Best Custom Jerseys WNBA WNBA: What went right and wrong for the Sparks in 2023

WNBA: What went right and wrong for the Sparks in 2023

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The first year of the Karen Bryant and Curt Miller era was a mixed bag. With holistic ups and downs for the Sparks, there is still optimism that the years to come will take the team back to the top of the league.

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From his initial press conference, Miller emphasized that patience was needed and that this endeavor was not a one-year undertaking but a multi-year vision.

“We’re not putting a timeline on how fast and good we can be. But we’re not going to take shortcuts to do it,” Miller said. “We’re going to do it with great people and we’re going to do it the right way and the right way allows you to have sustained success and I’m excited to be building again.”

The construction may have just begun, as the Sparks finished with a losing record and missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The postseason drought is the longest in the team’s 27-year history.

While most of that happened under the old guard, the new guard didn’t fare much better in the first year. Despite a disappointing season, there were still plenty of bright spots to be excited about, and also clear areas of improvement that will need to be addressed as the organization attempts to right the ship going forward.

The good

Although the collective results were not ideal, several players had individual career years under Miller’s direction.

A pleasant surprise came from Nneka Ogwumike. Ogwumike is already a Sparks legend, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, a champion and no doubt she will have her banner hanging in the rafters when her career is over. So how did the 12-year veteran have the best season of her career in this final stretch?

“I have a great team around me that keeps me in top shape. I’m really grateful to be healthy this way and to have teammates who support me this way,” Ogwumike said during the team’s exit interviews.

“Realistically, the goal was not to improve myself. The goal was always to perform for my team and I really hope to be able to do that every night as much as I can.”

Playing in 36 of the team’s possible 40 games, Ogwumike did just that. He finished the season averaging 19.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Those numbers rival his 2016 MVP season, where he finished with 19.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

Beyond the numbers, the Sparks’ offense simply runs through Ogwumike. How many Horn sets began with a pass to Ogwumike on the elbow? Or how often did an early action end with the ball in your hands on the block? Rarely did an offensive possession occur in which Ogwumike didn’t at least touch the ball or have a say in who took the shot.

In a season filled with more losses than wins, Ogwumike’s continued leadership on and off the court was a real bright spot. Whether it was his thoughtful responses to the media or leading his teammates on the bench, Ogwumike once again demonstrated why he remains the face of the franchise.

While Ogwumike’s play wasn’t entirely unexpected, one of the team’s biggest success stories was. Jordin Canada entered the season on a training camp contract and with no promise of making the roster. At the end of the season, she became the Sparks’ starting point guard and is in the running for the WNBA Most Improved Player award.

A big reason for Canada’s individual success this season was the result of their improvements across the board.

One of the areas where Canada made the most progress was in their three-point shooting. Historically a weakness, Canada not only doubled its 3-point attempts, but converted 33% of its shots from behind the arc after shooting a woeful 14 percent from three last season.

His growth as a perimeter threat paved the way for him to reach a double-digit scoring average for the first time in his career. Canada also took a step forward as a playmaker, as she averaged a career-high six assists per game.

Given his big year and dedication to continuing to grow, Canada should be one of the Sparks’ top priorities once he hits free agency.

However, the player who may deserve the most flowers this year is Dearica Hamby. The 29-year-old’s tumultuous season began when she was traded to the Sparks in January.

Hamby would go on to claim that her former team “lied to, bullied, manipulated and discriminated against” her because of her pregnancy. The WNBA investigated and suspended coach Becky Hammon for two games and stripped the Aces of the 2025 first-round pick as a result of her violations of player benefits management and labor policies.

After her difficult experiences in Las Vegas, being traded and giving birth, Hamby’s status as a player was up in the air, with some even wondering if she would play this season. Instead, Hamby appeared in all 40 games, a feat only she would accomplish on the team.

Although his individual boxscore numbers did not reflect his previous stellar production, what Hamby endured emotionally and physically last year was nothing short of incredible.

“There are mothers who don’t come back that soon,” Hamby said in her exit interview. “And that doesn’t mean they’re not as heroic or as super feminine as me. Mothers just deserve grace.”

There are other players who also impressed such as rookie Zia Cooke, Layshia Clarendon and Lexie Brown, who all left their mark on the season.

Even though the team’s overall results fell short, the individual stories that unfolded this season were captivating enough for the Sparks fan base to come together and celebrate.

The bad and the ugly

Injuries suck. You can game plan, strategize, and have as much depth as you want, but the best skill is still availability. If your high-level talent can’t adapt, you will almost always come into the game at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, the Sparks learned this the hard way.

With key players like Brown, Chiney and Clarendon scarcely available, the Sparks were forced to field 18 different starting lineups this season, a total that tied for the most in WNBA history.

In addition to constantly being plagued by the injury bug, the Sparks’ offense also proved to be their Achilles heel.

LA had the third-worst offensive rating in the league with only 98 points scored per 100 possessions. Beyond not being able to convert with regularity, there were countless occasions where the team’s disorganization in the midfield reared its ugly head. Whether the shot clock was constantly running out against them or players simply couldn’t execute the play, the offense quickly found itself in the mud.

The Sparks would most likely be in the playoffs if they were more potent on offense, as there were plenty of games where things fell apart due to late execution. Their final matchup against the Chicago Sky is a perfect example of this.

The team was ahead at halftime but came out of the locker room stagnant offensively. After scoring just 13 points in the third quarter, their lead faded and they ended up losing by a single point to the same team they were fighting for the final playoff spot. If they had won that game, they might still be playing basketball.

And finally, when we look back, when things got worse, the eight-game losing streak during the difficult days of the season was a key moment. Los Angeles found ways to lose again and again to Phoenix, Minnesota and Chicago. They went from 7-7 to 7-15 and because the team never fully recovered, they never sniffed a .500 record again in 2023.

Whats Next?

With exit interviews now complete, the upcoming offseason offers the organization yet another opportunity to build. Between free agency and the draft, there will be key decisions the team will need to make to help accelerate their recovery.

Thanks to only a handful of players on the books for next season, the Sparks will have plenty of cap space and roster spots to fill. Regardless of how they use their resources, the team will likely look dramatically different heading into next year.

It also remains to be seen where the team will choose in the upcoming draft. Los Angeles has the third-best chance to land the No. 1 pick in a class believed to be one of the deepest in history.

Some grace, understanding and confidence may have been given to Bryant and Miller in the first year of this rebuild, but another season like this and all that wiggle room will be gone.

This is Los Angeles and you win or they replace you with someone who can. If the think tank truly believes it has the cornerstones to get back to the top, next season will be the time when that belief turns into results.

You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECrea88.

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