After spending three years in Washington, the former Spark brings much needed perimeter play back to Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Sparks made headlines on the first day of WNBA free agency by bringing back former Spark Kristi Toliver. Toliver previously spent six seasons with the Sparks from 2010-2016, helping them win the 2016 championship.
Heading into the offseason, perhaps the Sparks most pressing need was an additional ball-handler and scorer on the wing. Last season they rotated both Sydney Wiese and Riquna Williams at starting shooting guard while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt held down the small forward spot.
Williams was solid in spurts, but inconsistent come playoff time. She’s signed to a guaranteed deal through the end of next season. Wiese did well as a playmaker and shooter whether she was starting or coming off the bench, but isn’t the scoring threat that Toliver is.
The need for an additional wing player was magnified in the Sparks second-round playoff loss to the Connecticut Sun when they employed a trapping strategy designed to get the ball out of Chelsea Gray’s hands. Gray is one of the top playmakers in the league and has become a talented scorer as well.
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With Gray’s ineffectiveness, the Sparks looked lost at times offensively and were unable to provide much of a threat to the Sun. That’s where Toliver comes in. Toliver can effectively play both guard positions. She’s a very capable ball-handler who makes plays for herself and others. She has a career average of 3.6 assists per game and last season in Washington she dished out a career-best 6.0 assists.
If teams try and force the ball out of Gray’s hands now, Toliver is more than capable of stepping in and serving as a secondary facilitator to keep the offense moving and get other players shots.
She’ll also provide some much-needed perimeter scoring. Gray is one of the top perimeter scorers in the WNBA with a strong ability to get to the rim. Outside of her, however, the Sparks didn’t have anyone else capable of that on the wing and it showed against the Sun.
Toliver is in the latter years of her career, but she is still an effective scorer. She put up 13.0 points per game last season while shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from the three-point line. She upped that in playoffs to 14.2 points per game and 39.6 percent from three-point range.
She’s someone who can get her own shot when needed. In a halfcourt set come playoff time, Toliver is someone you can give the ball to and tell her to go get a bucket.
In all, this was a very solid signing for the Sparks and exactly what they needed to take some of the pressure off Gray and keep pace with the rest of the league in their quest for a championship.
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