A Revitalized Candace Parker Makes The Sparks A Legit WNBA Title Contender Once Again

Candace Parker playing at her best should probably trigger some sort of WNBA mercy rule. The two-time MVP is a one-woman transition bucket who slices through any matchup. As long as the Sparks put a good team around her, which they have in 2020, peak Parker puts the team over the top as a championship contender.

It should worry every team in the WNBA that we’ve seen that version of Parker lately. Over the past two games, Parker has filled up the stat sheet like only she can, helping the brilliant, dynamic Sparks start to fulfill their potential.

When Parker steps on a WNBA court, she sees a game she changed. Back in 2008, when she was the Rookie of the Year and MVP in her first WNBA season, her combination of smooth play-making, athletic defense, and three-level shot creation ushered in a new era of women’s basketball. For nearly a decade, Parker was a lock for 20 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a couple steals and blocks per night. She’s only missed the playoffs once, evidence that Parker’s presence has ensured a pretty good team for basically her entire life.

The league’s past two MVPs also show how Parker changed the league. Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne are simply the logical evolution of Parker — better scorers, smoother with the ball, a bit longer and quicker. But there are a few things the legendary Parker has that still separate her from the rest of the WNBA’s great players, and they could decide the 2020 championship.

This week, it was as if Parker remembered a few of them in real time. Against the Storm on Saturday, Parker got the Sparks back into the game by churning the team’s offense. Parker has few peers as a playmaker in all of basketball, moving the ball in a way that renders measuring assists useless. This one counts as an assist, but shows how Parker can create a great shot out of thin air. It’s a weapon no other team really has.

Los Angeles ultimately lost their battle with the league-leading Storm, but four nights later (the most rest L.A. will get all season), Parker was back at it, and this time got herself going offensively even more. Like LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo, any bit of space is too much when Parker has the ball in transition.

Because the Sparks have surrounded Parker with other fantastic, multi-skilled play-makers like Chelsea Gray and Nneka Ogwumike, the team is liable to turn defense into offense at a moment’s notice. When Parker wasn’t launching outlet passes all over the court to open teammates on Wednesday night in a blowout win over the Fever, she was reminding everyone of the magic she can create getting to the hoop.

Not only is Parker one of the only players in the WNBA who can match a player like Stewart move for move, she also may be the best at exploiting mismatches against bigger front court players as well. Indiana boasts one of the best young centers in the league in Teaira McCowan, finally in the team’s starting lineup in time to get bullied by the sage vet.

A flurry of up-and-unders, spin moves and dribble drives reminded McCowan why she still has a way to go, and why Parker is the ultimate advantage at center. Parker, unlike Stewart or Delle Donne (out this season with a back injury), also has the strength and footwork to bump around with the biggest bigs, and can finish through them. With a teammate like Ogwumike, another physical combo big and former MVP, Parker also gets the benefit of tinkering with matchups to exploit opponents even more.

This version of Parker was missing in 2019, but if it’s here to stay in 2020, the Sparks have to be among the favorites. Los Angeles dropped the game against Seattle because players like Gray and breakout wing Brittney Sykes were quiet, but everything comes together when Parker plays this way. If she can keep it up, Los Angeles can redeem its loss in the league semifinals last year.

Another peak season from the ageless Parker, combined with a roster that suits her so well, gives the WNBA another legitimate title contender and gives fans the show they’ve been missing since 2018 — a show only Parker can put on.