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Diamond DeShields’ WNBA Sky-High Potential

ByMyles Ehrlich|@MylesEhrlich| January 18, 2021
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Diamond DeShields, despite just three years as a pro, is a WNBA household name. Her game epitomizes everything that makes basketball fun: game-breaking athleticism, high energy playmaking, and an unfiltered love for the sport. She perfectly complements the Chicago Sky’s fast-paced style of play. 

There’s no ceiling to Diamond’s confidence. On the court, she’s always jawing, in her element when on the largest stage. Her look is both unique and effortlessly cool: the custom Oakley goggles, the high bun poking out over her headband, the powder-blue shooting sleeve. 

She’s blazing her own path, accelerating aspirations with each completed goal. Where does Diamond find her inspiration? “It’s almost like you should say Michael Jordan as a basketball player or LeBron,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But for me, it wasn’t that, because the thing I’m trying to do hasn’t been done before.”

In this piece, we’ll break down all things Diamond DeShields: her famously athletic family; the multi-college and overseas experiences that boosted her to the third overall pick back in 2018; the growth that saw her make an All-Star game and be named second-team All-WNBA in just her second year in the W.

And we’ll talk about the frustrating injury that first limited, then prematurely ended her most recent campaign. Before we get into all that, though, we’ve got to roll back the tape, back to the very beginning.

Diamond’s basketball evolution

Diamond Danae-Aziza DeShields was born on March 5, 1995, in West Palm Beach, Florida, to a pair of extremely athletic people. Her mother, Tisha, was an All-American track and field athlete while at Tennessee, specializing in the heptathlon, a grueling contest that holistically challenges competitors across sport’s seven disciplines.

Her father, Delino, played 13 seasons of major league baseball, his game predicated on his blazing speed. He totaled eight seasons with at least 37 steals, setting a career high with 56 in 1991. Her father also led the league in triples in ‘97, legging out 14 triple-baggers.

“I was a spring training kid,” Diamond said, “born on March 5th down in Florida where my dad was playing at the time.”

When Diamond was still a kid, her parents got divorced, and she believes that baseball contributed to their split. “He wasn’t around. It’s easy to lose focus [during] those long baseball seasons,” she told The Undefeated. Playing baseball every day, your mind can’t necessarily be on your wife and kids at home. I understand that now as an athlete trying to compete at a high level.”

She has three younger siblings: D’Angelo, Denim, and Delaney. She’s closest, though, with her older brother, Delino Jr., who followed their father’s career path all the way to the big leagues, recently completing his sixth pro season. As kids, he and Diamond were athletic dynamite. “They are twins,” Tisha told the Dallas News back in 2018, “just born two-and-a-half years apart.”

“We have the same personality,” Delino Jr. said. “We’re both laid back, but driven. We are confident in what we do.”

Diamond takes all her brother’s advice to heart. “I’ve always heeded everything my brother says, but we both encourage each other. When he doesn’t feel good about something, he calls me and we support each other through it. Same thing for me. For us, it’s a collective thing. We commit to things as a unit.”

Diamond in high school

Diamond spent her childhood in Georgia, attending Norcross High School. She’s just one of the school’s notable alumni: her close friend and former classmate, Alvin Kamara, is a current member of the New Orleans Saints and among the NFL’s best running backs.

While at Norcross, she won three state championships – the only three in the school’s history. In her final high school game, Diamond and the 28-5 Norcross Blue Devils handled the 30-2 North Gwinnett Bulldogs and their star, current WNBA guard Lexie Brown.

As a senior, Diamond was named MaxPreps’ 2013 National Girls Basketball Player of the Year, putting up an outstanding stat line: 26 points per game (PPG), 7 rebounds per game (RPG), 3.8 assists per game (APG), and 4.5 steals per game (SPG).

Again, it was Diamond’s agility that set her apart. “You could tell what a great athlete she was,” Norcross coach Angie Hembree said. “She was already in another league. Diamond could have played any sport and been an All-American.”

Diamond earned a five-star rating with a 98 scouts’ grade, positioning her as the third highest ranked prospect that year. Her ESPN player evaluations glowed with praise:

  • “Her athleticism and ability to make plays that others simply can’t was at times jaw-dropping” (Moore, May ‘12)
  • “Downright explosive and at times unstoppable” (Hansen, April ‘12)
  • “Diamond DeShields can be as good as she wants to be — period” (Nike Regional Skills Academy, ‘09).

She narrowed down her college choices to five: the UConn Huskies, the Maryland Terrapins, the Duke Blue Devils, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers (her mother’s alma mater). Growing up, she’d always planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps and go to Tennessee. But legendary coach Pat Summitt’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis at the time of her collegiate commitment altered her decision. Ultimately, Diamond chose North Carolina.

Diamond DeShields college basketball

On the court, Diamond DeShields had a terrific freshman season. She led the team in both scoring, at 18.0 PPG, and steals, with 1.7 SPG. Her 5.4 RPG and 2.6 APG were fourth and third on the Tar Heels, respectively. UNC finished the season ranked #7 in the national poll, with Diamond having set the ACC record for the most points by a freshman (648) and the future looked bright.

But Diamond was not happy in Chapel Hill. Following the season, she put in for a transfer to Tennessee. Lots of rumors circulated as to why Diamond decided to make the move, but she has chosen (several times over) not to speak further on it. 

After sitting out for a season under the NCAA’s transfer rules, Diamond played two seasons at Tennessee, clearing the 1K scoring mark by 18 points. During her first year eligible, Tennessee (22-14) made a deep tournament run, despite being named a 7 seed, knocking out (10) Green Bay, (2) Arizona State, and (3) Ohio State before falling to (4) Syracuse in the Elite Eight.

In that loss, Diamond led the Lady Vols and 20-point, 10-rebound triple-double. Overall, Diamond averaged 14.3 PPG and 5.2 RPG in her second collegiate season, but upped those numbers significantly in her final season prior to going pro. 

In that 2016-2017 season, Diamond ranked in the top 85 percent in the following select categories, according to Her Hoop Stats:

  • 17.4 PPG (98%)
  • 6.1 field goals made on 14.5 field goal attempts (both 97%)
  • 4.2 free throws made on 5.3 free throw attempts (both 98%)
  • 6.4 RPG (89%)
  • 3.8 APG (94%)
  • 1.4 SPG (86%)
  • 1.0 BPG (92%)
  • and 29.3% usage percentage (97%).

This time around, Tennessee (19-11) secured a 5 seed, notching their 36th consecutive March Madness appearance. Though, they won just one game, topping (12) Dayton before failing to beat a favored (4) Louisville team. Diamond struggled in the 75-64 loss, scoring 15 points on just 3/12 shooting, while hauling in just three boards and dishing out a single assist.

That loss would complete Diamond’s collegiate career. Having already completed her degree, Diamond opted to forego her final year of eligibility. Several factors, like the disappointing finish and another offseason of injury rehab, helped put the amateur game into perspective.

“You’re playing professional college basketball,” Diamond told ESPN’s Katie Barnes. “You’re working out every day, playing in games, and you’re not getting paid.” Her belated decision to leave school came after that year’s WNBA Draft deadline, so Diamond headed to Europe. She spent a year playing for Cukorova, a Turkish team, putting together a solid 16.0 PPG and 5.8 RPG.

Diamond DeShields’ WNBA Draft

When, a year later, Diamond was again draft-eligible, teams had tape of her game as a professional. Still, though, the volatile college experience brought questions to GMs across the W. “There’s an uncertainty about her,” opined ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo. “There’s a little bit of ‘exactly what are we getting from Diamond DeShields?’”

“Skill is a broad term that we often use just to identify talent on the court,” Amber Stocks, who was the coach and GM of the Sky at the time, told The New York Times. “But competitive character, managing through the mental and emotional grind of a season, is a skill that special players are able to do it at a different level.”

Diamond didn’t have to wait long for her name to be called. Just two players went before her: A’ja Wilson (to the Las Vegas Aces) and Kelsey Mitchell (to the Indiana Fever). The Chicago Sky closed out the second half of the four-team lottery with a pair of picks, owning both their own and the Atlanta Dream’s selections.

The Sky took Diamond first, then UConn’s Gabby Williams. A pair of her former Tennessee teammates, Jamie Nared (to the Aces) and Mercedes Russell (to the New York Liberty), were drafted in the second-round.

Soon after, Delino Sr. called his daughter. “He said welcome to the club. I guess he meant the club of first-rounders in our family,” Diamond said, joining her father and brother as top-round selections. “He had kind of been joking with me about it, but I have the bragging rights since I was the highest pick out of the three of us. So I’m happy about that.”

Diamond DeShields’ WNBA jump

One of her father’s adages shines through in Diamond’s play on the court. “Do things your way, and don’t let nobody punk you.” Her combination of energy, enthusiasm, and athleticism stand out, even among other world-class basketball players. She quickly acclimated to WNBA play, immediately cementing herself in the starting lineup, where she started all but one game as a rookie. Chicago finished in 10th place, with a 13-21 record, but would soon find success.

As a sophomore, Diamond took a leap, en route to being named an All-Star. She would also put on a show at that year’s Skills Competition.

Buoyed in part by Diamond’s development, the Sky climbed to the fifth spot in the standings with a strong 20-14 record. The season, unfortunately, ended against The Hamby Heave, but it was still a huge success.

Ahead of the 2020 wubble, many expected Diamond to take that hop-step from star to superstar. In fact, there is a particular episode of James Kay and Chris Pennant’s Skyhook podcast, where Maggie Hendricks jumped on and talked about Diamond’s anticipated ascension.

Unfortunately, Diamond had been nursing another leg injury, this time to her knee. And began the season coming off the bench, her minutes limited. She would play just 13 games before suffering a quad injury, and rehabbing the leg would force her to vacate the bubble prematurely.

Diamond DeShields’ WNBA stats

As a rookie, Diamond quickly became a fan-favorite. Both for her on-court play and her gear, which resembles that of a top-tiered NBA2K MyPlayer, with all unlockables toggled on. Her unique on-court accessories are not just cosmetic. Diamond wears her distinctive eyewear because she suffers from a condition called keratoconus, which distorted her vision for years.

For a long time, Diamond’s aggressiveness and confidence were affected, as she struggled to see on the court. Specialty contacts helped remedy the problem, but she needed to protect the lenses. Enter the stylish protective goggles. 

“Some people think my glasses are a fashion statement. Some people say I look like a superhero,” she said, in an interview with UChicago Medicine. “I’ve gotten feedback from a lot of young girls, young athletes, who say, ‘You make wearing glasses look cool.’”

Fully equipped, she led the team in attempts and makes from both inside the arc and at the free throw line, and finished second on the team in scoring (14.4 PPG) and rebounding (4.9 RPG). Diamond completed the year’s final three games on a tear, converting 33/48 shots – or 66.8 percent of her looks – including 6/7 threes, while scoring 28, 24, and 27 points. That campaign culminated with Diamond’s recognition on the 2018 All-Rookie Team.

Diamond carried that momentum into her second season, setting career highs across the board and putting the league on notice as the Sky morphed into contenders. Her 16.2 PPG put her eighth in the W, and she set career highs in most counting stat averages: rebounds (5.5 RPG), assists (2.4 APG), steals (1.3), and blocks (0.4). 

As the 2019 season progressed, so did Diamond’s net rating, improving with each calendar page-turn. A major reason for this? The uptick in pace, which we’ll dive into deeper shortly.

Diamond DeShields 2019 Ratings, Courtesy of WNBA Advanced Stats
Diamond DeShields 2019 Ratings, Courtesy of WNBA Advanced Stats

All that improvement set the 2020 expectations Sky-high for both her and Chicago. Unfortunately, in the injury-plagued campaign, Diamond did not look like the same player at all. The knee injury sapped her agility, limiting her on both sides of the court.

The most points she scored in a game was just 14 points – below her scoring averages from either of her first two years. She finished with just 6.9 PPG, and saw her minutes plummet to just over 17 per game, after leading the team the year before with north of 30 minutes on the hardwood each contest.

Diamond DeShields WNBA box and whiskers point chart
Diamond DeShields Box and Whiskers Point Chart Courtesy of Across the Timeline

Diamond DeShields’ highlight videos

1. Highlights from high school

Let’s start by rolling back the tape to high school, before Diamond had fully accessorized.

2. Diamond’s rookie season highlights

Next up, this strong highlight reel from Becky Anil, which takes you through the best plays of Diamond’s rookie season. 

3. Diamond’s win over Connecticut

On September 6, 2019, Diamond went off for a career-high against Connecticut in a thrilling back-and-forth 109-104 win that needed overtime to be decided. Check it out here.

4. Diamond’s playoff game

And, finally, Chicago’s first playoff game. which you can find more detail on over at TBW:

“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 Brittney 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.”

Watch it here.

Diamond DeShields’ go-to moves

1. Running

This is as simple as it sounds. Very few players in the W can match Diamond’s top-end acceleration. Her ability to fill the lane is also an underrated skill (and brings me back to my favorite three-on-two drills in practice).

Watch Diamond take off in this clip. When Allie Quigley pokes the ball free from the New York Liberty’s Amanda Zahui B, Diamond is the furthest from the attacking hoop. However, her instincts kick in immediately, and she’s planted her foot by the time Allie dribbles for the first time. In a foot race, she beats everyone else down court in transition, receiving the pass for the open layup.

2. Jab-and-go

One of Diamond’s favorite plays is the quick twitch-fake – not even a full jab step or a ball fake – before exploding past a closeout. She’s got the first step to lose defenders at the perimeter, but will often come up against large defenders inside. Even this season, she brought the full toy chest to the playground. 

3. Converting off the curl

Diamond loves to shoot from the midrange. An essential part to this is squaring up to the basket, which she manages to do while in midair. It’s poetry in motion. During the 2019 season, she scored 1.22 PPP when curling to the right, ranking in the 83rd percentile in the league.

4. Shooting the three in rhythm

While Diamond shoots from long range too often, that’s a byproduct of Coach James Wade’s offensive-friendly system. In 2020, she was assisted on every three she made; in 2019, more than 85 percent of her makes came off a pass. The number her rookie year was north of 80 percent, as well. Despite her high volume, Diamond’s not often taking bad attempts from beyond the arc.

Diamond DeShields’ WNBA strengths

If you’re going to be a star in the WNBA, you’ve got to have a versatile game. Diamond’s got a wide array of skills to help her hold her own on the court.

1. The transition game

Of course we’re going to start here. Diamond is a nightmare for defenses in the open court. She’s the perfect weapon for Courtney Vandersloot, one of the best passers the WNBA has ever seen. Even while hobbled in 2020, Diamond put up 1.2 points per possession (PPP) in transition, which put her in the 82nd percentile (18th in the league). 

In 2019, Diamond totaled a league-most 159 points in transition, one of just six WNBA players to clear the century mark and 24 points ahead of the Minnesota Lynx’s Odyssey Sims, who finished in second place. Among qualifiers that took the court for more than 10 games, Diamond’s 100.8 pace was 12th (seven of the 11 ahead of her were teammates on the run-happy Sky). She scored 3.5 points off turnovers, sixth in the W.

“Two years ago, she led the league in transition points,” Coach Wade told the Chicago Sun-Times. “If we’re a better defensive team, she’s going to be in transition a lot. So she can be a trigger for that, being our leader defensively and…not only holding herself accountable but holding her teammates accountable. And she can do that if she’s our best defensive player on the floor.”

2. Shooting off screen actions

In 2019, only 25 players averaged more than 1.0 PPP off screen actions: it’s a very difficult skill. Diamond was one of them, though those shots accounted for just 6.2 percent of her total attempts (sharpshooting teammate Allie Quigley paced the W with 31.6 percent). Although Diamond was just average when going to her left, she scored 22 points on 18 possessions when going right, posting a 1.2 mark that ranked seventh.

3. Acrobatic finishes

This brings us back to Diamond’s sheer athleticism. She does a great job contorting her body to create optimum angles. This makes her especially dangerous in the open court. As an example, watch her drive the length of the court for this buzzer-beating bank shot to end a half.

4. Usage

Chicago asks a lot of Diamond DeShields offensively. According to Across the Timeline, Diamond’s 26.1 usage rate in 2019 put in the 97th percentile all-time in Chicago Sky history, the eighth best franchise mark ever. In the WNBA, that rate landed her at 13th overall.

That season, she played 1,027 minutes, one of only four Sky players to top 700 (Vandersloot, 991; Quigley, 972; Stefanie Dolson; 850). Only 16 players in the league crossed the 1K minute threshold. Additionally, Diamond and Allie were the only players on the team to attempt at least 300 shots (DeShields, 481; Quigley, 347). Her efficiency suffered from this usage somewhat, but we’ll break that down more below.

5. Absorbing contact

When Diamond gets going, she’s like a bowling bowl tumbling towards a set of pins. Her high-speed attack and ability to change direction often left defenses with no choice but to foul her to prevent easy hoops. In 2019, Diamond took the seventh-most freebies in the league, and the only guard ahead of her on the list was Dallas Wings’ guard Arike Ogunbowale.

6. Defensive energy

When locked in, Diamond is a pest on defense. She finished third on the team in steals as a rookie, second as a sophomore, and fifth in her limited minutes this past year. (Her steals adjusted for minutes, though, ranked just behind Syd Colson for the team lead.)

Diamond has posted a better defensive rating than the team’s average in each of her three seasons. She sometimes gets caught gambling in the passing lane, but her quick feet and solid size at the wing allow her to take chances many others cannot.

Diamond DeShields’ WNBA opportunities

1. Efficiency

Check out this table breaking down Diamond’s shooting percentages with numbers pulled from WNBA’s Advanced Stats. In breaking down tape of Diamond on the offensive end, one thing is immediately clear: if she’s settling outside the paint, it’s a win for the defense. 

Diamond DeShields WNBA Career Shooting (8 Foot Increments)
Diamond DeShields Career Shooting (8 Foot Increments), Courtesy of WNBA Advanced Stats

2. Three-point shooting

Diamond has the constant green light, but is just a career 31.2 percent shooter from long range. (For context, in 2020, that mark would have tied the 11th place Connecticut Sun, and only the New York Liberty [27.7 percent] were worse.)

In 2019, among the 10 players that attempted at least 150 threes, only DeWanna Bonner shot a lower percentage. Allie Quigley converted the highest percentage among those, posting a 44.2 percent clip, nearly 15 percentage points better than Diamond.

3. Finishing left

We talked a lot about Diamond’s athletic finishes above. She’s got a quick first step and loves to drive left, especially after the ball swings to her in the corner. Her agility obscures the fact that she often hesitates to finish with her left hand. While double-clutch reverse finishes are pretty, the extra hangtime is sometimes required because Diamond is forgoing a much easier lefty look. Here’s just one example of flashy over fundamental, where Brittney Griner has time to recover and help after Diamond passes up the open left-handed layup.

What’s next for Diamond DeShields?

Diamond has aspirations to represent the United States as part of Team USA at the Olympics. She started all six games in the AmeriCup, averaging 9.8 PPG, 3.3 APG, and a steal on her way to all-star honors. She also joined the college tour that infamously dropped a game to Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, and the Oregon Ducks. 

Her endorsement profile is growing, with deals already in place with Oakley and Nike. “Working with Oakley is a full-circle moment,” Diamond told Essence. “At my brother’s baseball tournaments, Oakley always had stands and we used to buy glasses there all the time. It really brings me back to those summer days at the ballpark.” We’re still awaiting a WNBA sneaker for this generation of athletes, though more and more have been signed to shoe deals in recent years.

Diamond DeShields WNBA salary cap
Chicago Sky Salary Cap, Courtesy of Her Hoop Stats

Year four is a make-or-break year for the Chicago Sky. Nearly the entire roster will see their contracts expire after the 2021 season. And the window is closing on players Allie Quigley (turns 35 in June) and Courtney Vandersloot (turns 32 in February). 

For Sky fans – such as Chicago Sky superfan @TheSkyShowCHI who provides invaluable Diamond DeShields insights – the hope is that Diamond will continue to be one of the Windy City’s young stars for the foreseeable future. 

Up next, check out the greatest Chicago Sky players of all time. Or create your own top Sky team.

Don’t let WNBA analysis about your favorite players go untold. Would you be willing to send a $5 tip to our Venmo tip jar because it helps support our reporting? @megsterr.

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Keep up with Diamond DeShields

1. Diamond DeShields’ Twitter: Diamond’s always sharing her thoughts on Twitter, not one to censor her thoughts. She’s vocal in her activism, and she constantly hypes up her WNBA family.

2. Diamond DeShields’ Instagram: Lots of great basketball workout pics and videos over on IG, but the highlight, for us, is last year’s Wakanda-themed Halloween costume.

3. Diamond DeShields’ Tik Tok: She’s also on Tik Tok! This Wubble video with Gabby Williams ft. Allie Quigley is perfect, as was most of what the Sky did on social back down in Bradenton.

4. Diamond DeShields’ Website: Diamond has a site of her own, though it looks to be under construction. There’s a shop button that isn’t yet active. Hopefully we get some merchandise designed by the young star soon. We’d find anything she puts out to be a wardrobe upgrade for us.

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