The Los Angeles Sparks have had an eventful offseason highlighted by the return of 2019 All-Star Kristi Toliver and the signing of Minnesota Lynx legend Seimone Augustus. They also received guard Brittney Sykes and center Marie Gulich in a trade with the Atlanta Dream that sent 6-foot-7 center Kalani Brown to Atlanta.
In the draft, Los Angeles used the No. 20 overall pick to steal 6-foot-4 forward Beatrice Mompremier of the Miami Hurricanes, who could potentially add depth to the frontcourt. Mompremier’s draft stock fell after she missed a good chunk of her senior season with a foot injury. Still, she was projected as a first-round pick.
Mompremier and the Sparks’ needs
One of the Sparks’ biggest needs heading into 2020 is improvement of their interior defense. Last year they were tied for ninth in the WNBA in blocks per game and allowed 18.4 free throw attempts per game — third worst in the league. Their 26.5 defensive rebounds per game ranked seventh in the league.
Mompremier averaged 1.5 blocks over the course of her freshman and sophomore seasons with the Baylor Lady Bears. As a junior and senior at Miami, that number declined to around one block per game.
The 6-foot-5 Gulich, the No. 12 pick in the 2018 draft, will be competing with Mompremier for a roster spot. Gulich hasn’t seen much playing time in the WNBA yet but developed into a great shot-blocker with the Oregon State Beavers, averaging 2.8 blocks per game as a senior.
Where Mompremier has the edge, though, is with her impressive 7.7 defensive rebounds per game in two years at Miami (and 5.8 overall). Gulich averaged 5.8 defensive boards over her last two seasons at Oregon State and 3.8 for her career.
The Sparks need to get to the free throw line more often. In 2019, they were third in the WNBA in shooting percentage from the stripe but dead last in number of free throws attempted. Candace Parker led the team with 3.0 attempts per game, followed by Nneka Ogwumike with 2.9. Brown, however, was on track to become L.A.’s biggest free throw weapon — she visited the line for 1.6 shots per game in just 13.5 minutes per contest.
Mompremier got to the line 5.4 times per game as a junior at Miami and averaged 4.9 trips as a senior. Although she will be able to help in terms of aggressiveness, it is hard to replace Brown’s size when it comes to putting the team on the free throw line.
And it’s not just about getting to the line — Mompremier will need to improve upon her free throw shooting percentage. She averaged 37.8 percent shooting from the free throw line as a freshman at Baylor before improving to 60.0 percent as a sophomore.
After transferring to Miami, Mompremier shot 57.1 percent as a junior. Her only decent free throw-shooting season came as a senior when she averaged 73.1 percent over the course of 16 games.
Highlights: Mompremier makes moves inside
Filling out the final roster
Mompremier is the only of the Sparks’ draft picks with a good chance to make the roster. No. 22 overall pick Leonie Fiebich from Germany and No. 34 overall pick Tynice Martin of the West Virginia Mountaineers are long shots.
Fiebich is a 6-foot-2 guard/forward who has a height advantage over most two-guards. She is a good shooter and she can defend in the post. The 20 year old averaged 16.2 points and 7.4 rebounds for TSV 1880 Wasserburg in the Germany-DBBL league in 2018-19. In 2019-20 she was good for 10.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest.
Highlights: Fiebich uses her height to her advantage
Martin, a 5-foot-11 spot-up shooter who excels from mid-range and from distance, averaged 18.6 points per game as a sophomore in 2016-17 before missing the 2017-18 season with a foot injury. Her scoring average declined to 18.0 points per game as a redshirt junior and to 14.5 points as a redshirt senior.
Highlights: Martin makes it look easy on spot-ups
Returning Sparks guards Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Sydney Wiese are not great scorers but Ruffin-Pratt started 33 games last season and Wiese started 16. Both have a good chance to make the roster, as does forward/center Maria Vadeeva who averaged 7.8 points in just 12 minutes per game over the course of 15 contests in 2019.
Improvements at shooting guard
For the Sparks, the only position on the court that wasn’t occupied by a major star is shooting guard. They improved in that area in free agency with the additions of Toliver, Augustus and Sykes.
Assuming this year’s starting lineup will include point guard Chelsea Gray, forwards Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, and center Chiney Ogwumike (unless she’s used as a weapon off the bench), the two-guard spot will be open for Toliver, who has returned to L.A. after a three-year stint with the Washington Mystics. A 38.7 career 3-point shooter, Toliver played off-ball quite a bit in 2019 as Natasha Cloud emerged as a star point guard for Washington.
The two-spot also could be filled by Riquna Williams, who came to L.A. in 2017, the same year Toliver left. Now, the two sharpshooters will get the chance to play together.
Williams started 13 games last year. Although she is four years younger than Toliver, Williams has come off the bench for most of her career and she has been successful in that role. Whether it’s Williams or Toliver, the Sparks will have a gifted scorer sixth woman coming off the bench.
Sykes, a fourth year player whose career scoring rate is 11.3 points per game, and an aging Augustus also will be in the backcourt mix. Due to an injury, Augustus missed two months of the 2019 season and appeared in just 12 games for a scoring average of 3.8 points per game. In 2018, she started 33 games and averaged 10.8 points per game.