Spark Notes: Life Without Nneka


Just as the Sparks seemed to be hitting their stride, they hit another bump in the road. On Thursday, just before their game against the Fever, it was announced that Nneka Ogwumike would be out for four to six weeks with a left knee sprain. Ogwumike has been the team’s leader and best player. For a team that is just beginning to gel, the announcement was devastating.

Or at least that’s what we thought.

The Sparks came out and played one of their most complete games of the season against Indiana. Their offensive game plan worked to perfection, as they spaced the floor and let their guards work. Their shooters were ready, which resulted in 14 threes made. Defensively, they remained disruptive, and flashed their versatility. They threw a variety of looks at Indiana and overwhelmed them with length and energy. They completely dominated from start to finish. Obviously, this isn’t to say the team is better without Nneka – they’re not. But without her, the Sparks are going to have to play every game like they did Thursday.

Here’s what they’ll need to do to remain competitive.

Follow Toliver

With Nneka out, Kristi Toliver becomes the team’s new leader. She’s the most experienced player on the roster, and was a part of the Sparks’ 2016 championship team. As she showed against Indiana, she is still plenty capable of leading a team. Toliver finished the game with 22 points on 8-12 shooting. Going forward, her leadership will be vital as the young team faces its first stretch of adversity.

More Coffey, again

Nia Coffey has emerged as an incredibly versatile player for LA. She is averaging career highs across the board. Coffey has established herself as a legitimate sniper, shooting a scorching 60.9% from deep on 3.8 attempts per game. When defenders close out, she’s shown the ability to get to her spots inside the arc as well. On defense, she can effectively guard 2-4, and even gave 6’7″ Teiara McCowan fits Thursday night. Coffey seems to block every shot she sees, averaging 2.2 over six games. She got the start against Indiana, and will likely maintain that spot, at least until Nneka returns.

Shooters shoot

Possibly the biggest change without Nneka comes on offense. She’s the Sparks’ best post player. Without her, the offense went full pace-and-space. Look at the positioning and ball movement on this possession:

Again, the Sparks were already doing this a bit with Nneka. Without her, the volume at which the Sparks will operate like this will skyrocket. Amanda Zahui B’s floor-spacing becomes exponentially more valuable, as it will open lanes for LA’s shifty guards to get downhill on scrambling defenders. Perhaps no one will welcome this more than Te’a Cooper, who had her best game of the season on Thursday.

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About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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