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2022-23 Sparks Season in Review: the good, the bad and the ugly

After a rollercoaster of a year, let’s assess what went right and wrong for Los Angeles ahead of their pivotal offseason.

WNBA: SEP 05 Los Angeles Sparks at Connecticut Sun Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first year of the Karen Bryant and Curt Miller era was a mixed bag. With both highs and holistic lows for the Sparks, there still remains optimism that the years ahead will bring the team back to the top of the league.

From his initial press conference, Miller stressed that patience was needed and that this venture was not a one-year task but a multi-year vision.

“We're not putting a timeline on how fast and how good we can be. But we won't cut corners to do it," Miller said. "We're going to do it with great people and we're going to do it the right way and the right way allows you to have sustained success and I'm excited to be building again."

The build may have just started as the Sparks finished with a losing record and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The postseason drought is the longest in the team's 27-year history.

While most of that happened under the old guard, the new guard didn’t fare much better in year one. Despite a disappointing season, there was still plenty of bright spots to be excited about, and also clear areas of improvement that will need to be addressed as the organization attempts to right the ship going forward.

The good

Although the collective results weren't ideal, multiple players had individual career years under Miller’s watch.

One that was a pleasant surprise came from Nneka Ogwumike. Ogwumike is already a Sparks legend, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, a champion and will undoubtedly have her banner hanging in the rafters when her career is all said and done. So, how did the 12-year veteran have the best season of her career at this late stage?

“I have a great team around me that keeps me in top shape. I’m really just grateful to be healthy in this way, and have teammates that support me in this way,” Ogwumike said during the team’s exit interviews.

“Realistically, the goal wasn’t really to outdo myself. The goal was always to perform for my team and I really hope that I’m able to do that every night as much as I can.”

Playing in 36 of the team’s possible 40 games, Ogwumike did just that. She finished the season averaging 19.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Those numbers rival her 2016 MVP season, where she finished with 19.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

Beyond the numbers, the Sparks’ offense also simply runs through Ogwumike. How many Horn sets started with a pass to Ogwumike on the elbow? Or how often did an early action end with the ball in her hands on the block? Rarely did an offensive possession occur where Ogwumike didn't at least touch the ball or have a say in who got the shot.

In a season filled with more losing than winning, Ogwumike’s continued leadership on and off the floor was a true bright spot. Whether it was her thoughtful responses to the media or guiding her teammates on the bench, Ogwumike once again proved why she remains the face of the franchise.

While Ogwumike’s play was not entirely unexpected, one of the team's biggest success stories was. Jordin Canada began the season on a training camp contract and no promise of even making the roster. By season’s end she became the Sparks’ starting point guard and finds herself in the running for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award.

A huge reason for Canada’s individual success this season came as a result of her improvements across the board.

One of the areas Canada made the biggest strides was in her 3-point shooting. Historically a weakness, Canada not only doubled her 3-point attempts, but converted 33% of her looks from behind the arc after shooting a woeful 14 percent from three last season.

Her growth as a perimeter threat paved the way for her reaching a double-digit scoring average for the first time in her career. Canada also took a step forward as a playmaker as she averaged a career-high six assists per game.

Due to her strong year and dedication to keep growing, Canada should be a top priority for the Sparks once she enters free agency.

The player who perhaps deserves the most flowers for her year, however, is Dearica Hamby. The 29-year-old’s tumultuous season began when she was traded to the Sparks back in January.

Hamby would go on to claim she was: “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” by her former team due to her pregnancy. The WNBA investigated and suspended coach Becky Hammon for two games and took away the Aces’ 2025 first-round pick as a result of their violations against the handling of player benefits and workplace policies.

After her difficult experiences in Las Vegas, getting traded and giving birth, Hamby’s playing status was up in the air, with some even questioning if she’d play at all this season. Instead, Hamby appeared in all 40 games, a feat only she would accomplish on the team.

Although her individual boxscore numbers didn't mirror her previous all-star output, what Hamby emotionally and physically endured this past year was nothing short of incredible.

"There are mothers out there that don't get to come back that soon," Hamby said in her exit interview. "And that doesn't mean that they aren't as heroic or that they aren't as super-womanish as me. Mothers just deserve grace."

There are other players who impressed as well like rookie Zia Cooke, Layshia Clarendon and Lexie Brown, all of whom left their mark on the season.

Despite the overall team results falling short, the individual stories that unfolded this season were captivating enough for the Sparks’ fanbase to rally around and celebrate.

The bad and the ugly

Injuries suck. You can gameplan, strategize and have as much depth as you want, but the best ability continues to be availability. If your top-level talent is unable to suit up, then you will almost always come into a game at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, the Sparks learned this the hard way.

With key players like Brown, Chiney and Clarendon sparingly available, the Sparks were forced to roll out 18 different starting lineups this season, a total that tied the most in WNBA history.

Besides constantly being stung by the injury bug, the Sparks’ offense also proved to be their Achilles heel.

L.A. had the third-worst offensive rating in the league with just 98 points scored per 100 possessions. Beyond being unable to convert regularly, there were countless times where the team’s disorganization in the half court reared its ugly head. Whether it was the shot clock constantly winding down against them or players simply being unable to execute the play-call, the offense readily found itself in the mud.

The Sparks very likely would be in the playoffs if they were more potent on offense as there were many games where things fell apart due to late-game execution. Their final matchup against the Chicago Sky is a perfect example of this.

The team was up at the half but came out of the locker room stagnant offensively. After mustering only 13 points in the third quarter, their lead vanished and they ended up losing by a single point to the very team they were jostling with for the final playoff spot. Had they won that game, they may still be playing basketball.

And finally when looking back at when things took a turn for the worse the eight-game losing streak during the dog days of the season was a key moment. L.A. found ways to lose time and time again to Phoenix, Minnesota and Chicago. They went from 7-7 to 7-15 and with the team never getting fully healthy, they never sniffed a .500 record again in 2023.

What's Next?

With exit interviews now complete, the offseason ahead offers the organization yet another chance to build. Between free-agency and the draft, there will be key decisions the team will need to make to help expedite their turnaround.

Thanks to only a handful of players on the books for the upcoming season, the Sparks are set to have a lot of cap space and roster spots to fill. Regardless of how they utilize their resources, the team will likely look dramatically different heading into next year.

It also still remains to be seen where the team will be picking in the upcoming draft. L.A. has the third-best odds at getting the top pick in a class that is thought to be one of the deepest ever.

There may have been some grace, understanding and trust given to Bryant and Miller in year one of this rebuild, but another season like this and all that leeway will disappear.

This is Los Angeles and you either win or get replaced with someone who can. If the braintrust truly believes they have the cornerstones in place to get back to the top, next season is the time that belief turns into results.

You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.

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