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L.A. Gets A Spark From Bobbit As Starting Point Guard

While the Sparks’ high-low zone offense was the probably the most tangible adjustment in their 91-80 victory over the Mercury, the Sparks’ energy on both ends of the floor was probably the biggest key to ending their three game losing streak.

Of course, it's hard to dig too deeply into the Sparks’ seemingly improved offensive play because the Mercury are not particularly known for their defense. But the difference in energy between last night’s game and last week’s loss against the Liberty was huge, independent of the Mercury’s poor play.

And there was nobody more responsible for that energy boost than Shannon Bobbitt, who made her second consecutive start at point guard. Derek Fisher – who is shockingly becoming one of my favorite WNBA commentators and knows a thing or two about winning basketball – was definitely in tune with Bobbitt’s effect on the game.
The Sparks are playing great basketball. Shannon Bobbitt – you won’t look at the stat sheet and say she’s playing a great game, but it’s her energy and what she’s bringing to the team that is really making the difference tonight. It seems like everybody’s energy is up and the Sparks are playing really active on both ends.
Bobbitt’s energy was contagious right from the beginning and it seemed to just get the whole team going (until the 4th quarter when the Sparks seem to struggle every single game).

Bobbitt’s energy was nicely complemented by Marie Ferdinand-Harris’ return to the starting lineup and Sidney Spencer’s first start of the season (I didn’t realize Spencer was such an amazing three point shooter – #1 in the WNBA at 53% entering last night’s game). The starting combination allowed the Sparks to establish a rhythm early in the game and, more importantly, stretch the Mercury’s suspect zone defense to find quality scoring opportunities all over the court.

Although Bobbitt scored a career high and made some big shots, including a three pointer from the corner with 2:28 left in the 4th to put the Sparks up by 10, her biggest contribution doesn’t show up in the box score. But after watching the game, I was inspired enough by Bobbitt’s performance to try to capture some of the intangibles that Bobbitt brings to the game.

Setting the pace

One of the most important responsibilities of a point guard is setting the tempo for the team and establishing the rhythm.

So although it’s impossible to ignore the effectiveness of the high-low offense against the Mercury, it’s equally difficult to ignore Bobbitt’s role in getting the team into that rhythm. Compared to Kiesha Brown and Temeka Johnson, Bobbitt is much more effective at getting the ball up the court quickly and initiating the offense.

If you look closely at the Sparks’ successful offensive plays, Bobbitt’s ability to get the ball down the court quickly and initiate the offense was important because it kept the zone off balance and gave the Sparks a continuity that has been noticeably lacking. The X's and O's of Basketball had a nice analysis of the high-low offense that's worth a look:

Her role in those plays might seem minor because all she did was bring it up, pass it to the wing, and then cut. But compare her play to the recent play of Brown or Johnson and you see a big difference. Bobbitt plays with an energy, awareness, and sense of purpose that the other point guards have not shown this season. It was exactly what the team needed for this offense to work well.

Attacking the zone

Something else that Bobbitt brings to the Sparks that their other guards have not is the ability to penetrate into the teeth of the offense and create scoring opportunities for her teammates. And what I like most about her drives is that she doesn’t "play" with the ball too much – again, she makes very decisive moves has the presence of mind to find the open player once the defense is forced to collapse on her.

Even though she’s not a major scoring threat, once she gets into the middle of the zone with a few dribbles, it puts pressure on the defense to shift its position. When the zone shifts to collapse on one player, it’s much easier to find an open player with an extra pass or two. Bobbitt was able to do that repeatedly and more effectively than Temeka Johnson, who I would argue is as skilled as Bobbitt.

Pressure defense

Bobbitt also had an impact on the defensive end by pressuring the ball and just being active on defense. Sure she was over-aggressive sometimes and got some silly fouls, but again, that energy was needed for the Sparks.

You might think that Bobbitt is a defensive liability because of her size. Not so much in a zone defense with 6’5" Leslie, 6’4" Parker, and 6’3" Spencer in the bottom half of the 2-3 zone. The opposing team is relegated to an almost complete dependence on the outside shot because of the length of the Sparks.

Bobbitt’s role within a the Sparks’ zone defense concept is to extend and pressure the ball handler. It completely minimizes the harm of players shooting over her or taking her into the post. She stays in front of ball handlers well and sometimes her on-ball activity is enough to force the ball handler to pass sooner than they want. That might seem small at first, but it can seriously disrupt an offense.

With a front line of Leslie, Parker, and Spencer, there’s no reason for the Sparks to play anything but zone and dare opponents to beat them from the outside. In that scheme, Bobbitt works very well as their starting point guard.

Has Bobbitt earned herself a permanent starting role on the Sparks?

Is Bobbitt a perfect lead guard? No -- she certainly has her flaws. But Fisher made another comment about Bobbitt late in the third that I think summarizes her impact on the game.
Bobbitt’s been active all night. And it’s her energy. It’s not about everything that shows up in the stat sheet. You make contributions to the team in the best way that you can. And Shannon has done that by leadership, which is what he’s wanted to see from his backcourt. And she’s also been active on the defensive end and she’s made a couple of shots as well.
Bobbitt brings to the point guard position all the things the Sparks seemed to be missing. She's the best thing they have and an excellent fit for the team. Sure she made some rookie mistakes fouling, she turned the ball over a bit, and she probably took too many threes. But I don’t think those negatives outweigh the intangible positives she brought to the team.

The fouls made out of being aggressive are rookie mistakes that she will work out as he gets more playing time. Most of the turnovers were dead ball turnovers, meaning they didn’t result in fast break points for the other team, which is not as harmful. The threes came within the flow of the offense – and 3-8 from the three point line not great, but not horrific either.

And though it may sound silly, I don’t think we can disregard the effect of the Tennessee connection either – it adds chemistry to a team that has sorely lacked chemistry over the last few games. If Parker is going to be on the floor with Spencer and Bobbitt knows how to play with them, go with it. That collegiate chemistry is better than the alternative (confusion).

The other issue is that as an inconsistent team, the Sparks absolutely have to find some consistency in their starting lineup. Switching point guards every other game is not the way to prepare for a playoff run, especially when the league already faces an Olympic break.

Personally, I like the front line of Leslie, Parker, and Spencer for this team with Ferdinand-Harris and Bobbitt playing as complementary energy players in the starting lineup. But it’s very difficult to establish a rhythm when a) players are constantly shuttled in and out of the game and b) a player can go from starter to zero minutes overnight.

There are other intangibles that Bobbitt clearly brings as well in the form of leadership and court vision. The only thing to debate for a team that sees themselves as a contender is whether they can deal with her lack of size and experience. I would argue that she establishes a rhythm for this team better than the alternatives of Brown and Johnson and she plays with a confidence that seems to overcome her inexperience. If they stick with the zone defense which can hide Bobbitt’s defensive liability, it seems reasonable for her to be the team’s consistent starter.

Related Links: profile of Shannon Bobbitt

Sparks coach Michael Cooper may not have understood the effect of one of his in-game comments...*sigh*

Transition Points:

- It's worth taking a look back at what the Liberty did to the Mercury's defense two weeks ago. Really, the Liberty executed much better than the Sparks because they don't have quite the post presence that the Sparks they have to rely on execution. In other words, I'd say the Sparks could still stand to improve.

- One last note on Fisher: In one of my favorite articles from the Women's Sports Foundation, "Beez" Schell writes: "...the quality of the telecasts (production and commentary) should not escape close scrutiny." The quality of the commentators is as important to marketing the women's game as the floor play or the commercials. I gotta say Derek Fisher is one of the better commentators I've heard. He's a good communicator who knows the game, he's able to provide insight as a professional basketball player that the average human being lacks, and he does a good job of illuminating some of the little things that help teams win. He may annoy me as a player because I'm neither a Lakers or Jazz fan, but nobody can question that he has an outstanding knowledge of the game. Another NBA'er I'd like to see on more telecasts -- Chris Webber.