Size is one of the most glaring needs on the 2021 LA Sparks roster, especially with 6’3” Jasmine Walker out for the season with a torn ACL in her right knee and 6’4” Maria Vadeeva overseas and not expected to play until after the Olympic break in mid-August.
As Amanda Zahui B. enters her seventh season in the WNBA and her first season with the Sparks, her presence at 6’5” is undeniable and exactly what LA needs. Beyond her height, Zahui B. is revered for her ability to stretch the floor, shoot an above-average percentage from the three, and protect her teammates defensively with her length, tenacity, and shot-blocking ability.
However, Amanda’s voice and positivity are even more important, on and off the court.
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) May 29, 2021
Some people are born with it. Some people aren’t. One thing is for sure, Amanda Zahui B. is an innate leader.
“That’s all natural. I think that’s one of my best qualities on the court but also as a human… making sure that everyone stays up and is having fun,” said Los Angeles Sparks center Zahui B. “If we communicate and we talk, we build trust. So even if you mess up, you know that someone else has got your back. And that’s what it’s all about.”
“Amanda’s communication is off the charts,” said Sparks general manager/head coach Derek Fisher. In fact, Zahui B. almost lost her voice because she was so vocal on the court against the Chicago Sky on Friday, May 28.
But she’s more than a basketball player. She’s a human being.
“Everybody had a challenging year in 2020. She’s pushed through a lot mentally and physically to get herself to this point where she’s on the court with a new team and a new group,” Fisher said.
With her new squad, Zahui B. has emerged as an emotional pacemaker. Zahui B. has an uncanny ability to inspire and lift others up. This trait was on full display when she stood up for her teammate Bria Holmes after a morning shootaround on Tuesday, June 1.
“I didn’t know she was shooting [10 percent] and you definitely don’t feel it because she brings the energy and she does all the other small things. Sometimes, you might not be scoring all the points but you’re doing all the things that don’t show up on paper,” Zahui B. said. “That’s why Bria is so important on this team. She’s doing all the small things that don’t show up on the stats, so we appreciate her for that. The shots are going to fall, then it’s over for the rest of the people.”
The Three-Point Shooter
In 24.3 minutes per game, Zahui B. is averaging 11.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. She’s also shooting 63.6 percent from the field.
Perhaps most notably, in a small sample size with the Sparks, Zahui B. has emerged as a consistent three-point threat. In her first three games of the season, she’s gone 6-of-12 from three, shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.
But Zahui B.’s ability to spread the floor is not just about outside shooting.
“Amanda’s ability to stretch the floor, I think that gives our perimeter players more space to get into the lane and make some things happen which I think for Brittney Sykes, Erica Wheeler, Te’a Cooper, there were more driving lanes available when you have players like Amanda that can stretch the floor offensively,” said Fisher.
Fisher’s assessment is spot on.
Zahui B. opens up the lane so guards like Toliver, Wheeler, Sykes, and Cooper have room to penetrate and probe the lane. Zahui B.’s ability to stretch the floor also gives Nneka Ogwumike room to work inside.
For a defense to be successful, five players must be in sync. In particular, perimeter players need to hear what’s going on around them and behind them to have even the slightest chance to be effective in a pick and roll centric league.
“The defensive end always has to anchor you,” said Fisher. “A lot of defense is about trust and connection.”
“[Guards] don’t have eyes in the back of their head and that’s where Amanda and those bigs come into play,” Fisher noted.
Zahui B. missed the first two games of the 2021 season with a back injury but made a prompt impact defensively once she was able to get on the floor. By sharing what she’s seeing on the court in real time, it is apparent that Zahui B.’s communication has improved the team’s perimeter defense.
“The energy was great. Everyone came off the bench with a lot of energy and we just played together,” Zahui B. remarked. “It was so much fun, I had so much fun out there.”
On the offensive end of the floor, Zahui B. is also adept at setting screens with the sole intention of getting her teammates open, which is yet another trait rooted in selfless leadership.
“We’re going to build on the shot selection and really staying together on defense,” said Zahui B. “It’s going to be a beautiful journey together.”
Zahui B. has made a promise to herself and her teammates. She’s going to give energy. She’s going to give effort. Whether she’s starting or coming off the bench, she’s going to give her all to the LA Sparks.