Having five WNBA All Stars like Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike and Alana Beard on one team would seem to make a coach’s life easy. Just do the simplest thing and start those five All Stars then figure out the rest of the rotation later.
However, Sparks Head Coach Derek Fisher told W-Insidr figuring out the rest is not as easy as it seems. All 12 players on the 2019 Los Angeles Sparks roster have played significant minutes in at least one game at some point of this season. Fisher believes all of them have earned a shot.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing when you have that many players that deserve to play,” said Fisher, before revealing his ideal rotation is between eight to ten players.
As a way to getting the best out of the entire Sparks roster, Fisher is willing to take a deeper, more analytical look at how to best use those five All Stars. Fisher said ten games is a large enough sample size to begin incorporating advanced stats aka analytics into the team’s rotations and strategies. However, with early season injuries to Candace Parker, Alana Beard and an overseas EuroBasket commitment for Maria Vadeeva, the Sparks have not been at full strength yet this season.
“We still try to compile the information. We feel like ten games is still a decent enough sample size. . . [But] with our injuries, all ten of those games are not the same. But we do have enough information I think even with that to start to look at who we are,” Fisher explained.
“Like most teams we do pretty good in transition, scoring before the defense gets back and gets set. But we’re a team that’s more than likely be a flow, half court executing team because of the roster that we have. That’s an area where we need to continue to work at improving.”
“For individual players, [we are]starting to understand where their shots are coming from. The percentages where they shoot the best and how we can continue to try and do things offensively, to put our players in position to be successful.”
Fisher believes about five more games with Candace Parker and Alana Beard back will give the coaching staff an informed sample size, to effectively analyze the Sparks.
NNEKA IS NATURALLY EFFICIENT
“I think naturally, I’m just an efficient player,” said 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike. And she’s not wrong. Nneka boasts a career Player Efficient Rating (PER) of 25.6, which is nearly identical to Candace Parker’s career PER of 25.5.
These numbers securely ranks Ogwumike and Parker in the top ten of all time efficiency in the WNBA. Among active players, Parker and Ogwumike rank second and third behind Elena Della Donne.
“Coach does a really good job of letting us know that an open shot is the right shot and I want to be able to play in flow,” said Ogwumike after a recent practice in Los Angeles.
“I think exposure that information definitely helps as a player because there’s a lot of statistics that we’re not completely aware of when it comes to general basketball happenings, our staff is really great at getting us to understand that.”
“(The coaching staff is) not really pumping our brains with information but they give the fact of the matter when it comes to shooting from different places, the types of shots that you get and the highest percentage types of shots as well.”
The versatile, quality and depth of the roster constructed by long-time Sparks General Manager Penny Toler is a blessing for Derek Fisher. But like he said, it also creates a puzzle for the coach.
Toler has provided Fisher with several non All Star players capable of starting and seeing heavy minutes on any team in the W.
Each of those players brings a different asset to the Sparks. like defensive-minded Guard/Forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt brings tough and sound defense. Guard Riquna Williams’ can score at any time and gets hot instantly. 6’4 Big Maria Vadeeva provides an intriguing slashing element and inside presence in addition to her ability to shoot from three-point range. TRP, Williams and Vadeeva are essential players in the Sparks 40 minute rotation.
However, increasing those players’ minutes could quickly leave valuable role players looking for playing time. For example, Sydney Wiese played very well when she started for Parker. Alexis Jones has proven to be a capable backup point guard while displaying the ability to shoot the three. Rookies Marina Mabrey, who is averaging 15 minutes per game, and 6’7 Center Kalani Brown, who has been the “Baby Enforcer,” need time to develop as well.
Regardless of who is getting what amount of minutes, Fisher wants all the Sparks to stay ready for when their number is inevitably called.
“There’s going to be a three or four minute stretch one day if we’re able to earn our way into the postseason, where one of those eight, nine, ten players is going to be really important to winning a game.” Fisher said. “They can’t be sitting around between May and September watching everybody else play and then expect to get out there when it counts.”
CHINEY OGWUMIKE: MY ROLE IS ENERGY
When it comes to a player like Chiney Ogwumike, it’s about fitting in, instead of standing out on this star-studded roster.
“We’re a team full of standouts. You have Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray, Alana Beard … at some point, everyone has to find a role and my role is energy,” said WNBA All-Star Chiney Ogwumike. “It’s bringing a boost defensively, it’s bringing a boost offensively, it‘s getting that extra rebound, it’s finishing under the rim.”
“I’m trying to learn to play with everyone and what people like to do and how people like to get their spacing to get their shot off or how I can set them a screen, so offensively, I’m just trying to take whatever role is necessary, screening, rebounding, passing, until we find that flow, that rhythm, that groove,” Chiney Ogwumike explained.
“We all have different roles. This is the first time I’ve been new on a team. For me it’s been a challenge but at the same time I’ve been grateful because during the time in which we didn’t have Candace, I got to learn quickly. Learn how to play with Chelsea again, learn how to play with my sister again… I think the benefit of having so many star players on this team is that you never know whose night it is. It could be Candace’s night, Nneka’s night, Chelsea’s night, AB’s night, Riquna’s night. It could be anybody and that’s the beauty of this team.”