The Sparks go big with Kalani Brown.
LOS ANGELES — Heading into the 2019 WNBA Draft, there was a great deal of uncertainty over whether the Los Angeles Sparks would keep their first-round pick, or if they would use that asset in some other transaction. After selecting Kalani Brown with the seventh overall pick, general manager Penny Toler and head coach Derek Fisher were steadfast in their support of the Baylor star and their belief that she can contribute to this Sparks team right away.
“It was a no-brainer, we’ve been looking for a five that’s a little different than what we’ve always had,” Toler said. “It’s hard to get someone 6’7, that size, that can get up and down the floor, shoot the midrange game. She’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
In her senior season, which concluded with a national championship, Brown averaged 15.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game for Baylor while shooting 62.6 percent from the field. Brown didn’t attempt any threes in her senior season, but did show an ability to space the floor for elbow jumpers. She also averaged 1.6 blocks per game for the best defensive team in Division I.
Brown was effusive in her joy about being drafted to play professionally just three days after winning a title with the Bears.
“Just stepping out of one legacy and entering another,” Brown said. “The Sparks are a great team. I’ve watched the players growing up, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ll do whatever I can to help that team.
“It’s been a quick turnaround. I haven’t had much sleep, but I’m a national champion, and I’m getting drafted to one of the greatest teams possibly in the league.”
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Brown will bring some height to the undersized Sparks frontcourt. Although Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike are never outmatched from a talent and skill perspective, they are smaller than most other big pairings, which resulted in the Sparks having the lowest rebounding rate in the league. Los Angeles also had the second-lowest block rate, something that Brown can immediately help address.
Fisher and Toler were both enthusiastic about the prospect of pairing Brown with each of their All-Star bigs individually. Having shared the frontcourt with Lauren Cox at Baylor, Brown is able to split the post and play high/low next to another four or five. That is a skill that will come in handy as one of Parker or Ogwumike figure to be on the floor at all times.
“I thought Kalani’s experiences in college kind of mirrored playing alongside of other good post players,” Fisher said.
Los Angeles also envisions having Brown play alongside two other bigs in jumbo lineups, ideally utilizing Parker’s perimeter skills to have her play on the wing in those configurations. Part of that rationale may simply be because of the roster construction of the Sparks. In addition to Parker and Ogwumike, the team also brings back former Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender and second-year player Maria Vadeeva. Both are centers, so utilizing units with multiple post players is almost a necessity.
Brown expressed her excitement to join the pair of Sparks MVPs who she grew up watching.
“I love watching post players play, so that post duo alone – I look forward to learning from them because they’re such great players,” Brown said.
Fisher spoke prior to the draft about prioritizing fit over talent for a number of reasons. Firstly, the depth of the talent pool insured that Los Angeles would get a quality player at no. 7 no matter what; and secondly, the veteran roster demanded a player who could fit in to a smaller role and complement the existing trio of All-Stars.
Brown matched that description, having played with and succeeded next to talented offensive players like Cox and Chloe Jackson in college. She can impact a game defensively, with her rebounding, or by occupying attention in the post and creating space for other players on the floor. Even though ESPN identified the Sparks’ needs as wing depth and shooting, the team believed that Brown’s ability to play team basketball made her the perfect choice.
“It was important to add players that understand how to fit into a great group that already exists,” Fisher said. “This is a championship organization with a championship roster, so adding young players that know how to play a role and fit into success was important.”
There is still the possibility that Kalani Brown doesn’t end up staying in Los Angeles. If Liz Cambage is traded to the Sparks, it stands to reason that Brown would be the prize of the package heading back to Dallas. She slots in naturally as a replacement center for the Wings, has the type of skill set that appeals to new head coach Brian Agler, and even has local fame having starred at Baylor.
For now, Brown is the newest member of the Los Angeles Sparks, and she relishes the opportunity to add to this proud franchise’s storied legacy. Before she does that, Brown might want to refresh her memory about the recent Sparks-Lynx playoff battles. Calling a member of the Minnesota Lynx the GOAT isn’t going to help Brown earn any admirers in Los Angeles, particularly not her teammate Odyssey Sims.
However, if Brown continues to perform for the Sparks like she did at Baylor, Los Angeles will welcome her with open arms as the team pursues its fourth title in franchise history.
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