Frisco Del Rosario (frdelrosario) wrote in sports_journal,
Frisco Del Rosario

Los Angeles Sparks

When the Utah Jazz thought to reach an NBA championship by starting with its inside/outside combination of John Stockton and Karl Malone, and filling in the roles around them, first they had to define the roles. The Jazz thought, hm, we need some huge body to fill up space and get some rebounds -- there they tried two-time defensive player of the year Mark Eaton, and worthless Felton Spencer -- and we also need some shooter to space the floor and provide a genuine third threat -- there it was Darrell Griffith and Jeff Malone. When the Jazz finally found the perfect guy for the shooter spot -- Jeff Hornacek -- they reached the finals two times even though it was Greg Ostertag in the big role.

The Los Angeles Sparks has the same type of puzzle. The Sparks have the best center ever, Lisa Leslie, and one of the best forwards, Chamique Holdsclaw, both of whom combine great power and agility. However, the rest of the Sparks preseason roster is made up of 19 people I've never heard of. So what kind of players would Los Angeles like to put behind Leslie and Holdsclaw? My first priority would be "players who don't turn the ball over".


Los Angeles' swap of point guard Nikki Teasley for 2005 rookie of the year Temeka Johnson looks like a theft to make one scratch one's head. They play the same position, while Johnson plays it better and is five years younger.

Turnovers-to-steals or turnovers-to-assists or turnovers-to-both is, some would say, a useless statistic because the numbers themselves are unrelated, and it favors players who don't handle the ball long enough to turn it over (for instance, a shooting guard named Dan Langhi -- he's a radio color man now -- once led the NBA in turnovers-to-whatever ratio because as soon as he caught the ball he shot it). In this case, though, I'm going to use it partly to assess the Sparks roster.

The Sparks have eight guards on their roster, with a combined 10 years of WNBA experience. Most experienced is Tamara Moore, with four years under her belt, but her .78 steals-plus-assists-to-turnover rate is worst among the non-rookies. Third-year players Edniesha Curry and Doneeka Hodges both made 1.9 ratios, roughly, and sophomore Brandi McCain notched 1.53 -- for comparison, Johnson's ratio is 2.5.

Perhaps those four guards are of the shooting variety? None shot 40 percent, while the Sparks took a shooter, Lisa Willis, with the fifth pick in the draft.


Lisa Leslie has made a lot of firsts. First to 3,000 points; first to win MVP awards in regular season, finals, and All-Star game in the same year; first to dunk in an WNBA game... plus the mundane all-time leading scorer and rebounder, two-time most valuable player, four times selected to the all-league team. She's so bloody great that a mention of her high school game where she scored 101 points in the first half seems more fitting than extraordinary.

I thought Chamique Holdsclaw would reach such heights, but Holdsclaw has "merely" made the all-league team twice and the All-Star game three times. Holdsclaw's steals-plus-assists-to-turnover rate is a two-tenths better than Leslie's, and I mention that jokingly -- it's not a statistic aimed at frontcourt players, at the very least.

Muriel Page, who spent eight years in Washington, looks like the frontrunner for the "other forward" spot. Weirdly, her rebounding average has decreased every year, but her turnovers have declined, too. She's made fewer than one turnover per game in the past two seasons, and that, I think, is what Los Angeles needs -- players who'll take care of the ball while it finds its way to Leslie or Holdsclaw.

Swingwoman Mwadi Mabika lost 16 games to injury in 2005; she's contributed 11 points, 4 rebounds, and a couple of assists every night; her best year was the Sparks' second championship year in 2002.

Outlook: It's probably all a question of chemistry on this team. Two great frontcourt players -- the highest-scoring duo in the league -- plus the rookie of the year handling the ball could be a wildly successful arrangement. Is it wrong to wonder if a woman might have some reservation about playing for a coach whose son is a rapist? Could there possibly be some nagging thought like, "you couldn't teach your boy any better than that, but you want me to dive on the floor in practice?". If the key players stay healthy, and the players and coach mesh well, Los Angeles is right there with Seattle and Sacramento at the end.
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