The third-year guard is having the best season of career thus far.
In basketball, opportunity can be everything. When a player is buried on the bench, that isn’t always indicative of that player’s talent and abilities. Sometimes they just find themselves in an unfortunate situation where the minutes just aren’t available for reasons out of their control.
Sydney Wiese found herself in a similar situation her first two seasons in the WNBA. She was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round of the 2017 draft and played in 28 games, but only averaged 7.9 minutes that season.
Her second season was even less. She suited up for 11 games at only 3.3 minutes per. It was a tough professional start for the former Oregon State star. This season has been a drastic change, however. She’s played in 32 of the Sparks 34 games and has emerged as one of the most dependable players on the team.
With the way she’s been able to contribute this season, she has a newfound respect for her early struggles in the WNBA.
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“I’m thankful for Coach [Derek] Fisher and the staff for believing in me and putting me out there to make mistakes, make things happen, and to learn through experience,” Wiese told High Post Hoops. “My first two years I was fortunate to learn through observation and to ask a lot of questions, to work really hard in practice and continue to improve in different ways. This year I’m really fortunate to be out there and to be playing. I don’t take it for granted, I think those first two years I appreciate a lot more.”
Wiese started off the season only playing two minutes in the Sparks opener against the Las Vegas Aces. Since then, she’s become a mainstay in the rotation. Her role has changed a bit throughout this season though.
She was initially one of the first players off the bench, but when starting shooting guard Riquna Williams was suspended by the league for 10 games, head coach Derek Fisher chose Wiese to replace her in the starting lineup.
With Williams’ return, Wiese has since gone back to the bench but remained an effective player. She’s averaging 20.6 minutes per game and shooting 36.6 percent from the three-point line. It can be tough for players to adapt to a changing role like that, but Wiese has been able to do that to perfection by remembering her early days in the league.
“My word for the season is gratitude. It’s just staying present in the moment and not expecting anything, but understanding that when my name gets called I got to go out there and do my job whether that’s starting or whether that’s cheering from the bench,” Wiese said. “Whatever it is, it’s never been about me, it’s just making sure you handle business, you take care of it. I think the lessons that I’ve been able to learn throughout my first two seasons and carrying it over to this third, I’m simply grateful for any minute that I can get out there and compete.”
Before the season began, Wiese was a player that was potentially on the bubble. With the Sparks needing to get down to 12 players by opening night, it wasn’t always clear whether or not she was going to survive the final cuts.
But Fisher was a big believer in her ability when he took over as head coach. He was familiar with her accomplishments at Oregon State where she left Corvallis as the school’s all-time leader in assists and three-pointers made. She’s also the Pac-12’s all-time leader in three-pointers made.
She came into training camp in incredible shape and that gave him the confidence that she could be a valuable contributor for the team this season.
“She and I talked before the season about finding a way to get her back in touch with the Oregon State Sydney, the confidence, the swagger, the belief that she can play against anybody and do it with some flair and some style. I think she’s been able to do so,” Fisher said. “She cares about doing everything the right way, she comes in early, she stays late. A lot of that started for her in the offseason. To me, when she got back from overseas, she took herself through a very heaving training regimen.”
When she’s out on the court, Wiese tries to fit in wherever she can. Her role might change from game to game. Before the suspension, Williams job was to provide the starting lineup with a little boost in scoring to help avoid slow starts. Wiese kind of took over that role as a starter, and now that she’s back to the bench, it’s whatever the team needs.
Some nights, she might need to knock down a couple of three-point shots. Other nights, she might need to provide some defensive energy on the perimeter. And then on other nights, she might be called upon to get her own offense and even create opportunities for her teammates.
She insists that playing alongside great players like Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, and Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike make her job all that easier.
“I think it’s just making the right basketball decisions on both ends of the floor, keeping it super simple. I’m surrounded by All-Stars, legends, so my job is pretty easy,” Wiese said. “I just got to space the floor, keep people in front of me defensively, and just try to keep it super, super simple. If I do get called to make plays, don’t turn it over.”
When it comes to statistics, Fisher isn’t a big believer in using plus/minus as a major stat when evaluating a player’s performance on the court. But throughout the season, he’s noticed something interesting when looking at the box score. Wiese has consistently been among the team leaders in plus/minus, even if she doesn’t have a particularly good shooting night.
With switching back and forth between the starting lineup and the second unit, Wiese has been on the floor with several different combinations of players, and each time she hasn’t missed a beat. She’s managed to continue to make a positive impact.
“Whoever she’s on the floor with, she just fits. They respect her, they like playing with her, they know that she’s selfless and she gives herself up for the team. Those are the type of players I love to have a chance to work with,” Fisher said. “Consistency, that’s the first word that comes to mind. I think for Sydney personally and professionally, she’s the same positive. She deserves a lot of credit for the consistency she’s shown from the beginning.”
Prior to the start of the season, the Sparks frontcourt of Parker and the Ogwumikes was talked about as being the major strength of the team. But as the season has progressed their backcourt has become a major strength as well and Wises has been a crucial part of that.
She’s been that consistent presence in the backcourt that’s contributed to the team success. While she plays a lot off the ball, she’s a very capable ball-handler and she can run the offense at times too. She’s developed solid chemistry with Maria Vadeeva and has found her several times this season around the rim for easy buckets.
There are a couple of factors that Wiese attributes to the success of the backcourt this season. The first is Fisher’s desire to get the most out of his players and to put them all in positions where they can play to their strengths. The second is the major injuries the Sparks suffered early on that thrust everyone else into the fire right away.
“Sometimes you can’t predict playing time for all games, but he’s [Fisher] tried super hard to throw us into the fire and see what we can all do with that opportunity it pays off,” Wiese said. “Adversity is a good thing, as long as you look at it that way. I think our team has since mature leadership that we didn’t have a choice but to look at it as a good thing. Earlier this season when we were down to seven, eight players, that was everybody’s time. Whoever could suit up, you were going to be out there. It’s survival mode, you don’t have a choice but to perform.”
And with the playoffs finally here, Wiese believes that those early struggles will do wonders as the Sparks begin their quest for a championship. She wasn’t in the league yet when the Sparks won the 2016 title, so she’s definitely trying to get her first.
“That’s what we worked for all season, that’s you want as a competitor. In the offseason, that’s what you work hard for on your own,” Wiese said. “That’s been the aim and the vision since we got here, anything less than that is failure. That’s for anyone across the league, that’s what we all work for, that’s what we want going into playoffs.”
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