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Introducing the Sparks’ quarterly awards

With the WNBA season about to be a quarter of the way through, let’s hand out some individual awards for the Sparks based on what we’ve seen thus far.

Los Angeles Sparks v Dallas Wings Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

When is the best time to start assessing how a season is going? It seems, as a sports community, we have never found a consensus when it’s appropriate to discuss awards or the validity of a team’s performance in terms of projecting forward.

Like everyone else, I don’t have a definitive answer. But the math can get us close.

If we take the 40 games in the WNBA season and divide it evenly into quarters, we are fast approaching the first leg which gives us our earliest substantial sample to work off of.

I think checking in on quarterly progress is fair. We do it for school, financial reports and even for a basketball game itself. So, with the Sparks hitting their first benchmark on Friday, let’s hand out some individual awards for the team based on what we’ve seen so far.

Most Valuable Player: Nneka Ogwumike

Ogwumike has been this organization’s heart and soul for years now and this season has been no exception. She leads the team in minutes per game (32.4), points (21.1) and rebounds (9.8). Things continue to start and end with Ogwumike and she’s been nothing short of sensational this year.

Offensively, Ogwumike puts a lot of pressure on the rim and scores most of her points in the paint. She also protects the rim on the other end, averaging 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per game.

With such a long and prestigious career, it seems like every other game there is another new accolade added to Ogwumike’s resume.

This season, she has already become the Sparks’ franchise leader in steals, was recently named the Western Conference Player of the Week and is now only the sixth player in WNBA history to notch 5,000 points, 200 rebounds, 600 assists, 500 steals and over 200 blocks.

When talking with the media after achieving her latest milestone, Ogwumike instead shifted the focus on the team.

“I mean for me, I was happy about the win. But you speak to these types of milestones, I’m just really really grateful to be doing it in purple and gold, to be doing it in a Los Angeles Sparks jersey representing this championship city and just being with players that get it.”

When you add up her selflessness and all the things she has done on the court, she has clearly been the Sparks’ MVP.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jordin Canada

With Sparks’ head coach Curt Miller continuing to stress the importance of defense, it’s been Jordin Canada who has led the way establishing it on that end.

“Jordin kind of is the head of the snake defensively,” Miller recently said. “The game that she didn’t play was our weakest game. There’s no coincidence...she spearheads that defense.”

As the starting point guard, Canada has been in charge of defending the league’s best backcourt players and often is tasked with speeding up opposing team’s best ball handlers. She’s excelled at this by forcing turnovers as she leads the team with three steals per game.

Her defensive acumen, paired with career highs in points and assists, is why she deserves this honor and why she will be the starting point guard for the Sparks until further notice.

Sixth Woman of the Year: Karlie Samuelson

Karlie Samuelson has moved a lot in her career. Never able to fully establish herself on any team, she’s already played for five franchises in just five seasons.

Even this year, she was initially waived during Sparks’ training camp and then signed back via the league’s hardship contract. Then she was waived, and re-signed again. Through it all, she’s kept a level head and played surprisingly well, averaging 7.1 points and converting 44% of her chances from three (team-high).

“It’s exactly what we thought we could get from Karlie,” Miller said back on opening night. “Her shooting, her toughness, she is fundamentally where she’s supposed to be on both ends of the floor.”

Samuelson has etched a nice role off the bench player thanks to her resilience and ability to spread the floor. As long as she continues to stay aggressive and knocks down her looks, she’ll continue to be the star of the bench mob and finally find a longterm home.

Most Improved Player: Lexie Brown

After multiple seasons fighting for playing time and a consistent role, Lexie Brown is having her best campaign to date. She’s averaging career-highs in minutes per contest (31.9), points (13.3), assists (2.9) and field-goal percentage (48.4%).

Brown’s shooting has been a major catalyst to her turnaround. With the likes of Ogwumike and Canada collapsing the defense at the rim, Brown has taken advantage from the outside as she has emerged as one of the Sparks’ most dangerous perimeter threats.

Teams have also begun to work to deny Brown the ball and emphasize slowing her down. We’ve seen it work in a few games, like against Las Vegas where she scored just three points on seven shots. But overall, Brown has focused on staying effective and embracing this new challenge.

When I signed back to L.A., one of the first things that Curt told me was I need you to get out of this box of being just a shooter,” Brown said. “And I believe you can be a three-level scorer.”

That progress is well underway as Brown has nearly a 50/50 split in three and two-point attempts.

If Brown continues to play at this level, it not only raises the ceiling of this team’s potential but puts the league on notice.

With ten games about to be in the books, the Sparks have at worst met expectations and could even be perceived as ahead of schedule in their pursuit of ring number four.

The next quarter won’t get any easier as the team will have to adjust to playing without Layshia Clarendon, who will be out for the foreseeable future with a partial tear of her right plantar fascia.

Even with this setback, I expect the Sparks’ progress to continue. They have a solid core, an all-star level big and are holding onto the fifth-best record in the league. Another win on Friday would catapult them into the top four and slot them firmly amongst the league’s title contenders.

We’ll be back next quarter to check in on how the Sparks have fared and suss out which players deserve some more award recognition from yours truly.

You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.

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