Traditionally speaking, the Los Angeles Sparks have become a fixture of excellence in the WNBA. However, the squad missed the playoffs for just the fifth time in the league’s history last season. Although the Sparks only missed the playoffs by a single game, their downfall was partially due to the absences of Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike. Now that the former All-Stars will be available for an entire season, expect the Ogwumike sisters to propel the Sparks back to the playoffs.
During the 2021 season, both Ogwumike sisters struggled with their health. Due to a knee injury, Chiney Ogwumike started in just three games out of the mere seven matchups she participated in last season. Throughout Chiney’s absence, her older sister, Nneka, shouldered the majority of scoring obligations for the Sparks, leading the team by scoring an average of 14.5 ppg. However, the Sparks were also without Nneka for a significant portion of the season as she was dealing with knee issues of her own.
One season prior in 2020, Chiney elected to step away from playing basketball as the global pandemic forced the WNBA to squeeze into the “Wubble” and finish the season. Chiney had concerns for her safety, like many other Americans around the country, and ultimately decided to opt out of playing.
Despite a recent lack of full-schedule basketball and spending more time exploring media ventures outside of hooping, Chiney is still as committed as ever to continuing to play basketball for the Sparks. In February, Chiney re-signed with the Sparks on a multi-year deal, locking her in with her sister.
“People see me doing other things, but this is my heart and soul,” Chiney Ogwumike said of playing basketball. “Especially playing with my sister and sisters [on the team]. The hardest thing was being patient and trusting in the process, as cliché as that sounds,” she said to ESPN.
Although the Sparks were faced with injuries during the 2021 season, they managed to only miss the playoffs by a single game, losing to the Dallas Wings with Chiney out of action. During the elimination game, the Wings were able to outscore the Sparks by a narrow three-point deficit, with a final score of 84-87. With Chiney out of the game, the Sparks relied on Te’a Cooper. The second-year guard posted a team-high 24 points, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to stop the dangerous guard play of Arike Ogunbowale.
Ogunbowale was red hot from the floor, going 7-of-11 and scoring 20 points. She never let her foot off of the gas, playing a team-high 36 minutes in total. Her ability to shoot from the outside opened up her penetration game to the lane. Thus, she was able to space the floor to find teammates who knocked down routine shots.
It is safe to say that the presence of both Ogwumike sisters on the floor at the same time was heavily missed in the game against the Wings. With their ability to switch defensively on pick-and-rolls and protect the paint, perhaps together they could have even turned the tide of the game.
Nneka and Chiney are not only vital for scoring but also for the overall way that the Sparks roster is designed. Both Ogwumike sisters can easily score in the paint, but they also have a knack for finding open shooters to sink easy shots.
For that very reason, the Sparks drafted former Rutgers sharpshooter Arella Guirantes with the 22nd pick of the 2021 draft. Although the young shooter struggled to gain meaningful minutes in the nascent stages of her career, her shooting displays at Rutgers—where she shot 37.8 percent from three-point land during her final season—speak for themselves. Guirantes’ collegiate performances are a huge indicator of what she’s capable of on the professional level as long as she can contribute on the defensive end of the ball.
Now that the Ogwumike sisters will be back on the court together for an entire WNBA season, the LA Sparks should have enough firepower to return to playoff form. The team, led by head coach Derek Fisher, focuses on a suffocating defense that held units to just 77.1 ppg last season, good enough for second best in the entire league. The Sparks’ established and formidable defense paired with more consistent offensive contributions from the Ogwumike sisters will likely lead LA to reclaim its place in the postseason.
Nneka Ogwumike has shown no signs of slowing down her offensive production as far as shooting percentages are concerned. Since her 2016 MVP season, during which she shot 66.5 percent from the floor, Nneka has maintained shooting around 56.0 percent. Not only is she an extremely efficient scorer, but she’s also a defensive anchor and leader who can rally a team throughout an entire game.
Combining their career metrics, the Ogwumike sisters average 28.7 ppg, 1.5 bpg and 14.4 rpg. It’s safe to say that when Chiney and Nneka are both healthy and available, the Sparks are an entirely different team.
Additionally, LA’s roster boasts a crop of promising young talent in Arella Guirantes, Jasmine Walker and Lauren Cox. These players boost the Sparks’ grit and defensive prowess. Equally as important, these up-and-coming players buy into the system and identity that coach Fisher is trying to build.
With the return of both sisters, the Sparks will have an outstanding blend of young talent and established veterans. Plus, the Ogwumikes are determined to not only win a WNBA championship but to win one together.
“I want to win a WNBA championship with my sister, and I want to keep pushing boundaries off the court. I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that works with me to change the game on and off the court,” said Chiney in a statement reported by the LA Times.
With Nneka continuously raising the bar of elite play within the league, expect the rest of the Sparks to follow suit with the energy, defense, rebounding, and scoring efficiency needed to grant them a playoff berth in 2022. Furthermore, the return of Chiney should give the Sparks the one-two punch necessary to win critical games next season in a tough Western Conference. As long as the young players on the roster earn crucial minutes and show vital improvements in their shooting, expect the LA Sparks to make the playoffs next season.