By Nicholas LeTourneau
The Los Angeles Sparks have been one of the top teams in the WNBA for a while and this year is no different. They are currently 12-7, just two games behind Phoenix and Seattle for first place in the Western Conference largely in part to their impressive offense. According to Synergy (which uses points per possession), the Sparks have the fourth-best offense in the league, averaging 0.952 PPP. This level of production is thanks to some great coaching from Brian Agler, but also the incredible play from Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike.
Parker and Ogwumike are probably the single most skilled 4-5 combo in the WNBA and are a matchup nightmare for any defense. Individually they are very impressive in their own right. Parker averages almost 17 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.7 blocks per game, while Ogwumike is good for 16 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game through 16 games. They are both towards the top in the league as far as points per possession go. Parker is in the top 25 with 1.019 PPP and Ogwumike is in the top 10 with 1.132 PPP.
Parker ranks above average in almost every major scoring category when compared to the rest of the WNBA. A little over 43.1 percent of her production comes from a combination of spot ups, post ups, and as the roller in pick-and-roll sets. Parker is one of the most skilled bigs in the WNBA with a great looking jumper that helps her score at all three levels.
While she is very good at those shot types, there are three things she does practically better than anyone else in the league — scoring off screens, offensive rebound put backs and scoring as the pick-and-roll ball handler. These three looks combine for about 17 percent of her total output but when she goes to them, she is practically automatic.
After watching just a couple of minutes of Parker footage, you see that she truly is something special. She is one of the few true “point centers” in all of basketball, regardless of gender. She handles the ball like LeBron James when bringing it up the court. She always has her head up, is always looking for where she can fire the ball to a teammate, and is more than capable of calling her own number whenever she sees an opening.
Ogwumike, on the other hand, is a super efficient scorer and gets it done in a completely different way than Parker. Over 51 percent of Ogwumike’s offensive production comes from scoring as the pick-and-roll roller, spotting up, and posting up but what she does best is score off of cuts, running the floor in transition, offensive rebounds and in isolation.
Unlike Parker, who uses every tool you can think of to score, Ogwumike is almost a throwback post player. She isn’t a floor stretching big as you can pretty much count all of her made three-pointers this season on one hand, but she is very good at knowing where to be on the floor in order to get the ball to score. She is very talented but also benefits from Los Angeles’ floor spacing, movement and other weapons that stretch defenses thin. A lot of her looks come after several passes that have moved the defense out of position and out of a well-timed cut or screen that creates an open look in scoring position.
Los Angeles is almost overflowing with positives as they go into the halfway point of the season. They are a well balanced team, play defense (I didn’t touch on it here but they have the third-best half-court defense in the league), are well coached thanks to Agler and have a killer combo in Parker and Ogwumike. That is going to make the Sparks tough to beat come playoff time.