Candace Parker has proven over time to be a threat to pass, drive or score from anywhere. Los Angeles Sparks head coach Brian Agler appears to have unleashed a familiar action in a slightly different fashion that both gives the keys to Parker before the defense gets completely set and directly involves his three best players as scoring threats — Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, and Chelsea Gray.
Los Angeles went on to score 13 points on five possessions in what I’ll refer to as a ‘Double Wing’ look Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Aces: Candace Parker brought the ball up shade towards a wing (four times on the right side, once on the left) and got a screen on each side of her defender from Gray and Ogwumike.
All five possessions occurred during the Sparks’ 35-point fourth quarter. More specifically, we saw all five in a five-minute span immediately following an Agler timeout after the Aces had taken a 67-66 lead with 8:44 to play. Dating back to the start of last season when Chelsea Gray took over as the starting point guard, I cannot recall seeing this specific configuration from the Sparks.
The cluster of talent at the point of attack forces the defense to make some really tough decisions in the blink of an eye. With the ball in Parker’s hands, she’s likely to see and exploit any misstep or miscommunication.
On the first run of it, Parker took one dribble to the right to force Gray’s defender, Tamera Young, to make a decision. Young switched onto Parker, leaving A’ja Wilson on Gray. Ogwumike closed the distance between she and Gray to set a flare screen, allowing Gray to pop out to the top of the key. Dearica Hamby stuck with Ogwumike as Wilson was slowed by the screen:
A little over a minute later, Young switched onto Parker again. Wilson showed Parker’s way as well, perhaps thinking Young would lunge back to Gray. Two people were guarding one by then. Hamby was stuck in an impossible situation with Gray drifting out for an open three and Ogwumike slicing to the rim:
Seconds later, Parker caught Wilson hanging back for just a tad too long.
Back on the right side of the floor, Parker used Ogwumike’s screen. Hamby jumped to Parker and Wilson fought through — two were guarding one once again. Parker fired it to Gray, who had a better passing angle to hit Ogwumike rolling to the rim:
(With Parker initiating things up top, the help on the weak side will likely consist of two guards, as was the case here. Any non-forward/center will have a much tougher time stopping Ogwumike at the rim without fouling even if they get there in time.)
Finally, Parker used Gray’s screen once again. The Aces had gone small by this point. Nia Coffey had drawn the assignment on Parker. Kelsey Plum, Gray’s initial defender, jumped out to Parker. Coffey appears to recognize fairly quickly that she should switch onto Gray. Hamby stuck to Ogwumike and got a front row seat to Coffey getting absolutely nailed by Ogwumike’s flare screen:
This ‘Double Wing’ look is scary for several reasons. As mentioned, it helps clear the lane for Ogwumike to roll hard or duck in for a post up. It best leverages Gray’s three-point shooting because that quick flare screen can immediately create a catch and shoot look or prime opportunity to attack a hard closeout. Parker, too, can dribble right into a post up after forcing Gray’s defender to switch onto her.
The Sparks scored 2.6 points per possession out of this action Sunday, and we didn’t even see Parker pick at that potential mismatch yet.
Los Angeles enters Friday’s contest against the Indiana Fever three games out of the top spot currently held by Seattle. The Sparks also just two games up on Connecticut, who’s currently in the eight spot.
The battle for playoff seeding will likely continue through the final days of the regular season. After an 11-3 start, the Sparks dropped six of eight. There is still plenty of time for them to rally to nab a coveted top-two seed (and the double-bye that comes with it) for the third year in a row.
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The league has gotten much stronger across the board. Look back at 2017: Liz Cambage (Dallas), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta), A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas), and DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix) did not play a single game. All four are All-Stars in 2018.
This sudden re-introduction (or just plain introduction in the case of Wilson, a rookie) of star talent has made the race for prime playoff seeding even more competitive. The Sparks have not had the best injury luck — Alana Beard is currently hampered by a strained groin, Parker and Ogwumike each missed three games, Sydney Wiese has not played since June 10 (knee), and the overseas commitments of Jantel Lavender and No. 11 overall pick Maria Vadeeva forced them to miss all of training camp and several games apiece at the start of the season.
Each season presents teams with new challenges. They also present new opportunities. Riquna Williams has looked more spry and confident another year removed from the Achilles tear she suffered prior to the start of the 2016 season. Essence Carson has looked much more confident in her outside stroke and worked her way back into the starting lineup.
The Sparks hit a midseason funk. With five of their eight August games on the road, perhaps more simple wrinkles to their offense just like the one shown here will be enough to put more pressure on opposing defenses while creating quality scoring opportunities early in the shot clock.