What's Wrong With The Sparks?

By Brady Klopfer

What's Wrong With The Sparks?

The Los Angeles Sparks are doing something we rarely see from their corner: reeling. They’ve lost six of their last eight games, with five of those six coming by nine or more points. It’s a staggering look from a team we’re accustomed to seeing dominate. 

Given their talent (they have four players under consideration for the All-Star Game), and their experience (they’ve made the WNBA Finals the last two years), it seems likely that they’ll figure things out eventually. 

But they’re entirely out of sorts at the moment and have fallen all the way to the sixth seed, with just 12 games left in their regular season. 

Nothing is clicking for LA, but three things in particular stand out after Thursday’s stunning 92-77 home loss to a Dallas Wings team that saw Liz Cambage ejected in the first half. 

 

Isolation reliance

Like nearly every basketball team, the Sparks work best when movement is present. Despite having three tremendous passers in Chelsea Gray, Candace Parker, and Nneka Ogwumike, their offense is reliant on movement, both from the players, and from the ball.

Lately, the offense has become troublingly stagnant. Their mark of 18.6 assists per game has slowly been fading. Thursday, their 16 assists were countered by 13 turnovers, and players were repeatedly standing around, watching the ball, a half-second slow to cut, while the ball stayed in place.

Players like Parker and Ogwumike are stellar isolation scorers, but when the ball stops and the cutters put on the brakes, the opposing team is given the opportunity to shift their focus to the player with the ball. 

 

Lack of spacing

Between Gray, Parker, Ogwumike, Essence Carson, and bench sparkplug Riquna Williams, it was fair to expect the Sparks to be a strong three-point shooting team this year. Currently, that’s not the case. While the Sparks are about average at shooting the three – their 34.6 percent ranks sixth in the league – they are only 10th in attempts and ninth in points generated off of threes. 

Against the Wings, Williams went 4-for-6 from deep, while the rest of the team struggled their way to 0-for-11.

Part of this is merely missing shots, but some is schematic. The lack of movement is resulting looks that are less open, and Gray (who is shooting a very nice 39.7 percent from three) has lately been treating threes as a last resort, rather than a weapon at her disposal.

Los Angeles has also been exhibiting a trend of taking long twos – often with their foot on the three point line – which is further limiting their opportunities. 

If the troubles of spacing the floor continue, we may see coach Brian Agler insert Karlie Samuelson into a few lineups. 

 

Rebounding struggles

It’s no secret that the Sparks are a little undersized. Parker and Ogwumike are superstars, but at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-2, respectively, they’re small for their frontcourt positions. Making up for that height disparity will take a total team effort, and so far Los Angeles hasn’t figured it out.

Despite Cambage playing only 14 minutes on Thursday, Dallas outrebounded the Sparks, 36-27. It’s not a new trend; on the year, the Sparks are grabbing just 46.5 percent of available rebounds – dead last in the league. 

LA is not going to be a rebounding powerhouse – it’s simply not what they’re built for. But the team effort – from Parker, Ogwumike, and Jantel Lavender pushing around opposing bigs, to guards crashing the paint when the shot goes up – needs to improve. The Sparks’ defense remains elite, but there’s only so far a defense can take you when your opponent is getting so many more shots. 

The Sparks know they can adjust and recover from this slump. They have the personnel, and the experience. It starts not by fixing any one issue, but by coming together and playing more as a team, and less as five individuals. 

After Thursday’s loss, Agler keyed in on how to emerge from these lows, saying, “The most critical thing is to stay together. Stay together, and have the ability to be honest with yourself and see what the issues are in regards to the X’s and O’s, and come out of it . . . it’s a matter of bonding together and making adjustments across the board.”

It would be foolhardy to bet against the Sparks. But the clock is certainly ticking.