Nia Coffey has been a revelation for the Los Angeles Sparks this season. To be more specific, if you ask Sparks general manager and head coach Derek Fisher, she’s been a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is still early in the season, but Coffey’s name is percolating around the WNBA. There’s a buzz brewing that Coffey could be in early consideration when it comes to All-Defensive Team and Most Improved Player award conversations. Through the first nine games—or 28.1 percent—of the regular season, she has the stats to back that up.
“I don’t think any of us anticipated how pivotal and how versatile she would be, but that was the hope,” Fisher said during a recent post-game news conference.
Across the board, Coffey is averaging career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, steals, assists, field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Coffey is currently averaging 9.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals, while playing 25.2 minutes per game. Overall, she’s shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from three, which is currently the third-highest mark from beyond the arc in the WNBA. Her impact is also highlighted by the fact that she’s averaging 1.9 blocks per game, ranking fourth across the league.
Even though the Sparks are 4-5, there’s no doubt that Coffey has been one of the best Sparks this season.
As of June 16, she’s currently 28th out of 117 players in player impact estimate(PIE) rating, which is a metric used by the WNBA to measure a player’s overall statistical impact on the game. Basically, that means Coffey is in the top 25th percentile in player efficiency, indicating that she’s been positively affecting the game for the Sparks more times than not.
The 26-year-old is well-traveled and experienced. She has played for the San Antonio Stars, Las Vegas Aces, Atlanta Dream, Phoenix Mercury, and now Los Angeles Sparks in her fifth year in the WNBA.
The 6’1” forward, who was originally signed to a training camp contract as a free agent, has made the most of her unguaranteed opportunity in 2021. Coffey, a natural wing, has played small forward, power forward and even center for the LA Sparks this season.
Before Coffey agreed to a training camp contract with the Sparks, Fisher said she told him that there was more to her game. Even though she was selected fifth overall pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft, Coffey has often been perceived as a fringe player. She wanted to change that.
“In conversation with Nia, prior to us signing her in free agency, she spoke this into existence. This is what she wanted to show us and other people, that she was capable of doing a little bit more than maybe we had seen from her in the past,” Fisher explained.
Thus far, Coffey has exceeded outside expectations.
"The Eraser" Nia Coffey with another big-time block. This time against Dolson.
— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) June 5, 2021
Despite being just 6’1”, Coffey has long considered herself a shot blocker since her college basketball days at Northwestern University. Through extended opportunities in 2021, Coffey’s stats are now backing up that mindset.
Through nine games, she has erased 17 shots on defense. That’s already her seasonal career high. Her next highest mark was 13 blocks in 28 games during the 2019 season when she played for the Atlanta Dream. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Coffey leads the league in block percentage at 7.0 percent, compared to 2.9 percent block percentage in 2019.
Block percentage is an estimate of the percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts blocked by Coffey when she is on the floor, ranking her ahead of notable shot blockers like 6’8” Liz Cambage and 6’9” Brittney Griner.
“My focus is making sure that we stay in our team defense, making sure that I’m really active in our team shell and being very vocal and making sure that I’m in help side [defense]and if I see an opportunity, just be smart about it,” Sparks forward Nia Coffey told Winsidr.
Her most notable shot blocking performance was against the Dallas Wings on June 1, when she blocked six shots in 28 minutes, setting a new career-high.
Interestingly enough, Coffey has also spent time playing small ball center for the Sparks. Coffey was successfully paired with 6’3” Bria Holmes in the frontcourt against the Indiana Fever on June 3 and against the Chicago Sky on June 5. However, it was Coffey who manned the middle against taller opponents like 6’7” Teaira McCowan on the Fever and 6’5” Stefanie Dolson on the Sky.
WHAT A BLOCK @Niacoff 🤯
— WNBA (@WNBA) June 5, 2021
Before this season, Coffey had never shot better than 38.0 percent from three since she began shooting a high volume of three-pointers in the W back in 2019. However, for the Sparks, Coffey is now third amongst league leaders in three-point percentage. Through nine games, she’s shooting 48.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“[Nia] put the work in and the hard work always pays off and you’re seeing that in her performance day in and day out,” Fisher shared. “It’s also good to see that she’s been shooting lights out from three … the rebounding, the shot blocking, the activity, the communication, all of those intangibles that don’t show up in the stat sheet, she still does those.”
Coffey’s time is now, especially with 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike sidelined as she recovers from a knee injury. Coffey has had to step up in Ogwumike’s absence. She’s pivotal yet steady.
“I take things day by day,” Coffey said. “I always ask my teammates and my coaches, whatever you need from me, I will do. I make sure that I start on defense and make sure I rebound and feel the game. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to try my best to fill that role.”
She’s shown up when her team has needed her. She’s been consistent in the starting lineup. She was impactful off the bench to begin the season. More importantly, she’s become a vocal leader on defense, which is especially important because team defense is the Sparks’ central identity.
“That’s the sign of a great player of high character and high integrity and we’re thankful to have her,” Fisher said.
Coffey may be the jolt that sets the Sparks ablaze. It is still early, but Los Angeles may just be Coffey’s long-term home in the WNBA.