On to the Western Conference, once again in alphabetical order. No favouritism shown at WNBAlien.
PG: Lindsey Harding
SG: Kristi Toliver/A’dia Mathies
SF: Alana Beard/Jenna O’Hea/Marissa Coleman/Farhiya Abdi
PF: Nneka Ogwumike/Ebony Hoffman
C: Candace Parker/Jantel Lavender
Significant gains: Lindsey Harding, maybe Mathies and/or Abdi.
Significant losses: DeLisha Milton-Jones (and they cut Nicky Anosike by choice).
For a team that went 24-10, had its superstar finally last a full season, featured the runaway Rookie of the Year and had both a breakout star and an impressive comeback story in the backcourt – there was a hell of a lot of whining about the Los Angeles Sparks last year. Much of it prior to them being swept by Minnesota in the Western Conference Finals. After Sharnee Zoll tore her ACL prior to the season, they had to make do with Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard sharing the point guard duties – something neither is entirely comfortable with. The defense was a constant work in progress, flipping through multiple systems and often having to compensate for breakdowns from Toliver and Candace Parker. The bench was inconsistent at best, often dropping to the realms of awful. So fans found plenty to complain about. Yet they were in the battle for the Western Conference lead all year, and won a playoff series for the first time since the Lisa Leslie era. Imagine what they might do in Carol Ross’s second year at the helm, after adding yet another important piece to the puzzle?
The major addition is point guard Lindsey Harding, signed as a free agent from Atlanta. Despite joining her fourth franchise in seven WNBA seasons – good players don’t tend to move that much – Harding is a smart point who can run a team, solidly part of the second tier of point guards in the women’s game behind Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen. She gives Ross a steady hand to steer the ship, another player who can penetrate and score a few points, and a useful perimeter defender. Her presence also takes Toliver and Beard off the ball, which is where both ideally want to be. On-ball pressure caused LA a lot of problems in the playoffs last year – especially for Toliver – which shouldn’t be as much of an issue this season. Now Toliver can concentrate on scoring, which is something she can be exceptionally good at, while Beard becomes a primary defender and secondary ballhandler. It’s a better fit.