By Brady Klopfer
There’s never been more talent in the WNBA than there is now. To say the league is stacked is an understatement.
And as the league becomes more replete with talent, the margin for error grows slimmer and slimmer. The Los Angeles Sparks know this better than anyone else. The team stumbled into the All-Star break, with Nneka Ogwumike missing the last three games, and Alana Beard the last four. As talented as the Sparks may be, they looked supremely vulnerable with two of their starters out. The days of the league’s elite being able to lose top players and maintain their standing are emphatically gone.
Candace Parker conceded as much. After Thursday’s thoroughly dominant 79-57 victory against the Minnesota Lynx – a game in which the Sparks were fully healthy for the first time all year – Parker admitted that nothing beats health. “We didn’t cry when they were out, ‘cause coach [Brian] Agler wouldn’t let us do it,” Sparker noted. “But we need them. It’s a different dynamic.”
Even Agler, never one to justify a slump, is cognizant of how competitive the current landscape is, and how injuries impact the team. At Tuesday’s traveling practice, he was honest about what it means to be without players of Ogwumike and Beard’s stature. “I have to hate to admit this,” Agler said, “Because I don’t like to make excuses. I’ve sort of looked around the league, and this year is really competitive. A lot of teams are getting better. Gone are the days where you can miss one or two starters and still win games in this league. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
And it showed. With Ogwumike and Beard back on the court, everything clicked for a team that entered the season as title contenders. They flew around the court defensively, holding a strong Lynx team to a season low in points. Offensively, the ball fluttered around the court poetically, with the team racking up 22 assists against just nine turnovers. It was not only a dominant performance, but a beautiful one; a symphony of well-played basketball.
It’s abundantly clear that you cannot win in the WNBA without good health; not anymore, at least. And if health is on the Sparks’ side, then the rest of the league better be prepared.