Los Angeles, CA — The 2016 championship was the first Los Angeles championship since 2001, a long time for the possibly the most visible team in the WNBA. They took down the Minnesota Lynx, the best franchise of the last 10 years, to win that championship. And now they come into the 2017 season, changed but the same.
Candace Parker averaged 16.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists a game. She took a step back, allowing the ascent Nneka Ogwumike to take over some of the responsibility.
Whether by fatigue or simply by planning ahead (Ogwumike had been on the upswing for a while, so I suspect it’s the latter), her stepping back undoubtedly improved the team. This resulted in the team having two MVP winners, both of which are still in their prime.
Parker could be moving into the last stage of her prime, changing her game from that hard-charging, hard-rebounding point forward into almost a LeBron James-type player; backing off in the regular season, letting other talented teammates ascend, and having more in the tank for the postseason.
I think Parker could do more than she did; I think her assist number, even for the regular season, is low. She could average eight assists a game; it’s just one more per quarter, and with her court vision, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.
What Los Angeles needs for the season is for Ogwumike to keep up her stellar play from last year. She averaged 19.3 points on 65% shooting, an absurd number for a forward who also averages three assists a game. She could also add another dimension to her game; she took the second-most free throws on the team, and shot 85%, which suggests that she’s got good enough mechanics already to become a good shooter.
She shot less than 40 threes last year, over 44 games, less than one three per game. I’m not suggesting that she needs to become a more prolific three-point shooter; rather, that if she were, she would open up things both for her teammates and for herself.
Considering that she’s much more of a threat to score around the basket, and everyone knows it, and she still shoots 65%, then I can’t imagine her percentages should she space the floor a bit.
Jantel Lavender averaged five less points per game than she did the season before, which to me speaks to two things: the full return of Candace Parker, and the ascent of Nneka Ogwumike. She also didn’t start a game, which is fascinating for a player of her caliber. I can’t speak to whether she starts again, but I do think that they’ll be better at integrating her or using her now that they’ve all had another season to jell.
Lavender could be a force on the inside, especially should Ogwumike become a more prolific three-point shooter. I think that the Sparks will need more from her, should they want to repeat.
It, more likely than not, is going to be Lynx-Sparks II. The Sparks were equally as capable of winning the Finals as losing it, and should a few shots (or calls) go Minnesota’s way, we could be talking about the continuing Lynx dynasty. The Sparks are still my pick, however, because I think Ogwumike will continue to improve.
I think that her and Parker will be even more lethal in year two of the Nneka Era; I think the whole team will be a little more situated around Ogwumike, and that commitment will allow the rest of the roster to play their roles with more confidence.