Derek Fisher spoke about next week’s WNBA Draft.
In his first offseason as a WNBA head coach, it is clear that Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Sparks is starting to understand what a difficult league this is for players to break into.
In a media call Tuesday with three other WNBA coaches (Cheryl Reeve, Bill Laimbeer, and Katie Smith) about the upcoming draft on April 10, Fisher shared his thoughts about some of the big names in the NCAA and overseas, but he kept coming back to the idea that there will be talented players who simply can’t catch on in the league because of the limited amount of roster spots.
“It’s a challenging year for players that are not clearly at the top of the list in terms of sure first-round picks due to the numbers and the way rosters are constructed,” Fisher said. “I don’t think it’s a question of not having the ability to translate… there’s just not a lot of spots.”
With regards to the Sparks, specifically, Fisher later added, “We have some unsigned players that we’re still hoping to sign, and our roster’s going to be rounded out pretty good. Even for our pick at number 7, she’s going to have a hard time just breaking through in terms of opportunity and minutes with the types of veterans we have at every position.”
The obvious name unsaid in that statement is Chelsea Gray, a restricted free agent who has spent the last three seasons in Los Angeles. Gray remains unsigned despite being the team’s starting point guard and making the the All-Star team each of the last two years.
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Another big name who has been linked with the Sparks this offseason is Liz Cambage. Cambage requested a trade in January and her preferred target is Los Angeles, but Fisher deflected any questions about the Australian center. He indicated that Penny Toler, the team’s general manager, is involved in those conversations, but he has not been. His only interest with regards to Cambage is game-planning for Dallas should she take the floor for the Wings in 2019.
Nevertheless, the focus of the conversation was ostensibly the WNBA Draft, and Fisher had a chance to express his opinions about the players the Sparks are interested in, and how they might fit in to his overall coaching and draft philosophy.
The new head coach seemed most excited about Maite Cazorla, the all-Pac 12 guard from the Final Four-bound Oregon Ducks. Cazorla is one of the more efficient scorers in the county and boasts the 11th-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NCAA.
“Maite is one of those players that literally, on any basketball team, she would have an impact because of her ability to make decisions with the basketball, her ability to shoot in terms of catch and shoot without the basketball,” Fisher said. “Just a high IQ, and she adds a lot of value to a really successful team.”
Fisher was also asked about Han Xu, the 6-foot-9 star 19-year-old center of the Chinese national team who has been working out in Los Angeles in preparation for the draft. He has not personally watched her play, but noted that Nneka Ogwumike, who played in China for Guangdong this year, had a more informed opinion on Han.
The Sparks already have their own young center in Maria Vadeeva, who played 204 minutes in her rookie season after joining the team midway through the year. Vadeeva has caught the eye of her new coach because of her stellar play in Russia during the WNBA offseason.
“She jumped out to me in particular on the defensive end because she was always in the right spots. She does a good job of rotating and using the rule of verticality to contest shots at the rim,” Fisher said. “Offensively, she’s shown flashes of improving and getting better in terms of shooting the ball outside the paint, but also using her size and her frame to get efficient shots at the basket.
“I’m excited about what she’s going to bring in terms of our depth in the frontcourt. I think Maria is going to add value for us in a major way.”
It was on the issue of depth that Fisher provided perhaps his most interesting insight of the call. Los Angeles has the number 7, number 19, and number 31 picks in the draft, and they have a veteran roster that is ready to win now, but maybe not set up for the future. The organization’s greatest challenge next week will be how they prioritize fit for the present versus acquiring talent for the next great Sparks team.
“We’re going to try and do the right thing to strike that balance. I personally lean towards fit as opposed to just stockpiling talent of players that play the same position,” Fisher said.
The draft will be Fisher’s first great test as the Los Angeles head coach. It sounds like he appreciates the challenge he has in front of him.
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