View Original Notice ? Sparks looking for versatility in Monday’s WNBA Draft

Last year, the Sparks showed up to the WNBA Draft needing hard hats and reflective vests, in the midst of a full-on, laborious rebuild after perennial All-Stars Candace Parker and Cheslea Gray bolted in free agency.

Going into Monday’s selection show, some old overalls should suffice; there’s less weight on the Sparks’ draft after a busy free agency laid what looks like a sturdy foundation.

The annual selection show begins at 4 p.m. on ESPN. For the first time since COVID-19 forced it to go virtual in 2019, the three-round draft will be held in-person in New York.

The Washington Mystics won the draft lottery, but on Wednesday they traded that top pick to the Atlanta Dream for the No 3. overall pick, No. 14 overall pick, plus rights to swap 2023 draft picks.

The Sparks have the ninth, 16th, 19th and 27th picks – though only one training camp invitation to offer with 14 players already accounted for before the roster is whittled to just 12.

“We feel like the offseason we already had and the team we’ve put together, it’s given us a lot of flexibility in the type of player we draft, not having the pressure and the expectation of turning things around for us necessarily,” said Derek Fisher, the Sparks coach and general manager, by phone Saturday.

“We’re in a pretty good spot. That’s how we’re going into it, which is a good feeling be opened-minded.”

That isn’t to say the Sparks don’t have holes to plug.

In 2021, Fisher used his first draft as GM to continue load up on athletic, versatile wings.

The Sparks had added Nia Coffey and Bria Holmes in free agency before drafting Jasmine Walker, Arella Guirantes and Stephanie Watts – the latter of whom they’d soon trade for another wing, Gabby Williams, who never played for the Sparks. She sat out last season in order to honor her French national team commitments and then the Sparks traded her to Seattle this offseason for Katie Lou Samuelson and Monday’s No. 9 pick.

“I want people to feel like we’re playing with our hair on fire,” Fisher said after last year’s draft. “Every possession, making people uncomfortable when they play against the Sparks. No longer living off of the names on the back, but really relying on the work and the fight and the mindset to be champions.”

Fisher is still interested in the type of players who helped the injury-ravaged Sparks succeed at giving opposing scorers headaches: They allowed just 77.1 points per game, second-fewest in the WNBA.

But the Sparks had an even harder time scoring, averaging a league-low 72.8 points per game en route to a 10th-place finish and a record of 12-20, the second-worst in franchise history.

Now, of all the wings the Sparks brought in last season, only two remain: Guirantes, a second-round pick who averaged 3.2 points per game last season, and Walker, the No. 7 overall selection who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Game 2 and missed the rest of her rookie season.

And about those names on the backs of jerseys?

The Sparks enjoyed a splashy free agency, including signing one of the sport’s biggest names, All-Star center Liz Cambage, a proven scorer who has averaged double-digits and shot better than 50% in all five of her WNBA seasons.

With Cambage joining Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Amanda Zahui B. and Lauren Cox in the post, the Sparks also loaded up on guards, signing or trading for Chennedy Carter, Jordin Canada and Lexie Brown, who juice up a backcourt that also features Kristi Toliver, Brittany Sykes and Te’a Cooper.

So a year after stockpiling wings, the Sparks are short on them now.

“We definitely believe in this draft there are several players that fit that mold, that kind of vary in height or metrics, but do have an ability to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor,” Fisher said. “And we think that versatility is really key. How do you complement Nneka and Liz and Kristi and Chiney and our other veteran players and Chennedy Carter coming in and Brittany Sykes growing and welcoming Jasmine Walker back?

“That player having the versatility to be able to mold herself to different lineups, I think there are a lot of players who fit that … a wing player who was a forward in college and has the ability to slide over to the wing, we’ll look at that closely.”

Several prospects fit the bill in this year’s draft class, which includes 108 players for 36 draft positions, of whom fewer than 12 could be on rosters when the season begins in May.

Florida Gulf Coast’s Kierstan Bell – a 6-1 scorer who averaged 23.5 points as a junior, plays multiple positions and rebounds well – is considered the top wing of the bunch.

Others more likely to be available when the Sparks draft ninth include UConn’s Evina Westbrook (a versatile 6-footer who defends) and Tennessee’s Rae Burrell (a 6-1 prospect who shot 40.2% from deep as a senior).

The large pool of prospects includes four UCLA players – guards Natalie Chou, Chantel Horvat and Jaelynn Penn, as well as forward Iimar’i Thomas. Cal State Bakersfield wing Jayden Eggleston also is among the WNBA hopefuls.