With five interior players already signed after a busy off-season for the Washington Mystics, it appeared likely that they would seek to trade restricted free agent center Nicky Anosike or simply let her walk.
Today they made that move, sending Anosike to the Los Angeles Sparks for guard Natasha Lacy and center LaToya Pringle.
What the Mystics gain:
Lacy could be a productive pickup for the Mystics: she had a higher PER and WARP than Nicky Anosike last season (albeit in limited minutes) and her Valuable Contributions Ratio of 1.06 last season suggests that she could be a productive player in bigger minutes in the right situation. Her value rests primarily on her ability to rebound relatively well for a perimeter player and a very good steal percentage (3.7% in 2011).
Pringle brings the Mystics another shot blocking presence to go with other recent acquisitions Ashley Robinson (4.7% block percentage in 2011) and Michelle Snow (4.2%), both of which were top 10 shot blockers in 2011 by percentage.
While the Mystics seem to be assembling a team of players with impressive defensive statistics, they have yet to address a glaring problem with the roster: offensive efficiency. They had the lowest offensive rating in the Eastern Conference last season (94.7) and neither Lacy nor Pringle are efficient offensive players - Lacy has been a rather turnover-prone guard and inefficient scorer; Pringle has been efficient but has never been a major offensive threat, with a 16.6% usage percentage last season.
What the Mystics lose:
And what actually immediately stands out about this trade is not only that the Sparks will be Anosike's third team in three years - after being traded to the Mystics from the Minnesota Lynx shortly before the 2011 WNBA Draft - but also that Anosike was the player who the Mystics gave up their 2012 WNBA Draft pick for. Even if people consider this year's draft relatively weak, essentially trading away what became the #3 draft pick overall for two players that have each played on a team per year in their careers has to be tough to swallow for Mystics fans.
For her part, Anosike is an athletic post player who can be an absolute terror all over the floor defensively - she was among the league leaders in defensive rebounding and steals last season, with the rare ability to block shots at the rim and play passing lanes away from it. Although most of her performance metrics (e.g. PER, RAPM, WARP) rated her as barely average - if that - she could certainly prove to be a significant piece for a team looking for defense.
What the Sparks gain:
Given that newly hired Sparks coach Carol Ross has made it clear that her focus is defense - and the team also acquired former Mystics defensive standout Alana Beard as an unrestricted free agent recently - Anosike certainly gives them a type of active post defender that they haven't had in the past. And as the Sparks have already made clear in statements about the Beard signing and Ross' hiring, offense is not their problem - if the combination of Beard on the perimeter and Anosike in the post can help them contain specific opposing players, they'll be better for it or at least have more options defensively.
Anosike has not been a major factor offensively, with extremely low shooting percentages for a post player and a tendency to be turnover prone. However, she has also shown a knack to get to the free throw line and had a rate of 41.2% last season while shooting 73.6% from the line. Her VCR of 1.17 is indicative of an extremely productive player and a large part of that is the blocks, rebounding, and steals that she brings to her team defensively.
Click here for more on Anosike and the Mystics' situation.
What the Sparks lose:
So ultimately the Sparks don't lose a whole lot - neither Lacy nor Pringle played significant or even consistent minutes for them and Anosike has a chance to add some intensity to the Sparks' defense. But after already trading away Noelle Quinn and Ticha Penicheiro signing with the Chicago Sky, the Sparks' are very thin at the point guard spot.
As in, Kristi Toliver is their only one who has even played significant minutes as what you would consider a point guard in any real since.
Yes, Beard ran point occasionally with the Washington Mystics, but part of what seemed to make the Sparks such a great fit is that she wouldn't have to handle the ball quite as much. And superstar Candace Parker is versatile enough to handle the ball and she's certainly capable of making plays, but it's not hard to see why they might be better served with a quicker ball handler on the court at times as well. Yet at this moment - and you'd have to assume things will change on this front - Beard would almost have to be considered their #2 ball handler.
What further complicates their situation is that they still have the #1 pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft. Stanford Cardinal forward Nneka Ogwumike is almost universally considered the top prospect in the draft. If they were to follow conventional wisdom and select Ogwumike, that would add another post player to the Sparks' roster along with Anosike, last year's draft pick Jantel Lavender, and then of course Parker as well as DeLisha Milton-Jones. That's a really strong rotation and should make them a dramatically improved rebounding team, but there are only so many minutes available with Marissa Coleman and Ebony Hoffman on the roster as well, although Coleman is listed as a "G-F".
Even if the Sparks choose not to sign unrestricted free agent Tina Thompson, that would make for a very front-court heavy roster of stars without any real ball handler barring further trades. Clearly, that's not a loss - Anosike gives them someone who could contribute to a team need too much talent is never a bad thing, if nothing in else in terms of adding more trade chips to offer other teams. But it does leave some room for question about the Sparks' plans for the remainder of this off-season leading up to the draft.