Did your phone start buzzing with Twitter alerts while you were watching Avengers: Endgame on Saturday afternoon, too? Okay, maybe that was just me.
The Los Angeles Sparks have acquired Connecticut All-Star and ESPN analyst Chiney Ogwumike for a 2020 first-round pick, sources say. Chiney reunites with her sister, Nneka, the 2016 WNBA MVP.
(However, @Chiney321’s no-trade clause with ESPN remains).
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 27, 2019
Now that the Woj bomb announcing Chiney Ogwumike’s trade to Los Angeles has been made official and the dust has settled, let’s take a closer look at this trade and what it means for the Sparks, the Sun and Chiney.
1. Sister Reunion
The most obvious headline is that this trade not only bolsters L.A.’s frontline, but that it reunites Chiney with her older sister, Nneka, for the first time as professional players. They played two seasons together at Stanford – making the Final Four both years – before Nneka graduated and became the No. 1 pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft. Two years later, it was Chiney’s turn to graduate and enter the WNBA and little sister followed in big sister’s footsteps by going No. 1, but could not have been further away from Nneka, geographically, as she headed to Connecticut.
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) April 29, 2019
After five seasons in Connecticut – including two lost years due to injuries to her knee (2015) and Achilles (2017) – Chiney is making the cross-country move back to California to reunite with Nneka and the Sparks. Being teammates will end the sister showdowns between the two, with Nneka holding with a 5-2 edge in head-to-head competition with Chiney. Nneka won the first five meetings between the two, before Chiney finally broke through last season. The Sun swept the season series with the Sparks, with Chiney and Nneka facing off twice.
2. A Fantastic Frontline
Aside from the family reunion, this is also a great on-court addition for the Sparks. Chiney offers more length, athleticism and skill to their already talented frontline that features two-time MVP Candace Parker and 2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike. Chiney is a super-efficient post scorer (she finished last season third in shooting percentage at 60.3%) and is a relentless rebounder, something the Sparks desperately need.
Last season, the Sparks finished last in offensive rebound percentage (21.3%) and tied for last in total rebound percentage (47.2%). Enter Chiney Ogwumike, who last season finished second in offensive rebound percentage (12.3%) and third in total rebound percentage (17.2%), among players that played in at least 1,000 possessions.
Her rebounding prowess will help Chiney make an impact from day one. And already having an on-court chemistry with Nneka should only speed up her integration into the Sparks lineup. Plus, playing the Ogwumike sisters alongside Parker would move the versatile Parker out to the perimeter more where she can fully utilize her playmaking skills.
And don’t forget about Kalani Brown, L.A.’s 6-foot-7 first round draft pick that just won a national title at Baylor and veteran Jantel Lavender. The Sparks are loaded with front-court players, but with the versatility of the individual players, their talents should not clash but rather complement one another.
3. A Great Commute
Chiney Ogwumike is not only a full-time WNBA player; she is also a full-time basketball analyst for ESPN. The move to Los Angeles will seemingly help her balance those two responsibilities with ESPN Los Angeles located just across the street from the Staples Center. That’s a bit closer than the 65-mile trek between Mohegan Sun Arena and ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
I’ve got some news: thrilled to announce that I’ve accepted a full-time position as an NBA analyst for @espn while still playing in the @WNBA! So blessed to work for a company that supports the rising generation of sports fans, women and diverse voices. pic.twitter.com/GiOPcKWZfU
— Chiney Ogwumike (@Chiney321) May 1, 2018
As mentioned earlier, Chiney missed two full years of her young basketball career as she rehabilitated from devastating injuries. In addition to the work she put in to get back on the court (and return to All-Star form last year), Chiney also put in the work to establish her voice as an analyst of the game off the court.
WNBA players made plenty of headlines over the past year as they established themselves in different facets of the game during the offseason, such as Candace Parker as an analyst on NBA TV and TNT, Sue Bird working in the Denver Nuggets’ front office and Kristi Toliver being hired as assistant coach with the Washington Wizards. Chiney’s dual role with the WNBA and ESPN is a perfect example of finding the balance between on and off court pursuits and positioning oneself strongly for a career after basketball.
4. The Cambage Question
It has been widely reported that Wings center Liz Cambage has asked for a trade from Dallas to Los Angeles. So when word came down that the Sparks acquired an All-Star center, the first thought was not Chiney Ogwumike, but that may the Sparks and Wings had come to a deal for Cambage.
Does the acquisition of Chiney essentially end the possibility of Cambage heading to Los Angeles? That remains to be seen, but the Sparks did give up their 2020 first round pick in the deal for Chiney, which would have been a good chip to have when trading for last year’s runner-up for MVP.
5. Clear Cut Roles In Connecticut
For those watching the NBA Playoffs, the Boston Celtics have won their first five games and have looked like the contender many thought they would be all season long. And they are doing so without the services of Marcus Smart, who is out with a torn oblique. Are the Celtics better without Marcus Smart? Of course not. But his absence has shortened the rotation and helped cement the roles of his teammates that are filling in for him.
There is an argument to be made that something similar could happen in New England with Connecticut following Chiney Ogwumike’s departure. When Ogwumike missed the 2017 season recovering from her Achilles tear, Jonquel Jones had a monster year filling in for her, setting the single-season rebound record (which has since been topped), and earning Most Improved Player honors. When Chiney returned, Jones returned to a reserve role, and while she still had a strong season (she won Sixth Woman of the Year), it was not the same as the year prior.
Even with Ogwumike’s departure, the Sun still have a deep frontline with Jones, Alyssa Thomas, Morgan Tuck and this year’s first-round draft pick Kristine Anigwe, who just led all Division I players in rebounding during her senior season at Cal. They will need to replace Ogwumike’s efficient scoring – a team-best 14.4 points on 60.3% shooting – as well as her 7.3 rebounds per game (second on Connecticut to Alyssa Thomas).
In return for Ogwumike, the Sun received L.A.’s 2020 first round pick, which should fall in the second half of the first round, considering the Sparks will enter the season among the title contenders. L.A. has not had a first round selection higher than No. 7 since taking Nneka Ogwumike No. 1 overall in 2012.
While the addition of Chiney Ogwumike to the Sparks will be apparent over the next few months, it will likely take longer to see the full impact of this trade for the Sun. If they are able to use that pick to find a young player or use it in future deals to land another veteran, it may lessen the impact of losing an All-Star like Chiney.