in defensive rating and 10th in opponent paint-points per game in 2020.