After pulling out a tough victory at home against an improved Tulsa Shock team, the Phoenix Mercury had four days off before heading to LA to play a 5-1 Sparks squad at Staples Center. As has been the case all year, the Merc showed signs of their still existent firepower but the commitment to defense still lacks as the Sparks scrambled away to a 90-74 win. Delisha Milton-Jones has played her best ball the last few years against Phoenix and it continued tonight as she elbowed and squawked her way to 21 points. DMJ wasn't the only Sparks player to have her way as Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike joined in with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 25 points, 12 rebounds respectively. Charde Houston chipped in 22 points to lead the Mercury and DeWanna Bonner bounced back from a scoreless first half to finish with 18 points.
My Observations and Opinions:
Los Angeles Sparks
- Though the addition of Alana Beard, Nicky Anosike and Marissa Coleman may pan out and help the Sparks significantly later, the sole reason behind their success early has been rookie Nneka Ogwumike. When the Sparks of old find their way back onto the court, Ogwumike's all-around heart, hustle and will to win put her in the perfect position to make a play to mask the flaws of this team.
- Speaking of the old Sparks, even with Carol Ross at the helm, I still see countless areas of the game where the cocky, boneheaded Sparks teams of 2011 resurfaces. For example, the play by Parker late, going for a Globetrotter finish off a Tolliver pass and missing the layup instead of being a champion in every facet of the game, and finishing the play. This, in my opinion, will be what keeps the Sparks from being the championship contender they could be.
- This team still lacks a quality ball-handler that is going to control the game. Kristi Tolliver still complains about every call that's made against her, which shows that she doesn't have the mental capacity to run a championship team. Alana Beard has always been a scorer, and seeing how she's a shell of herself, playing her heavy minutes at the point could be costly. Coco Miller looks terrible. Maybe it's the fact that she's been away from the game for a few weeks, but she isn't a point guard. In Atlanta's system, she was able to portray one because the role of the PG was always, bring the ball up the floor and find Lori Ann. If your best option at the point late is to put the ball in the hands of Candace Parker, who still lacks polish and a truly tight handle, you might need to reconsider your stance.
- But, even with all this, this Sparks team might just have enough offensive options to beat most teams on a nightly basis. Combine that with the fact that Carol Ross has actually gotten them to commit to at least pretending like they want to play defense and you see the 6-1 team that we have seen play this year.
- Samantha Prahalis does ENTIRELY too much dribbling. And when I say this, I'm not taking anything away from Prahalis. She is a quality point guard at a young age in this league and will one day be great. But in this system, keeping your dribble alive helps but as my dad and AAU coach used to always say, "Don't waste your dribble. Dribbling is simply a means of attacking and putting the defender at your mercy." Prahalis stands around and pounds the ball into the floor. In the past, this happened a lot with Merc point guards, but that was simply because you had Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor coming off screens to receive the ball and attack. Without Taylor or Taurasi, Prahalis needs to do more attacking and creating. As she stands at the top of the key, the shot clock runs down and even though they've ended up with decent shots, they're rushed simply to avoid a shot clock violation.
- Nakia Sanford and Alexis Hornbuckle are hurting this team more than they're helping. The role players that make the little plays that don't show up in the box score are always important, but with your first two options out and baskets hard to come by, anyone that can't consistently find the basket are liabilities. I'd be happy to see these minutes go towards Avery Warley, who is a monster on the boards; Krystal Thomas, who was said to have come into camp in great shape and with better post footwork but has yet to get a chance to sniff the floor for any decent amount of time; Alexis Gray-Lawson, who has brought many things to the table even though she has yet to find consistency on her jump shot or scoring in general; and Charde Houston, who has yet to break the thirty minute mark in a game this season, even though she is one of few that has put the ball through the hoop at a decent rate.
- This team still hasn't truly committed to the defensive side of the ball. They're content to pass a player off to the woman next to them throughout the course of the game. And when they do fight over the screens, the rotations are so bad that layups are a common occurrence from start to finish. I'm not sure what the male practice squad is like, but I don't think you're going to beat anyone giving up 12+ layups a night, not even mentioning the fact that half of them are usually of the and-1 variety.
- Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner HAVE to be more aggressive. Choosing their spots is fine when you have T-n-T to fall back on, but with them out, not only should you look for your shot because you have to, but this is the perfect opportunity to carve out your niche for when they return. Proving that they don't have to come back and carry the team as they have in the past because you have options showing up nightly.
- Though I don't think they're tanking, I believe this team has subconsciously accepted that they're not going to win a championship without Taylor AND Taurasi, considering that, the 2013 draft is going to be a true changing of the guard. Even behind the big three, you have options such as Angel Goodrich, Whitney Hand, Destiny Williams, Tayler Hill, A'dia Mathies, and Tianna Hawkins.