Who Is The Best Player On The Sparks? Here’s A Vote For Gray

By Brady Klopfer
 

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On Sunday at the Staples Center, a critical game hung in the balance. The Los Angeles Sparks held the slimmest of leads against the Phoenix Mercury, in a contest with major playoff seeding implications. The Sparks had the ball, and a timeout, with less than a minute remaining. It was their chance to try and put the game away.

When they inbounded the ball, it wasn’t a play for two-time MVP Candace Parker. It wasn’t a play for MVP Nneka Ogwumike.

It was a play for Chelsea Gray.

It didn’t go exactly as planned. Gray dribbled to the elbow, and couldn’t find anyone to pass to. With the shot clock running down, she pump-faked a few times, and hoisted a jumper.

Like it seemingly has all season, it went in.

“I was looking for somebody,” she said after the game with a laugh and a shrug. “But [the defender] was smaller than me, so I just rose above and knocked it down.”

That’s been a theme all year for Gray, who emerged from a back-of-the-bench role player to a bonafide star, seemingly overnight.

In 2016, her second year in the league, she averaged 16.4 minutes and 5.9 points per game. Last year, those numbers spiked to 33.1 and 14.8, as she earned an All-Star nod. This year, she’s added 5.4 assists per game, and genuinely created a discussion as to who the Sparks best player is.

After her dominant showing on Sunday, I asked Sparks’ coach Brian Agler if he knew that Gray could be this good. His response was telling: “I don’t ever put limitations on anybody, because everybody can be an elite player. It depends on what kind of time they want to put into it, depends on what kind of mentality they have, depends on how disciplined they are; she has all those qualities, along with being coached. She’s very, very coachable. It’s not because of me where she’s at, other than she has let me challenge her, and she’ll let me coach her hard. And when you have that kind of attitude, that means you’re absorbing things.”

Indeed, in just her fourth year, the growth and absorption for Gray is visible on a nightly basis. It seems almost every game we see a new element implemented in her game, or an old element that’s been polished and refined a little more. She’s bigger than opposing point guards, a nuisance defensively, and one of the league’s top passers and shooters.

And now, she’s established herself as one of the most clutch players in the league, with ridiculous shots such as Sunday’s becoming the norm for her. The sky is the limit for the young point guard, already arguably the best in the league; and it’s clear that her teammates and coaches are excited to see what the next step in her development has to offer.