Why Noelle Quinn is a great pick up for the Sparks

. Thursday, May 7, 2009
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Much was made of the LA Sparks point guard play last year and they probably hope that Tuesday’s trade for Noelle Quinn will help bolster an otherwise thin point guard rotation for the 2009 season.

Is Quinn the ideal point guard for the Sparks? Probably not.

But is Quinn a good fit for the 2009 Sparks as currently constituted? Perhaps so.

While it may strike some as odd that the Sparks gave up two players – Sidney Spencer and Raffaella Masciadri -- to acquire Quinn, I would argue that this trade is exactly what the Sparks needed.

When your end of season team figures to be Lisa Leslie, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Betty Lenox, and a returning to form Candace Parker, you don’t need a superstar running point. All you need is a player to bring the ball up the court and pass it off to someone who can score. Really, this point guard shouldn’t even expect the ball back -- just pass the ball and don’t make mistakes.

Noelle Quinn fits the bill.

Consider the following that I wrote about Quinn’s play after a Minnesota Lynx – New York Liberty game last June (link):

Noelle Quinn is probably the epitome of a distributor – nothing fancy, just getting the ball up the court and efficiently initiating the offense. Last year she was second only to Ticha Penicheiro in pure point rating and first in Hollinger’s assist ratio among point guards – meaning she was very likely to pass the ball when it was in her hands.

She’s going to take what the defense gives her and get the team into the offense. This is what I think is normally meant by a “pass-first” point guard.
If we label Quinn according to the point guard styles that I laid out later in the summer, Quinn would actually be something more of an initiator – the player who brings the ball up court and gets the team into the offense, seemingly what the Sparks need. But really, that’s what they had last year in Shannon Bobbitt, Temeka Johnson, and Keisha Brown so what’s different (or better) about Quinn? Isn’t this just more of the same?

Perhaps not.

Quinn is entering her third year of professional ball and in the short excerpt above lies the key to evaluating this trade: which Noelle Quinn will the Sparks get – the one that was a rather efficient distributor in 2007 or the one that was a marginal initiator in 2008? Which leads to a sub-question: what happened in the 2008 that led to such a significant drop in point guard production (though an improvement in shooting statistics)?

I was about to write that this trade is therefore a calculated risk, but in reality it isn’t – the Sparks didn’t really give up enough to consider this “risky”. They needed a point guard and the Lynx had a glut at the guard spot. But if Quinn can return to her 2007 form, the Sparks may have just become an even more dangerous team…and in fact, Quinn might end up being the missing point guard piece that many Sparks fans longed for last season.

The Sparks problems were bigger than their point guard play

Point guard was indeed the Sparks’ weakest position last year, so of course filling that void should have been seen as a major off-season priority. And with the acquisition of Betty Lennox, that point guard weak spot is even more evident rather than less.

The argument for directing a spotlight at the point guard spot is simple (well…aside from the fact that coach Michael Cooper called out his point guards on more than one occasion): the point guard is the one responsible for maintaining the tempo, initiating the offense, and managing the team on the floor.

However, that does not necessarily mean the point guard deserves the brunt of the blame when things go wrong. And in the case of the Sparks, that was particularly true last year.

Sparks fans probably need not be told that the Sparks offense was erratic…but it was not always the point guards’ fault. Early in the season, they were trying to be an uptempo team. Later, they tried to position Parker as a superwoman who could bring the ball up the court, play from the wing, and play the post. If the point guards are asked to run a broken system, it will not work no matter who is running the show (see 2008-2009 Phoenix Suns).

Once the Sparks did settle into a defined system, it was much easier for Bobbitt to play the position extremely effectively. The game that really stands out in my mind was a mid-season win against the Mercury. Bobbitt brought energy, got the team into the offense quickly, and played admirable defense. When you have an Olympic frontcourt, that’s all you really need from a point guard.

Looking at last year’s point guard statistics, Quinn will bring about the same thing to the court as last year’s point guard triad. Beyond the statistics, although she might be a step slower than Bobbitt or Johnson, she is probably a better passer than any of the point guards they had last year. If she returns to the type of player she was in 2007 – moving from a player who is able to just bring the ball up the court back to one who can facilitate opportunities for others – she would be an upgrade from last season.

This, of course, does not take defense into account. However, if you have ever played with two dominant shot blockers, you might know that perimeter defense becomes much easier – since it’s harder to score inside, all you have to do on the perimeter is apply pressure, rotate, and help. Penetration is not only less of a problem, but it is also a strategy that most opponents would not even bother trying.

So what the Sparks need to hope for from Quinn and Bobbitt is simple: development. They are both young point guards who have shown flashes of doing exactly what the Sparks would need them to do. Therefore, it’s the rest of the veterans’ and the coach staff’s responsibility to provide the framework within which the young point guards can operate. For the Sparks, it should be obvious.

The key to the Sparks is the high low offense and rebounding

Nobody is going to stop a combination of Leslie and Parker.

They are the two best bigs in the WNBA which means double teaming one of them leaves the other open. Single coverage means leaving the other open.

So why would the Sparks do anything other than look into the post on every single possession?

Some would argue that the point guard needs to be an adept outside shooter to spread the defense. However, I would argue that their wins last year when they played the high-low post offense are proof that the Sparks just need someone to initiate the offense.

If Candace Parker is at the top of the key and Lisa Leslie is posting up, how exactly would a defense stop that?

If you throw the ball to the post and the defense doubles down off the non-shooting the guard, the guard can still drive in and hit a cutter. If the defense doubles off the high post, then that post can make a play. Single coverage in the post? I’ll bet on Leslie/Parker one-on-one against anyone in the league.

Others might respond that Leslie/Parker might have off games, therefore needing the guards to shoot from outside. However, this is also among the most dominant offensive rebounding teams in the league with Leslie, Paker, and DeLisha Milton-Jones – so once they do get a shot up they are able to get a number of second chances.

In other words, if the Sparks play to their strengths and force the other team to respond to their crew of Olympians, all the point guard has to do is limit mistakes. Noelle Quinn is perfectly capable of that.

Relevant Links:

Sparks’ Team Chemistry: A Bigger Problem Than Point Guard Play

L.A. Gets A Spark From Bobbit As Starting Point Guard

Why the Sparks’ Performance is Finally Meeting Pre-Season Expectations

Los Angeles-San Antonio Scouting Report: Offensive Rebounding is the Key

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Former WNBA draft pick (and Olympian) Marion Jones on Title IX & race

. Tuesday, May 5, 2009
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Salamishah Tillet of theRoot.com posted an article today about Marion Jones, who gave a speech late last month at the University of Pennsylvania's "Race and Sports" series to commemorate the 37th anniversary of Title IX.

Jones, who is most well known for her success as an Olympic sprinter and subsequent drug-related downfall, was also a point guard for the 1993-94 University of North Carolina National Championship basketball team and later a surprise WNBA draft pick in 2003 by the Phoenix Mercury, though she never played.

If you are able to set aside Jones' now tarnished legacy, Jones delivered a potentially powerful message about her legacy, Title IX, and generations of black women before and after her. From the video above:
"Our continued responsibility is to prove to the world that women -- black women -- can excel and sometimes even exceed the physical and intellectual capabilities of our male counterparts and make the right decisions to preserve opportunities for greatness, not just for us, but more importantly the generations that follow."
Of course, one could easily dismiss the entirety of Jones' message as some kind of cheap publicity stunt designed to rehabilitate her image after making some poor decisions in the past that led to six months in prison. However, I believe that once one serves the time, we should not continue to subject them to a life sentence in the court of public opinion.

However, the point of the article goes beyond that -- not merely asking forgiveness for her past crimes, but for her inability to leverage her celebrity status for the greater broader cause of gender equity in sports and society at large.

Is this too large a responsibility for one woman? Probably. However, would it be too large a task for a collective of female athletes?

Tillet describes Jones' message about Title IX and its impact on black athletes. But she also highlights how Jones apparently spoke of her failure to leverage her sports celebrity even to help other address the gender inequalities in sports.
Instead of creating a dialogue with her fellow female celebrity athletes, such as Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie, and Venus and Serena Williams, she said, she squandered her national media platform, engaging in behind-the-scenes competition for endorsement deals, magazine covers and interviews.

Yet, although Jones was not able to create a dialogue with her fellow female celebrity athletes, Tillet does mention a connection she has made with John Carlos, a black track and field athlete. Carlos and Tommie Smith, best known for raising their fists with black gloves on the medal stand at the 1968 Summer Olympics, spoke the previous night. Carlos and Jones embraced briefly near the end of the event.

What I appreciate about the article is that it highlights the opportunity beyond any individual sport or gender divide for athletes to come together to work for a more equitable society. The connection of Carlos to Jones to Lisa Leslie may seem tenuous to some, a ridiculous attempt to conjure up a political movement out of games that are supposed to be about competition and our personal entertainment, not our intellectual development.

But when you consider how Carlos and Smith leveraged their brief moment on the Olympic stage to make a statement of great importance to black society -- if not the U.S. at large -- in 1968, the potential to make an impact through sports is readily apparent. And Jones, by her own admission, failed to maximize that opportunity.

While WNBA women do not have the earning power of their male counterparts to fund even the smallest of community building efforts, the opportunity to build coalitions of female athletes to support one another and the up and coming generation of girls is certainly there.

The question is whether all black female athletes have the same sense of responsibility Jones has...and if they'll realize that responsibility before the window of opportunity closes.

Related Links:

Marion Jones has new purpose after steroid scandal

Transition points:

Matt Fleggenheimer of the Daily Pennsylvanian got a quote from Carlos about Jones:
"She's come to the conclusion," Carlos said, "that the greatest invention of all time is not the airplane or the television or the teletype, but the simple thing on the back of that pencil: the eraser."

"She realizes she can make the correction to the mistakes she's made in life and move on. That's a gallant individual."
Despite her politicized speech, Marion Jones was unable to vote for President Barack Obama in the last election as the result of her conviction, as she told Oprah in an interview a few months ago.

While Tillet was quite gracious in her account of Marion Jones, world renowned journalist Philip Hersh had a different take: how can we trust anything Jones says knowing that she's already lied to us?

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Celebrating Childhood and Denouncing Neoliberalism

. Monday, May 4, 2009
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It was a slow WNBA news weekend/early morning...and then Lauren Jackson got signed.

Congrats Storm fans. Good luck to you Mercury.

So anyway, my mind was wandering this morning and started thinking of a potential post for tomorrow...at which point Tevin Campbell and Quincy Jones' song Tomorrow came to mind.

If you don't like this song, you might not like music, childhood, or humanity.

I was an 80's/90's child and my parents were Motown youth, so somehow this song was sort of like a bridge between the two generations that we could both get into.

So as I was reminiscing on childhood, I somehow started thinking how ultimately basketball is just a game. A game that many of us came to in childhood. It's about play, imagination, and celebration. A shame when it becomes about money, celebrity, and the media.

Then later on as I was walking around campus between meetings someone handed me a flier from one of those student groups dedicated to "putting Nike on notice" for their violations on campus (not sure what they are...and I can't make their meetings to get anymore information).

Which made me wonder about the proposal for WNBA corporate sponsorship:

Are there corporations that you would think the WNBA should reject for political reasons?

Or is all financial support equal regardless of the source?

Are there certain partnerships that would undermine the WNBA's claim that they are claiming to empower women, given that many of the labor practices of big corporations disproportionately harm women, particularly minority women, in the process of harming children?

I know it's wrong and devious to make this about the children and childhood -- everybody does that, whether conservative or liberal. Some of these corporate interests directly harm children by destroying families and communities and forcing children into the workforce at the expense of education. And if childhood isn't beautiful and worth protecting, I'm not sure what is.

Related Articles:

The WNBA & Corporate Marketing (here I advocated for linking with corporations...for the little catchy jingles they create)

New Sports Marketing Partnership Comments On Future

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Tiny update on Lauren Jackson from Ann Myers Drysdale

. Sunday, May 3, 2009
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For those of you craving the taste of any tiny morsel of Lauren Jackson news, the second part of Phoenix Stan’s interview with Mercury General Manager Ann Myers Drysdale might provide something to get you through the night.

I talked to Phoenix Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale about Jackson when we met last week and again today [May 2] at the team's open try-out session.

"We'd like to think that we have a great chance if Lauren comes. It puts us over the top but I've got to plan for Lauren not to be here."

Ann repeated this again today saying she talked to Lauren's agent two days ago and is working on bringing her to Phoenix but reiterated that she's not planning for Lauren to be here.

"Seattle is a team that she's familiar with. She likes Brian Adler and she and Sue Bird have been together since she's been there so it's a 50 - 50 chance. We don't know which way it's going to go but either way we've go to be prepared."
The article goes on to describe some of the challenges the team faced last year, both the offense and defense, as well as a brief vignette from the team’s open tryouts held yesterday.

The questions that arise for me, regarding Jackson in particular:

How would she fit in their Rover defense schemes, which they had such problems executing consistently last year?

How might she and Taurasi mesh offensively?

On a side note, I’m not particularly clear on how Nicole Ohlde fits into the Mercury’s up-tempo style, but a hypothetical rotation of Jackson, Ohlde, and Tangela Smith sounds competitive to me.

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