September 24, 2020 

Candace Parker wins 2020 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year

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MVP, Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, All-Star Game MVP, and now Candace Parker has some new hardware to add to the collection

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 17: Candace Parker #3 of the Los Angeles Sparks handles the ball against DeWanna Bonner #24 of the Connecticut Sun during the WNBA Playoffs on September 17, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

MVP, Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, All-Star Game MVP, and now Candace Parker has some new hardware to add to the collection.

The 13-year veteran of the Los Angeles Sparks was just named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, and for her, this award means a little bit more to her than all the others. Throughout the season, Parker often quoted her college coach, the late Pat Summitt, especially Summitt’s line about offense selling tickets, defense winning games, and rebounding winning championships.

After winning the award, Parker gave a lot of credit to Summitt for instilling those defensive principles within her, as well as some of the top defensive players she’s been able to play alongside throughout her career.

“This is going to go above MVPs and Rookie of the Year. I think for me, the first coach that really challenged me and told me I could be Defensive Player of the Year was Coach Summitt,” Parker said on a call with media Thursday morning. “Everybody from Tennessee that has hit me has told me you know she’s up there smirking saying ‘you could have done this earlier.’ I think it’s better late than never, but honestly, it’s being around great teammates. I played with two defensive players of the year in Alana Beard and Lisa Leslie. It really is a mindset, and I’m really proud of this award.”

Throughout her career, Parker has actually always been a good defensive player. She’s fourth all-time in the WNBA in defensive win shares, and she has been named to two All-Defensive second teams in 2009 and 2012 as well.

Despite that, this has been the first season in which she was in the running for the award early on and her defensive efforts were starting to get noticed a little bit more. She led the league in rebounds with 9.7, something she hasn’t done in over a decade (2009). She was also a staple on the team in getting back in transition or in half-court sets to get herself planted and take a charge.

Parker mentioned how this season, in particular, made it an effort to really concentrate on the defensive end of the court. Before the season began, when everything was up in the air amid the early outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker watched The Last Dance and studied the rebounding philosophies of former NBA player Dennis Rodman.

“Because of in years past, people think I take lapses and I take time off…I think that maybe truly affected the way people look at the game and looked at the way I defend. I think I took it as a challenge this year,” Parker said. “You got to utilize what you’re good at. You got to make people play the way that you’re good at. I try to use my length and my quickness when I’m playing against size…I’ve had to be a little bit smarter my thirteenth year, and I don’t know whether that should have been how I was playing all along, but just in terms of really studying the opponent and being up to date with how the game is played, you’ve got to be a lot smarter and use less energy.”

And as the game of basketball has changed, so has Parker. Offenses have evolved and developed in both the NBA and the WNBA to more of a perimeter-oriented game. Offensive players are very versatile now which makes guarding them that much more difficult.

Parker has watched the evolution of the game on both the men and women’s side and has adapted her defensive game to be able to keep up with the changes. She’s noticed that with the increasing emphasis on being able to shoot well from the three-point line, the defenses are more spread out and the game has become much more of being able to play within a defensive system rather than just having good, individual defenders.

“We’ve seen the way that the NBA has kind of changed…you got to be able to do something else. You got to be able to knock down a three, you got to bring value, guys are too good individually. We’re seeing that in the women’s game as well,” Parker said. “You’re not going to have those individual, lockdown defenders, you got to be able to play within a system, I think the WNBA has grown so much in the skill-set of being able to be in the right place in your scheme…I think the women’s game is headed in the right direction and we’re getting more scoring, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not defending with the same tenacity and desire as before.”

And ultimately, Parker is hoping that this award might change some of the perceptions about her. She knows that she’s always been seen as a great offensive player, but she wants to be known as somebody who locks up on the other end as well.

“I really don’t want to be known as just an offensive player,” Parker said. “Whether this changes the narrative or not, I hope going forward that I continue to play both sides of the ball.”  

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