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Five Reasons To Watch The Sparks Work This Season

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2016 Record:
26-8 (2nd in Western Conference; Won 2016 WNBA Finals)

Key Offseason Moves:

  • Signed Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender to contract extensions
  • Re-signed free agents Alana Beard and Essence Carson
  • Traded for Odyssey Sims
  • Lost Kristi Toliver in free agency (signed with Mystics)
  • Selected Sydney Wiese (No. 11) and Saicha Grant-Allen (No. 35) in the 2017 WNBA Draft

2016 Highlights:

Sparks’ Top WNBA Finals Plays

 

Opening Night Festivities

On Saturday, May 13, prior to their season opener against the Seattle Storm, the Sparks will raise their third championship banner to the rafters of Staples Center and distribute championship rings to the players and coaches from last year’s team. This was the first WNBA title for each of the players on the 2016 roster – most of which return for the 2017 season – but the second for coach Brian Agler, who led the Storm to the championship in 2010. Agler is the first coach in WNBA history to win titles with two different teams.

Title Defense

That game against the Storm will begin the Sparks’ first title defense since the 2003 season. Behind Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, the Sparks won their first two titles in 2001 and 2002 and are the last WNBA team to successfully defend their title. Can they do it again 15 years later?

MVP Follow Up

Nneka Ogwumike won her first WNBA Most Valuable Player award in September after having the best season of her five-year career. She finished third in scoring (19.7 ppg), third in rebounding (9.1), eighth in blocks (1.18), 13th in steals (1.27) and 22nd in assists (3.1), all while leading the league at 66.5 percent from the field – the second-highest mark of all time. She followed that up by making the championship-winning shot in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals, sinking a put-back layup with 3.1 seconds left. If that wasn’t enough, she just led Dynamo Kursk to the EuroLeague title a couple of weeks ago, besting Sparks teammate Candace Parker’s Fenerbahce squad in the championship. It’s hard to imagine how Ogwumike will top the 12-month run she just went on, but it will be fun to watch her try.

Decade of Candace

Parker is set to begin her 10th WNBA season and is showing no signs of slowing down. The two-time MVP was the only player to rank in the top 15 in points (15.3), rebounds (7.4), assists (4.9), steals (1.38) and blocks (0.97) last season. The only one of those categories in which Parker led the Sparks was assists, but her ability to do everything on the court only makes those around her better. It took Parker nine years to finally break through and win her first WNBA title. Can she do it again this year and bring the Sparks to title No. 4, which would match them with the Houston Comets for the most in WNBA history?

Backcourt Reinforcements

One key member of the 2016 squad that will not be in a Sparks uniform this season is point guard Kristi Toliver, who left in free agency to sign with the Washington Mystics. Toliver was the team’s top 3-point threat – her 42.4 percent ranked fourth in the league and her 81 treys ranked third – as she averaged 13.2 points and 3.7 assists last season. To help fill that void, the Sparks traded for Odyssey Sims from Dallas (14.0 ppg, 3.9 apg, 1.2 3pg), drafted Sydney Wiese (the Pac-12’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made) and will get Riquna Williams back from injury after she missed all of last season with an Achilles tear. Williams still holds the WNBA record for points in a single game (51) and should give the Sparks a boost to their already-outstanding offense (third-ranked 106.6 OffRtg).