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2018 Season Preview: Five Reasons To Watch The Los Angeles Sparks Work

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2017 Record: 26-8, No. 2 seed in Playoffs, Lost to Lynx in WNBA Finals

Key Offseason Moves

  • Re-signed Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims
  • Signed free agents Cappie Pondexter, Ana Dabovic, Karlie Samuelson, Jolene Anderson and Mistie Bass
  • Added Maria Vadeeva and Shakayla Thomas in the 2018 WNBA Draft

2017 Season Highlights

1. Another Championship Run

The Sparks are coming off back-to-back years of going 26-8 in the regular season, earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs behind Minnesota and then meeting Minnesota in the WNBA Finals. The teams have split championships in pulse-pounding five-game classic series, with the Sparks winning their third title in 2016, but unable to defend it as the Lynx won their fourth title in 2017.

All signs point to the Sparks (and Lynx) being in title contention once again this season. L.A. returns its core – they re-signed Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims during the offseason – with the rest of the key players still under contract.

2. The MVP Frontline

The Sparks are loaded with talent, but it all starts with the frontcourt duo of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. The duo has three WNBA MVP awards between them – Parker in 2008 and 2013, Ogwumike in 2016 – and have developed an incredible chemistry since Ogwumike joined the team in 2012. Watching them work high-low post action is a thing of beauty as it exemplifies each of their skill sets and basketball IQs.

Parker has the versatility to play anywhere from guard to center and works incredibly well out of the high post. She can face the basket and either shoot, drive past her defender or find an open teammate. As the video above showed, most often that open teammate is Ogwumike cutting to the basket or sealing her defender in the post, catching the high-low entry pass and finishing around the rim.

3. Growth From Gray/Sims Backcourt

While the Sparks are a more veteran team – a third of their team has at least 10 years of WNBA experience – they have young legs in the backcourt with point guard Chelsea Gray and shooting guard Sims, who is set to enter her second season with the Sparks. After a strong showing in the team’s 2016 title run as a backup, Gray took over the starting role following the departure of Kristi Toliver. Gray responded with an incredible third pro season, posting career-highs in all categories: 14.8 points, 4.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 50.7 FG% and 48.2 3P%. She ranked 6th in assists and led the WNBA in 3-point percentage.

In her first season in L.A., Sims averaged 9.6 points in 24.3 minutes during the regular season. But once the playoffs arrived, her court time and production both saw a major leap as she averaged 15.9 points in 34.8 minutes per game. What do Sims and Gray have in store for 2018 as they continue to grow and expand their games?

4. Vadeeva Could Be Steal of the Draft

Thanks to finishing with the second-best record during the 2017 season, the Sparks had the second-to-last pick in the first round of the WNBA Draft. While most of the names at the top of everybody’s draft boards had already been selected by that point, there was a highly-touted international prospect that was still there for the taking. Maria Vadeeva joins the Sparks as a 19-year-old, who has played professionally in Europe for the past four years. The 6-foot-4 center plays for Dynamo Kursk alongside Ogwumike, Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince and Dream forward Angel McCoughtry, and brings a combination of size and skill that would make her a top-five pick in most drafts.

While some questions have lingered regarding her overseas commitments, the Sparks were in the perfect position to take the risk and bring Vadeeva to the WNBA. The Sparks have been to two straight Finals without her so if she’s with the team and able to contribute right away, she can improve an already great frontline and potentially be the steal of the draft.

5. Cappie Adds More Championship Experience

In a case of the rich getting richer, the Sparks were able to land veteran guard Cappie Pondexter in free agency. Pondexter is a 12-year WNBA veteran, who ranks 11th in WNBA history in scoring average (17.1 points per game) and has championship experience on her resume (titles in 2007 and 2009; 2007 Finals MVP). Not only can Cappie help mentor the Sparks’ young backcourt, she can provide instant offense when needed, presumably in a bench role. She has started all three of L.A.’s preseason games, averaging 13.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 25.7 minutes.