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Why Noelle Quinn is a great pick up for the Sparks

Much was made of the LA Sparks point guard play last year and they probably hope that Tuesday’s trade for Noelle Quinn will help bolster an otherwise thin point guard rotation for the 2009 season.

Is Quinn the ideal point guard for the Sparks? Probably not.

But is Quinn a good fit for the 2009 Sparks as currently constituted? Perhaps so.

While it may strike some as odd that the Sparks gave up two players – Sidney Spencer and Raffaella Masciadri -- to acquire Quinn, I would argue that this trade is exactly what the Sparks needed.

When your end of season team figures to be Lisa Leslie, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Betty Lenox, and a returning to form Candace Parker, you don’t need a superstar running point. All you need is a player to bring the ball up the court and pass it off to someone who can score. Really, this point guard shouldn’t even expect the ball back -- just pass the ball and don’t make mistakes.

Noelle Quinn fits the bill.

Consider the following that I wrote about Quinn’s play after a Minnesota Lynx – New York Liberty game last June (link):
Noelle Quinn is probably the epitome of a distributor – nothing fancy, just getting the ball up the court and efficiently initiating the offense. Last year she was second only to Ticha Penicheiro in pure point rating and first in Hollinger’s assist ratio among point guards – meaning she was very likely to pass the ball when it was in her hands.

She’s going to take what the defense gives her and get the team into the offense. This is what I think is normally meant by a "pass-first" point guard.
If we label Quinn according to the point guard styles that I laid out later in the summer, Quinn would actually be something more of an initiator – the player who brings the ball up court and gets the team into the offense, seemingly what the Sparks need. But really, that’s what they had last year in Shannon Bobbitt, Temeka Johnson, and Keisha Brown so what’s different (or better) about Quinn? Isn’t this just more of the same?

Perhaps not.

Quinn is entering her third year of professional ball and in the short excerpt above lies the key to evaluating this trade: which Noelle Quinn will the Sparks get – the one that was a rather efficient distributor in 2007 or the one that was a marginal initiator in 2008? Which leads to a sub-question: what happened in the 2008 that led to such a significant drop in point guard production (though an improvement in shooting statistics)?

I was about to write that this trade is therefore a calculated risk, but in reality it isn’t – the Sparks didn’t really give up enough to consider this "risky". They needed a point guard and the Lynx had a glut at the guard spot. But if Quinn can return to her 2007 form, the Sparks may have just become an even more dangerous team…and in fact, Quinn might end up being the missing point guard piece that many Sparks fans longed for last season.

The Sparks problems were bigger than their point guard play

Point guard was indeed the Sparks’ weakest position last year, so of course filling that void should have been seen as a major off-season priority. And with the acquisition of Betty Lennox, that point guard weak spot is even more evident rather than less.

The argument for directing a spotlight at the point guard spot is simple (well…aside from the fact that coach Michael Cooper called out his point guards on more than one occasion): the point guard is the one responsible for maintaining the tempo, initiating the offense, and managing the team on the floor.

However, that does not necessarily mean the point guard deserves the brunt of the blame when things go wrong. And in the case of the Sparks, that was particularly true last year.

Sparks fans probably need not be told that the Sparks offense was erratic…but it was not always the point guards’ fault. Early in the season, they were trying to be an uptempo team. Later, they tried to position Parker as a superwoman who could bring the ball up the court, play from the wing, and play the post. If the point guards are asked to run a broken system, it will not work no matter who is running the show (see 2008-2009 Phoenix Suns).

Once the Sparks did settle into a defined system, it was much easier for Bobbitt to play the position extremely effectively. The game that really stands out in my mind was a mid-season win against the Mercury. Bobbitt brought energy, got the team into the offense quickly, and played admirable defense. When you have an Olympic frontcourt, that’s all you really need from a point guard.

Looking at last year’s point guard statistics, Quinn will bring about the same thing to the court as last year’s point guard triad. Beyond the statistics, although she might be a step slower than Bobbitt or Johnson, she is probably a better passer than any of the point guards they had last year. If she returns to the type of player she was in 2007 – moving from a player who is able to just bring the ball up the court back to one who can facilitate opportunities for others – she would be an upgrade from last season.

This, of course, does not take defense into account. However, if you have ever played with two dominant shot blockers, you might know that perimeter defense becomes much easier – since it’s harder to score inside, all you have to do on the perimeter is apply pressure, rotate, and help. Penetration is not only less of a problem, but it is also a strategy that most opponents would not even bother trying.

So what the Sparks need to hope for from Quinn and Bobbitt is simple: development. They are both young point guards who have shown flashes of doing exactly what the Sparks would need them to do. Therefore, it’s the rest of the veterans’ and the coach staff’s responsibility to provide the framework within which the young point guards can operate. For the Sparks, it should be obvious.

The key to the Sparks is the high low offense and rebounding

Nobody is going to stop a combination of Leslie and Parker.

They are the two best bigs in the WNBA which means double teaming one of them leaves the other open. Single coverage means leaving the other open.

So why would the Sparks do anything other than look into the post on every single possession?

Some would argue that the point guard needs to be an adept outside shooter to spread the defense. However, I would argue that their wins last year when they played the high-low post offense are proof that the Sparks just need someone to initiate the offense.

If Candace Parker is at the top of the key and Lisa Leslie is posting up, how exactly would a defense stop that?

If you throw the ball to the post and the defense doubles down off the non-shooting the guard, the guard can still drive in and hit a cutter. If the defense doubles off the high post, then that post can make a play. Single coverage in the post? I’ll bet on Leslie/Parker one-on-one against anyone in the league.

Others might respond that Leslie/Parker might have off games, therefore needing the guards to shoot from outside. However, this is also among the most dominant offensive rebounding teams in the league with Leslie, Paker, and DeLisha Milton-Jones – so once they do get a shot up they are able to get a number of second chances.

In other words, if the Sparks play to their strengths and force the other team to respond to their crew of Olympians, all the point guard has to do is limit mistakes. Noelle Quinn is perfectly capable of that.

Relevant Links:

Sparks’ Team Chemistry: A Bigger Problem Than Point Guard Play

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

Why the Sparks’ Performance is Finally Meeting Pre-Season Expectations

Los Angeles-San Antonio Scouting Report: Offensive Rebounding is the Key