The first two games of the WNBA season offer a stark dichotomy of what this Los Angeles Sparks team can look like. A rousing opener in which the Sparks easily fended off one of their top rivals was followed by an equally unspectacular performance in game two, on a night when the team consistently seemed a step slow.
One player whose effort didn’t seem to waver throughout either game was Kristine Anigwe. Even as she played through dramatically different time-and-score situations, Anigwe consistently brought energy to the court as the first Sparks big off the bench.
“Right now I’m just trying to bring energy whenever I come into the game, whether it be on defense or offense or getting offensive rebounds or just being a presence,” Anigwe said after shootaround today. “I’m not trying to be the person that brings energy down. I’m trying to be the person that is putting more energy or matching the energy that’s on the court.”
Anigwe clearly needs some time to build chemistry with her new team, but her effort level is already in midseason form. Anigwe is in constant motion when she’s on the court, and that leads to good things for the Sparks.
She fights hard for post position, even if the ball doesn’t get to her, just to give another outlet for the offense. Here, she initially tries to seal Gabby Williams, but instead clears out to make way for Brittney Sykes in the lane.
Anigwe keeps working the longer the possession goes. When the ball swings to the other side of the floor, she re-posts and battles all over again. In the midst of all that, Anigwe is consistently coming out high to set screens for her teammates. The rewards for those actions haven’t always been there yet. The timing on some entry passes to Anigwe has been off, and her teammates often reject the screen, but the intent is at least there right now, and that’s a good start.
She fights equally hard on the defensive end to make sure opposing bigs don’t seal her off in the paint either. When she does get fronted, she still works to deflect entry passes, like she does against Azura Stevens to force the steal here.
An arguably more impressive example is when Anigwe starts the possession by battling with Brittney Griner, prevents the entry pass, and then closes it out by stuffing Sophie Cunningham so that the Sparks have numbers heading the other way.
There remains work to be done in terms of Anigwe’s execution. Even if her energy is high, she needs to improve her positioning on the glass. Her handle has also been exploited, which compromises her utility as a pick-and-roll partner.
But there is plenty of time for Anigwe to grow, especially since she has a strong motor to start with. The Sparks are only two games into a 22-game season, and Anigwe is only 29 games into a WNBA career that has already led her to three different teams. L.A. faces the Connecticut Sun, one of her previous teams, tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN. It will be a revenge game for Anigwe, who was traded away from the Sun halfway through last season, and for the Sparks, who were swept by Connecticut in the WNBA semifinals last year.
In order to avoid a similar fate this time around, the Sparks will have to come into tonight’s matchup as the aggressor. They know they can count on Anigwe to supply some energy.