The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, August 26, 2020
How far can Candace Parker stretch? — Must-click women's basketball links — Interview with Candace Parker
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How far can Candace Parker stretch?
In the final moments of regulation during last week’s game between the Sparks and the Dream, Sparks coach Derek Fisher called a final ATO play. He’s got plenty of stars at his disposal, players capable of making big plays — Nneka Ogwumike, or Chelsea Gray, who has some WNBA Finals game-winners on her resume.
But instead, the call went to Candace Parker, who promptly did this.
The patience here is what got me. Knowing precisely where she had to be and getting there at precisely the right time. This is such a winning play.
This is, in many ways, the story of Parker’s career. She’s almost suffered for being the prototype much of the growth of the WNBA since she broke in, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in 2008, because no one really knew how to build a team around her. The Sparks, for the most part, certainly didn’t. And so Parker would be asked to do whatever was necessary, and her stats reflect this. There’s not really a Candace Parker season shape, if you go back and look at her career — one year, she’s leading the league in defensive rebounding, another year, in block percentage, one year in assist percentage.
It took until 2016 for her to win a WNBA title. But it had everything to do with the players around her. Candace Parker is a winning player. And when she’s fully invested, fully healthy, she might be the best there’s ever been.
And so, it is worth considering just what Candace Parker is doing this year in that context. She’s not putting up the counting stats that Breanna Stewart or A’ja Wilson is, she’s not a point guard with 50-40-90 rate stats like Courtney Vendersloot.
But she is doing whatever is necessary.
Let’s take her defensive rebounding percentage. She’s always been elite at that skill. Her 26.3 percent career mark is seventh in all of WNBA history.
But this year? So far? 35.5 percent. Only Chamique Holdsclaw ever had a better single season on that front, back in 2002.
I asked Parker about why she’s made this a point of emphasis, why she’s managing, at age 34, to leap over, slink around, and muscle out bigs who are a decade younger than she is. After crediting many of the defensive schemes designed by assistant coach Latricia Trammell, she added this: “I do believe our team is successful when I’m able to rebound the wall,” Parker said. “So when that happens, we’re able to get out and do what we like to do.”
What Las Vegas’ win over Seattle proved this weekend is that the crowning of a champion was, in fact, premature. Accordingly, there are reasons to think any of the top contenders — Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, even, should they get Sylvia Fowles back at full strength, Minnesota — can win a title this season.
Does anyone have someone with the combination of experience, skills and the sense of when to make a play quite like Candace Parker? Maybe Stewart — and a battle between the two of them is something we’d remember for a long time. Just as the late-career resurgences of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi allowed us to compare eras in real time back in 2018, what Parker is in 2020 could do the same for the versatile big prototype.
And if there’s an edge, well, it might be this: Stewart is 25. Parker is 34, closer to the end of her career than the start of it, as her coach delicately put it. The two have obviously found a detente not present last season — the mere decision to call Parker’s number in that Dream game’s final moments tells us that.
“A lot of the rebounding numbers, I think, are just a byproduct of her commitment to winning,” Fisher said. “I think that she realizes that’s really what separates the greats from the greatest — is the ability to lead your team to the top.”
This is not a Sparks team that needs Parker to do it all. That frees her up to do precisely what her team needs.
It might not be the year to be a team standing in her way.
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This week in women’s basketball
At FiveThirtyEight, I looked into why the home court is such an advantage in the WNBA this season, even though everyone is in the same place.
It was the longest shooting slump of Kia Nurse’s career. So how did she defeat it, and what did she learn along the way? Jackie Powell goes deep on how.
Brendon Kleen looked at all the self-published WNBA player work from the #wubble.
Her weekly W column also includes the proper amount of Julie Allemand respect.
Another WNBA CBA explainer from Jacob Mox, this on extensions.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo’s one-on-one this week is with Chelsea Gray.
Dan Connolly and Megan Gauer are excellent, and they are starting a UConn women’s basketball podcast. Check it out!
Brendon Kleen looks at how the WNBA’s brand recognition is helping drive sponsorship deals.
Five at The IX: Candace Parker
Parker spoke to the media on Tuesday. I asked her more about her defense, while she had plenty to say on a variety of topics. Take a listen by clicking on her picture below.