Among the most significant of the Los Angeles Sparks' improvements this season is their 3-point shooting - through three games, they're shooting 10% better than they did last season.
The result, and of course a contributing factor, is far better spacing on the court and the ability to put pressure on the opposing defense to rotate out on their shooters as they continue to move the ball well.
Although forward Candace Parker has had a noticeable impact on facilitating that better shooting, one of the more impressive individual contributors has been third-year guard Kristi Toliver. After struggling to find her comfort zone in her first two seasons, George Toliver - her father and the NBA's Director of Referee Development - described why L.A. has been such a good situation for her in a Father's Day interview on SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.
Kristi Toliver's Father-Daughter 'Basketball Connection' Still Evolving With Her WNBA Career - Swish Appeal
"I think Los Angeles' style of play is certainly complementary," George said. "I think the personnel on Los Angeles' team creates some spacing that I think is good. And I just think a positive state of mind, contributed with those two factors, certainly bodes well for how she plays."
The 5'7" guard out of the University of Maryland is currently third on the team with a career-highs 13.3 points per game to go with a 52.6 percent 3-point shooting percentage. And while George cites an increased composure and determination for her improvement, Toliver sees it as a continuation of what she started at the end of last season.
"Towards the end of the season this team started to really click and started to get in a rhythm and playing pretty good basketball," Toliver said in an interview last Friday. "So definitely the previous games that I've been competing in and playing well has given me the confidence to go in to this season and be confident and just play basketball."
Toliver's increasing confidence was evident in her last visit to KeyArena during the Sparks' first round playoff loss to the Seattle Storm last year in which she tied for a team-high 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting. But the Sparks will need more than Toliver's shooting to beat the Storm to launch their 2011 season series.
Keys to the game for the Storm:
- Closing out on the Sparks' shooters: In addition to Toliver, the Sparks have Ebony Hoffman (50%), DeLisha Milton-Jones (33%), Jenna O'Hea (40%), Noelle Quinn (40%), and Tina Thompson (37.5%) who are all capable of hitting 3-point shots with consistency. Losing track of a defensive assignment - particularly with Candace Parker and Ticha Penicheiro on the floor to whip the ball around the court - can be deadly.
- Converting on second chance point opportunities: The Sparks have not been a particularly good offensive rebounding team, giving up big rebounds to both the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury. The Storm tend to be a strong rebounding team and second chance points will be one place where they can very easily build an advantage. This also fits the earlier point about Lauren Jackson - although she'll be responsible for guarding Parker at times, this is also an opportunity for her to get going offensively.
- Winning the turnover battle: The Sparks are not the most turnover prone team in the league, but there has been an almost direct relationship between turning the ball over four or more times and their overall performance as a unit - they're relying heavily on ball movement and knocking down good looks and just aren't overcoming sloppy play well. Surprisingly, the player turning the ball over most often has been point guard Ticha Penicheiro who is averaging 2.67 per game. The Storm's ability to pressure ball handlers while maintaining a focus on rotating to shooters could be critical in helping them gain control of this game.