Sixteen days ago, the L.A. Sparks were 3-13 and in last place in the Western Conference. They are 4-1 since and now hold the No. 4 seed in the playoff race.
The key to the turnaround is no secret: Adding a two-time MVP (Candace Parker) and a four-time All-Star (Alana Beard) back into the mix paid immediate dividends.
On Tuesday, L.A. proved it was ready to take the next step even sooner than expected, blowing out the West-leading Lynx on ESPN 2. The Sparks now boast a starting lineup of five current or former All-Stars, led by a championship head coach in Brian Agler.
Here are three stats that show just how dramatic their improvement has been — and which should bode well for their future as a contender.
43-29 Combined opponents’ record during four-game winning streak
What makes the Sparks’ second-half start all the more impressive is that they hardly had time to get settled. Instead, they were thrown right into the fire with two matchups with the West’s best team in Minnesota and a visit to Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky.
Yet in the span of five days, L.A. handed Chicago its second home loss of the season, eked out a win in San Antonio and dominated the Lynx in the Sparks’ first home game in nearly two weeks. They blew out Tulsa on Thursday to move to 2.5 games back of the No. 3 seed.
33.0 Candace Parker’s Player Efficiency Rating through four games
The Sparks are now loaded with talent, and having Alana Beard back at (or at least near) full strength is a huge plus on both ends of the floor. But things in L.A. always revolve around Parker, who has hit the ground running after resting during the first half of the season.
She has shown no signs of rust and, in fact, has returned better than ever. Parker is not only scoring and rebounding (17.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG) at her usual levels, but she’s also facilitating (5.8 assists per game) more than ever before and has been ultra-efficient in doing so.
Her 33.0 PER is well above her top-notch career mark of 26.4; her career high 30.5 PER came in 2013.
51.8% The Sparks’ league-leading field goal percentage since the All-Star break
|Sparks Flying: L.A.’s 2015 Statistics|
|Record||PPG (Rank)||FG% (Rank)||AST (Rank)||TO (Rank)|
|Pre All-Star (16 games)||3-13||70.1 (11th)||42.5% (5th)||17.0 (4th)||13.8 (6th)|
|Post All-Star (4 games)||4-1||82.2 (2nd)||51.8% (1st)||21.8 (1st)||12.2 (4th)|
Again, considering the firepower now at Agler’s disposal, it’s no surprise that L.A.’s offense is humming. These past four games have offered a glimpse of their potential as one of the WNBA’s elite teams.
While their defense has held relatively steady, the Sparks are scoring 12.1 more points per game, shooting 9.3% better from the field and averaging 4.8 more assists per game after the All-Star break compared to before it.
Their current group can move the ball as well as any team in the league, though their 21.8 assists-to-12.2 turnovers per game ratio may be unsustainable. And the stacked starting lineup could eventually have the trickle-down effect of strengthening the bench — led by offseason acquisitions Erin Phillips, Temeka Johnson, Ana Dabovic and Marianna Tolo — which is the final puzzle piece to make L.A. even more dangerous.