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2020 Sparks Exit Interviews: Kristine Anigwe

The first-year Spark has made a case to be part of the frontcourt rotation.

Connecticut Sun v Los Angeles Sparks - Game One Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Name: Kristine Anigwe

Age: 23

Contract status: Anigwe made $57,000 in year two of a four-year rookie contract.

Stats: Anigwe played in 16 out of 22 regular-season games and got her lone start of the year in LA’s playoff game. She averaged 4.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game while shooting 60.4% from the field.

Preseason expectations: When the Sparks traded for Anigwe in May, the expectation was that she would compete with Marie Gülich to be the team’s fourth big behind Candace Parker and Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. Then, Chiney Ogwumike opted out of the 2020 season, and Anigwe moved up in the pecking order. Head coach Derek Fisher regularly used four traditional bigs in 2019, so there was reason to believe that Anigwe would receive consistent minutes.

What went well: Anigwe pretty quickly staked her claim ahead of Gülich and Reshanda Gray, who signed as a replacement player, as L.A.’s third big. The second-year center stood out with her energy on the offensive end, specifically her activity on the offensive glass. Anigwe rebounded 10.1 percent of her team’s misses, the eighth-highest offensive rebounding percentage among players who appeared in at least half of the regular season.

Anigwe is also a good pick-and-roll partner. She sets good screens and rolls hard to the basket, and she finishes really well at the rim. She made 24-of-27 shots in the restricted area this season. If she can get the ball at the basket, those are almost automatic points.

The first-year Spark also runs the floor well. That’s a good way to complement Parker, who loves to throw outlet passes in transition. In total, the Sparks were 1.24 points per 100 possession better on offense this year with Anigwe on the floor.

Defensively, Anigwe is mobile and long. She had a high block and steal percentage and doesn’t back down from any challenge on that end of the floor.

What needs to improve: Offensively, Anigwe turns the ball over way too much. She doesn’t catch passes in the paint cleanly enough, and that prevents her from getting as many shots up as she could were she stronger with the ball. Anigwe also isn’t quite strong enough to post up; she gets pushed off her spot if she tries to back down defender rather than face up and use her quickness.

Anigwe hasn’t totally figured out how to harness her energy on the defensive end. The Sparks were 4.98 points per 100 possessions better without her on the floor, because she fouls excessively and gets pushed around for defensive rebounds. It’s a shame her strength on the offensive glass hasn’t translated to the other end of the floor.

Despite being the third big on the roster, Anigwe still didn’t play in every game because Fisher often chose to play small with wings at the power forward spot rather than use a backup center. She didn’t provide enough impact on the court to make her indispensable to the rotation.

Future with the Sparks: The veterans on the Sparks really seem to love Anigwe. She latched on to Parker and mimicked her workout and recovery routines. Seimone Augustus raved about the energy Anigwe brought to practices and took it upon herself to teach the finer details of the game to both Anigwe and Te’a Cooper. Fisher called Anigwe a “24/7 workaholic” who was constantly reaching out to her coaches to watch film and figure out ways to get better.

The Sparks have several key free agents this offseason, including Parker and both Ogwumikes, so having a cost-controlled big on a rookie contract is important, particularly because they traded away 2019 first-rounder Kalani Brown earlier this year. It’s unclear what role Anigwe would have if all those three bigs, plus Maria Vadeeva, return to the team next season, but Anigwe would still likely be the fifth frontcourt player in that situation. More than likely, one of those four won’t play with the Sparks in 2021, giving Anigwe a clearer path to minutes.

Anigwe improved as the season went on and had one of her best games of the season in the single-elimination playoff game. She’s on the right track to becoming a rotation big if the Sparks can find a place for her.

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