August 1, 2023 

What Evina Westbrook brings the Los Angeles Sparks

Sparks add Westbrook on hardship contract amid key absences

The Los Angeles Sparks can’t seem to get a clean injury report. With key players in and out of the lineup, it’s been hard for them to develop consistency and chemistry despite adding several new faces in the offseason.

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In good news for the Sparks, both Layshia Clarendon and Karlie Samuelson have returned to the lineup. The bad news is that Lexie Brown, who had also returned to game action, is out again with a non-COVID illness. That’s in addition to being without Chiney Ogwumike who is expected to miss four-to-six weeks with a foot injury.

The Sparks have taken advantage of the WNBA’s hardship contract option when teams have less than ten available players. They initially signed Destanni Henderson to a hardship contract but have since released her. Rae Burrell, who was the team’s first round pick in 2022, remains on the roster on a hardship contract.

Needing additional bodies in the rotation, the Sparks signed former Tennessee and UConn standout Evina Westbrook to a 7-day hardship contract.

Since being drafted by the Seattle Storm with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, Westbrook has been unable to find a permanent home in the league. She’s on her fourth team in two years having played on combinations of standard contracts and hardship contracts.

Westbrook is a talented player and her plight only speaks to how hard it is to make a WNBA roster. The Sparks are looking for someone to give them some punch in the backcourt in the absence of Brown. One area where the Sparks hope she can contribute is outside shooting.

Westbrook’s three-point shooting percentages in the WNBA aren’t very efficient, but it’s not as if she’s really gotten much of a chance to play in the league. Outside of a brief stint with the Minnesota Lynx last season, Westbrook has only played sparingly. She shot well from the three-point line in college with a career mark of 33.4 percent. During her last season at Tennessee, she shot 38 percent.

The Sparks also need another ball-handler and playmaker with Brown out of the lineup and that’s another area Westbrook can help them with. When she was first drafted, the Storm had her running the backup point guard position during training camp. But she’s a combo guard.

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Right now the Sparks only consistent ball-handler and facilitator is Jordin Canada, who has been playing heavy minutes. Zia Cooke is a rookie and they haven’t gotten much out of Jasmine Thomas who is still getting back up to game speed following an ACL injury. If Westbrook can take some of the ball-handling pressure off Canada, that could make a huge difference.

The Sparks have seven days to evaluate Westbrook. At the end of that contract duration, depending on how Westbrook plays, if the Sparks still need an extra body they can either sign her to another 7-day contract or opt to bring in a different player.

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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