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Three questions on how Brian Agler will make his impact on the Los Angeles Sparks

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The Sparks found a new coach in Brian Agler, but what do we expect from him this summer?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Sparks made a splashy hire earlier this week by announcing Brian Agler as their new head coach. Agler spent the previous seven seasons as the Head Coach and General Manager of the Seattle Storm, where he led them to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons, and won the 2010 WNBA Finals.

In Los Angeles, Agler inherits a team that has a plethora of stars and contributing players who are in or close to their primes. The roster includes 2008 and 2012 WNBA MVP Candace Parker, and Nneka Ogwumike who form the team's starting low post duo. The Sparks also have an up-and-coming center in Jantel Lavender, and an elite sharpshooter in Kristi Toliver.

However, the Sparks underachieved last year with this talented group, as they stumbled to a 16-18 regular season and were lacking something that wasn't talent-related. That something could have been why they stumbled last season, and why they had a midseason coaching change during their 2014 season. In a column by ESPN's Mechelle Voepel, Agler said that the Sparks were lacking personality, or a clear style of basketball that they wanted to play:

There are certain things you have to hang your hat on. Whether it's that you're a defensive team, a great rebounding team, or whatever it is. There has to be a certain personality that you go to work with every single day and a common goal.

And to me, that can't initially be 'win the WNBA championship.' There have to be steps to take to get to that point.

Since Agler comes from the Storm, one of the Sparks' heated rival teams, he certainly is very familiar with them. Let's take a look at some of their statistics, including their pace, efficiency ratings, records, and coaches during the seven years of the Candace Parker era from 2008-2014. This coincides with the time Agler spent in Seattle:

Year Pace Off Rtg Def Rtg W L Playoff Result Head Coach # of Teams
2008 92.2 (5) 96.6 (11) 93.8 (2) 20 14 Western Finals Michael Cooper 14
2009 89.7 (11) 97.8 (11) 96.5 (3) 18 16 Western Finals Michael Cooper 13
2010 92.5 (6) 100.7 (9) 105 (9) 13 21 1st Round Jennifer Gillom 12
2011 89.7 (10) 101.7 (4) 105.9 (11) 15 19 Missed Playoffs Gillom/Joe Bryant 12
2012 95.1 (2) 105.6 (3) 98.3 (7) 24 10 Western Finals Carol Ross 12
2013 92.2 (3) 105.5 (2) 96.5 (3) 24 10 1st Round Carol Ross 12
2014 90.8 (3) 100.4 (6) 100.7 (5) 16 18 1st Round Ross/Penny Toler 12

Selected Los Angeles Sparks statistics from 2008-2014 from Basketball Reference

As you can see from the Sparks' rankings within the league offensive, and defensive ratings, there have been times where they have been among the league's best, and times where they have been among the league's worst. This often happened when there were coaching changes. One of the most notable chances was that the Sparks were a top defensive team during 2008-2009 when Michael Cooper and former Sparks center Lisa Leslie were there, but were among the league's worts defensive teams for each of the next two seasons once Jennifer Gillom took the reins in 2010.

That said, there is one area where L.A. has been relatively consistent. The Sparks have been a very strong team offensively, where they were in the Top-4 in offensive rating from 2011 to 2013. They also have played at a Top-3 rate in pace for each of the last three consecutive seasons. In the first two of those three seasons (2012 and 2013), they were during the beginning of Carol Ross' tenure as their head coach. Therefore, the roster as constructed, appears to be a team that wants to play uptempo basketball.

For reference, let's take a look at these same statistics for the Seattle Storm during Agler's tenure there:

Year Pace Off Rtg Def Rtg W L Playoff Result Head Coach # of Teams
2008 89.6 (13) 98.2 (6) 94.8 (4) 22 12 1st Round Brian Agler 14
2009 87.8 (13) 99 (8) 96.3 (2) 20 14 1st Round Brian Agler 13
2010 89.4 (12) 108.2 (2) 97.7 (3) 28 6 WNBA Champions Brian Agler 12
2011 87.3 (12) 98.5 (9) 96.0 (1) 21 13 1st Round Brian Agler 12
2012 89.1 (12) 95.6 (10) 96.2 (2) 16 18 1st Round Brian Agler 12
2013 85.7 (11) 98.9 (7) 102.2 (9) 17 17 1st Round Brian Agler 12
2014 85.8 (12) 98.0 (11) 104.1 (10) 12 22 Missed Playoffs Brian Agler 12

Selected Seattle Storm statistics from 2008-2014 from Basketball Reference

Unlike the Sparks who had five head coaches, the Storm only had one, and there are some consistent trends. First, the Storm was a Top-4 team in defensive rating from 2008 through 2012. After 2012, the Storm's defensive efficiency fell considerably due to Lauren Jackson's absence, and an otherwise aging roster. Second, the Storm ran a very deliberate offense which kept their pace at the bottom of the league in five of Agler's seven seasons in Seattle.

This clashes with the Sparks' current personnel, who have shown to be better on offense and want to pick up the tempo of games.

Therefore, it appears that something has to change in regards to the style of basketball this team plays next year. Here are three questions I have in regards to how the Sparks can start off the Brian Agler era on the right foot:

How much influence will Agler have on the Sparks' personnel decisions and their post logjam?

With Agler taking the reins in L.A., his role will now be limited just to being a head coach, because Penny Toler is still keeping her GM duties. Therefore, she has final say on basketball matters, though he can influence her on which players come to town.

While the Sparks aren't in all-out rebuild mode like the Storm, they still have a major decision to make with their starting post players. The current roster is imbalanced toward posts, where both Parker and Ogwumike are natural power forwards, and Jantel Lavender is best at the center position. The 2014 Sparks were actually at their best when all three were playing together, but that often created poor spacing. Along with the fact that they had no consistent three point shooting threat besides Toliver, defenses would clog the paint, which often further stagnated the offense as Nate pointed out last summer.

If the Sparks are to make significant progress, they will likely have to trade Ogwumike or Lavender for more perimeter players. If Agler was the GM, he could do whatever he wanted. But now, he's going to have to wait until Toler makes the final call. This does create tension between Agler and Toler, but tension's not necessarily a bad thing when major decisions are at play.

How soon can Agler get the Sparks to play consistent team defense?

Agler will demand that his players to play consistent team defense, each and every night

Regardless of what happens with the Sparks' post logjam, one thing is certain: Agler will demand that his players to play consistent team defense, each and every night. Based on his tenure in Seattle, a strong defense was the one common denominator during the 2008 through 2011 seasons when they won 20 or more games each season. During that time, Lauren Jackson and Tanisha Wright also won All-Defensive Team honors multiple times.

Fortunately, the Sparks have some players on board who have earned All-Defensive Team honors themselves. Alana Beard who did so twice in the last three seasons, and Parker was named to the team in 2009 and 2012. The challenge for Agler on this end of the floor is to get the whole team to play well together as one unit. With a younger and more talented roster, I'm confident that L.A. will be more stingy in 2015.

Will Agler continue to have the Sparks play an uptempo offense?

This is a more interesting question because the Sparks as constructed are used to -- and are good at -- playing uptempo basketball. However, the Storm played at the slowest pace in the league during Agler's time there. I won't be surprised to see the Sparks slow the game down a notch in 2015. At the same time, I don't see Agler directing his team to play walk-it-up basketball like the Storm did.

I feel the more important question on offense is efficiency. Though this is primarily Toler's responsibility and not Agler's, L.A. must acquire two or three more players who are strong perimeter shooters. This will help keep defenses honest, and allow Parker and Lavender/Ogwumike to be more effective in the post. If the Sparks have a more balanced roster and are a better three point shooting team like the Storm often have been, that would also pay dividends.

Final Takeaways: The Sparks have a top-notch coach who can finish the job. It's also important to make sure he has the resources to do so.

Brian Agler is a coach who can win a lot of games and win a championship when given the right talent. The 2010 Seattle Storm team is a prime example of that. In that season, both of their franchise cornerstones: Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson were healthy and in their prime, and they had a core who complemented them very well. Candace Parker could be the next superstar player who Agler can take to the top.

With the head coach position now filled, Penny Toler must make some tough decisions in regards to the post logjam with Ogwumike and Lavender, and L.A.'s lack of three point shooting threats. If she can resolve those issues sooner rather than later, Agler should be able to get the Sparks back into championship contention sooner rather than later.