The preseason is a pivotal time for coaches and players to develop chemistry, get accustomed to each individual’s playing style, and hone the team’s play action.
For a team like the Los Angeles Sparks, this time is especially crucial, as they have undergone several changes during the offseason. Leading up to the 2023 campaign, the Sparks welcomed new head coach Curt Miller and several new additions to their roster, including Dearica Hamby, Jasmine Thomas, and Azurá Stevens.
The Sparks had two matchups this preseason and ended up with a split record, winning one game and losing the other.
They first took on Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury in Arizona and came out with a win, 90-71.
Next was a closed scrimmage against the Seattle Storm on the campus of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where they lost 76-69.
Based on what I saw during the two preseason games, here are some takeaways to give a glimpse into the Sparks’ preseason development and how their roster is shaping up.
The Sparks are a formidable defense to face in the half-court, especially when they trap the guards out on the wing. The help rotations were always there, leading to a lot of steals. In the Sparks’ matchup against Phoenix, their defensive pressure turned into seven steals. They swiped even more from the Storm, finishing with 11.
They also thrive when they get a lot of buckets in transition. They had 18 fast-break points in their win against Phoenix but only four points in their loss against Seattle.
What Still Needs To Catch Fire
Defensive rebounding seems to be an area that, even according to coach Miller, needs improvement. In the Sparks’ loss against Seattle, they were outrebounded defensively, nabbing only 20 rebounds in comparison to the Storm’s 32 defensive boards.
Overall, the preseason matchups were just a glimpse at what the Sparks could possibly accomplish coming into the regular season.
Who Are the 2023 Sparks?
Now that the team has made some cuts and is down to 11 players after waiving Reshanda Gray, Crystal Bradford and Rae Burrell, let’s take a look at the personnel picture.
In addition to the players named above, the Sparks also waived two out of their three rookies, Monika Czinano and Yang Liwei. Czinano was drafted with the 26th overall pick, and Liwei came from the Chinese national team.
Considering her strong performance in the NCAA tournament, Czinano’s cut came as a surprise to a lot of women’s college basketball fans.The forward averaged 17.0 points per game (PPG) and 6.0 rebounds per game (RPG) in her senior season and had 13 points in the national championship loss against South Carolina.
During the Sparks’ preseason matchups, Czinano scored six points against the Mercury and had nine points against the Storm.
Liwei was also cut from the roster after very efficient performances in both preseason games. The combo guard averaged 6.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 2.0 assists per game (APG) in 16.0 minutes per game (MPG), per the Los Angeles Sparks. Overall, in those two games, Liwei was 3-of-4 from the three-point line and 4-of-7 from the field, a solid contribution given her playing time.
With all that said about the respectable performances from Liwei and Czinano, injuries do shift the narrative and lineups coming into the regular season, and that is certainly the case for the Sparks with Jasmine Thomas recovering from an ACL tear, Azurá Stevens out with a back injury, and Katie Lou Samuelson out due to pregnancy.
In a recent press conference, according to ESPN’s Terrika Foster-Brasby, coach Miller stressed that he wants Thomas to be at her best physically and mentally before she returns.
I asked Curt Miller about the timetable for Jasmine Thomas' return and his response: patience.
Miller stressed they want Jaz to be at her best physically AND mentally (ACL injury is the first major injury of her career), and how impt. her veteran presence will be for the team.
— Terrika 💙💛 (@SheKnowsSports) May 17, 2023
Adding Thomas brings in a familiar face for Miller as he was the head coach for the Connecticut Sun during most of her tenure there.
Once she returns to play, her veteran presence along with her defensive ability and scoring prowess will bolster the Sparks.
Speaking of returning to play, forward Dearica Hamby came back into the lineup earlier than expected, playing in the Sparks’ preseason matchup against the Storm at almost three months postpartum.
Dearica Hamby just checked into the game. The first time matchup she’s played in since having her child. 👀
Halfway through the 1st quarter. pic.twitter.com/YACGUGSR11
— Imanni Wright (@ImanniWright) May 15, 2023
In Hamby’s preseason debut, she scored three points and led the team in rebounds with six.
Adding Hamby to the lineup gives the Sparks length and an even stronger defensive presence. During the season, having Hamby on the floor with Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike will give the Sparks options in the post and for driving lanes. Her presence on the court will also allow the Sparks to stretch the floor and run a five-out offense, but the keys to doing that successfully are keeping the floor balanced and having continuous movement.
The Sparks just yesterday also picked up Nia Clouden after she was waived by the Connecticut Sun. Clouden is a combo guard who was drafted by the Sun in 2022 and played under coach Miller before he left for Los Angeles.
The team also just signed Karlie Samuelson to a hardship contract after initially waiving her on May 16. The guard led the team in scoring in their preseason matchup against the Storm with 11 points and also contributed two rebounds, and two steals.
Overall, the Sparks are a team to look out for, especially once all of their pieces are healthy. With their season tipping off today, it’s time to see if the Sparks can use the talent they have on their roster and the lessons they learned in the preseason to turn themselves into a blaze.
Statistics Courtesy of ESPN and Los Angeles Sparks PR.