Chennedy Carter’s Return to the Starting Five Is Years in the Making

The Sky guard has elevated to a new level under coach Teresa Weatherspoon.
Carter has emerged as a key piece of the Sky's lineup under new coach Teresa Weatherspoon.
Carter has emerged as a key piece of the Sky's lineup under new coach Teresa Weatherspoon. / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The last time Chennedy Carter had started a WNBA game—749 days before Sunday’s loss to the Indiana Fever—she scored 20 points and had nearly worn out her welcome. Within five weeks, the Los Angeles Sparks benched Carter—former NCAA All-American, former No. 4 pick and youngest player in WNBA history with a 30-point game. Her accolades soon became footnotes.

She played for Bursa, a Turkish women’s professional basketball team, in early 2023 and averaged 23.9 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds, but it didn’t matter. The Sparks waived her that March. Carter watched the league from afar, hinting at what would come. “I think there will definitely be a different Hollywood for sure,” Carter told Andscape last summer, referencing her nickname. “Everyone will just have to wait and see. I’m ready to go.”

After waiting, the league has seen. Carter signed a training camp contract and accepted a role providing the 2024 Chicago Sky team with juice off the bench, an apparent shift after playing time complaints reportedly led to a locker room dispute and a split from the Atlanta Dream in ’21. She has fashioned her opportunity into an early Sixth Woman of the Year campaign, leading Chicago to a +13.2 offensive rating when she is on the court compared to when she is off it, the second largest positive difference for any bench player prior to Sunday. Outside observers may only know Carter for her flagrant foul on Caitlin Clark, which dominated the news cycle, but Carter has harnessed her fire with dogged drives to the rim and increased tenacity on the defensive end.

While Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon had been intentional about Carter helming the second unit, circumstances changed. Carter’s play landed her a spot in the starting five on Sunday, her first start since May 2022. She scored 18 points in 28 minutes, showing Hollywood hasn’t gone anywhere. Before the season, Carter boasted “nobody can stay in front of” her. Her game speaks for itself.

A few witnesses to date: Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell, who Carter bolted past for a layup; Sparks forward Cameron Brink, who Carter flew by for a finger roll at the basket; New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot (twice, in separate games), who Carter blew by before scoring on two floaters; Washington Mystics guard Rachel Banham (twice, in the same game), who Carter took one-on-one and drove past to the hoop for two layups.

Carter is averaging 13.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Sky this season.
Carter is averaging 13.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Sky this season. / Jacob Musselman/ For IndyStar / USA

Her speed has been lethal. Carter has scored a league-best 9.7 fast-break points per 100 possessions. She has also averaged 1.2 points per possession on cuts to the basket and scored on 50% of her handoff possessions, second-best in the WNBA according to Synergy Sports. For all of Carter’s efforts, though, the Sky haven’t found their footing yet in the post-Kahleah Copper era.

Chicago has dropped six of seven games since the start of June behind the second-worst effective field goal percentage (43.8%) in that stretch. The Sky’s backcourt duo of Dana Evans and Diamond DeShields has the lowest offensive rating (87.4) of any guard tandem in the WNBA. (Hence the pivot to Carter and Lindsay Allen on Sunday.) 

Chicago’s defense has been a mixed bag. Rookies Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso have had to grow on the fly after veteran center Elizabeth Williams suffered a torn meniscus. The results have been varied, as the Sky are allowing 13 more points per 100 shot attempts in the restricted area with both on the floor. But here too Carter has been a plus: Her effort on defense is palpable, and she is averaging a career-high 1.9 steals per 40 minutes.

Growth takes time. When she was seven, Carter practiced dribbling tennis balls in the grass until her handle improved. It became the foundation she built her game upon. (Catch her crossover against Connecticut Sun guard Veronica Burton last week?) The Sky will learn with more experience too. In the meantime, whether off the bench or in the starting lineup, Carter has proved she’s ready to go. 

Published |Modified
Dan Falkenheim