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2020 WNBA Team Preview: Los Angeles Sparks

The 2020 WNBA season is set to be the most unique in the league’s 24-year history. Teams have arrived at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL to begin training camp for a 22-game season with all games played at a single site without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bubble is ready and the season is set to tip off on Saturday, July 25. In the lead up to the season, WNBA.com will break down each team in the league, continuing with the Los Angeles Sparks.

2019 Season Recap

  • 22-12, 1st in West, 3rd in League
  • Eliminated in playoff semifinals by Connecticut (3-0)

Off-Season Moves

  • Draft: No. 20 Beatrice Mompreimer, who has been waived; No. 22 Leonie Fiebich, who will not play in the WNBA this season; No. 34 Tynice Martin, who has been waived
  • Trades: Acquired Kristine Anigwe and a 2021 third round pick from Dallas and sent back the 2021 second round pick LA received from Dallas in exchange for Marina Mabrey in a previous transaction; Acquired Brittney Sykes and Marie Gülich from Atlanta in exchange for Kalani Brown
  • Players Added: Signed Kristi Toliver, Seimone Augustus, Reshanda Gray and Te’a Cooper as free agents
BRADENTON – JULY 13: Te’a Cooper #4 of the Los Angeles Sparks smiles during practice on July 13, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
  • Players Lost: Alana Beard retired; Alexis Jones waived; Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver and Maria Vadeeva have opted out of the 2020 WNBA season
  • Returning Players: Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, Riquna Williams still under Te’aOcontract; Re-signed Chelsea Gray, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Sydney Wiese; Exercised Team Option for Maria Vadeeva

Who’s at IMG Academy

Between free agency, trades, the draft and players choosing not to participate in the season due to health concerns, the teams that take the court in 2020 may look a lot different than they did in 2019. Here’s a look at some of the key players that will represent the Sparks in 2020.

Candace Parker

  • 2019 Stats: 22 GP, 26.0 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 42.2 FG%, 26.7 3P%
  • Parker missed a dozen games last season due to injury and averaged career lows nearly across the board, with her scoring average (11.2 PPG) well below her career average of 17.0. The two-time league MVP must be healthy for the Sparks to stay in championship contention.

Nneka Ogwumike

  • 2019 Stats: 32 GP, 27.9 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG. 51.0 FG%, 33.8 3P%
  • Ogwumike earned All-WNBA Second Team honors in 2019 as she ranked ninth in the league in scoring, fourth in rebounding and fifth in steals. She followed that up with another strong effort as president of the player’s association and the new collective bargaining agreement with the league.

Chelsea Gray

  • 2019 Stats: 34 GP, 32.6 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 41.6 FG%, 38.2 3P%
  • Gray earned her first All-WNBA First Team honor in 2019 as she ranked second in the league in assists and tied for 13th in scoring. The Point Gawd strikes a great balance of setting up her teammates and calling her own shot – particularly in clutch situations.

Seimone Augustus

  • 2019 Stats (Lynx): 12 GP, 13.0 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.4 SPG, 31.3 FG%, 16.7 3P%
  • Seeing Seimone Augustus in anything other than a Lynx jersey is going to take some getting used to. The 14-year veteran is the 11th leading scorer in WNBA history (5,881 points) and while 2019 was a difficult year due to injury, a healthy Augustus adds depth and championship experience to the roster.
BRADENTON – JULY 13: Seimone Augustus #33 of the Los Angeles Sparks handles the ball during practice on July 13, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Riquna Williams

  • 2019 Stats: 23 GP, 25.8 MPG, 12.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.3 3PM, 38.4 FG%, 39.1 3P%
  • Williams had her most productive season since joining the Sparks in 2017 as she finished third on the team in scoring and second in the league in 3-pointers made per game (2.3) and eighth in 3-point percentage(39.1%).

Brittney Sykes

  • 2019 Stats (Dream): 34 GP, 25.9 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.6 SPG, 36.5 FG%, 25.9 3P%
  • Sykes joins the Sparks after spending the first three seasons of her career with the Atlanta Dream. She brings athleticism and a defensive mindset that should help the Sparks fill the void left by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard, who retired after the 2019 season.

Three Questions

1. Will L.A.’s experienced core carry them in the shortened season?

While many teams across the WNBA are adding significant new pieces to their roster, the core of the Sparks squad is essentially intact from a season ago, led by the trio of Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Gray. This will also be the second season under head coach Derek Fisher as he now as a full season of WNBA experience under his belt heading into 2020. Developing chemistry quickly is important, particularly in a shortened season, and the Sparks may have a leg up on the competition with so many returning pieces.

2. Can the Sparks overcome the absences of Chiney Ogwumike and Toliver?

There are two key members of the Sparks that have elected not to play in 2020 – Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver. Ogwumike reunited with her older sister Nneka in 2019 when she joined the Sparks after spending the first five years of her career in Connecticut. After missing two full seasons due to injuries (knee and Achilles), Ogwumike and Sparks decided to err on the side of caution with the compacted schedule.

Toliver signed as a free agent to return to the Sparks after spending the past three seasons in Washington, where she helped the Mystics win their first WNBA title in 2019. She was set to return to L.A. – where she helped the Sparks win the 2016 title – but that reunion will have to wait until 2021. The Sparks are still loaded with talent, but the fact is they will not have a pair of All-Stars on their roster this year. While that does open the door for others to step up, it could hurt their overall depth.

3. Will depth become an issue if the injury bug hits?

Health is paramount for all teams that hope to contend for the championship in any season. That importance is heightened in such a unique season as 2020 will be with only a 22-game schedule to earn a playoff berth and position.

Both Parker and Augustus missed double-digit games last season due to injury – a repeat of that could be devastating to L.A.’s championship aspirations. How ready are young players such as Kristine Anigwe, Marie Gülich, Reshanda Gray and Te’a Cooper to play major minutes if needed? One or more of those less-established players may need to have a breakout season for the Sparks to compete for the title this season.