June 17, 2021
What Karlie Samuelson, Kristine Anigwe bring to Sparks
Toughness and shooting help round out Los Angeles' rotation
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The Los Angeles Sparks have been hit hard with injuries recently. They lost rookie Jasmine Walker for the rest of the season with an ACL tear, and they’re currently without both Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike.
Nneka is out four to six weeks with a knee injury and Chiney is set to be re-evaluated as the team returns home for the next four games.
The injuries put the Sparks below the ten-player threshold allowing them to sign additional players under the WNBA’s hardship exception. The Sparks brought in a pair of familiar faces this past week in Kristine Anigwe and Karlie Samuelson.
Anigwe spent last season with the Sparks after being traded from the Dallas Wings in the offseason. She was originally drafted by the Connecticut Sun in the 2019 draft but played sparingly before being shipped to Dallas.
With the absence of both Chiney and Maria Vadeeva in the bubble, Anigwe carved out a role for herself as a backup center and she showed flashes of toughness on both the defensive end and on the glass. She was in camp with the team to begin this season, but was one of the final roster cuts.
The Sparks have begun to develop a tough and gritty mentality this season. Angiwe has played that style of basketball since her college days at Cal and that, along with her familiarity with the team made her an ideal candidate as temporary relief.
Anigwe could see that toughness developing within the team during their early training camp days.
“We had a really good training camp. . .it was very competitive, we all played really hard,” Anigwe said. “I’ve always played like that. I’m just going to keep doing what I do and try to bring energy to this team.”
Anigwe has been in the rotation for the Sparks the past two games. She had her best game of the season against the Washington Mystics on Jun 16 with nine points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes of action. Now in her third year in the league, Anigwe points to her maturity as to what she’s improved on the most.
“I’m a more mature version of myself from college, making better reads, increasing my IQ, and just having really, really good teammates and learning from them,” Anigwe said. “I feel like every year I get better. . .I’m just trying to learn where I’m going to fit and eventually I’m going to be on a team where I can really just play my game.”
Samuelson is also no stranger to the Sparks organization. She began her WNBA career with the Sparks after going undrafted in 2017. With the exception of a training camp stint with Dallas last season, she’s spent her entire WNBA career thus far with the Sparks.
Consistent three-point shooting is something that has eluded the Sparks this season, and Samuelson can definitely help in that regard. While she hasn’t quite gotten consistent enough minutes to show that in the WNBA, she was a career 44.3 percent three-point shooter at Stanford.
“We’ve got some really fast guards, some great one-on-one guards,” Samuelson said. “I think I can fit in well spacing out, shooting whether it’s spacing out the corner or pulling defenders out so they have more space to drive. I’m excited to get in that.”
Although Samuelson is in the mold of a modern day player for modern offenses as a someone who can play small ball at power forward and draw defenses out to the three-point line, she’s yet to be able to find any long term security in the WNBA.
She’s played well overseas though and has had some success against current WNBA players in their overseas leagues. It’s given her the confidence to believe that she can make an impact against these same players back here at home.
“It is so hard to make a spot in this league. Every opportunity that I get, I never take anything for granted,” Samuelson said. “I want to take advantage of it and know that it’s really special to be in this league with this group of girls, with this staff, learning from the best. . .I just want to help the team how I can.”
For Sparks head coach Derek Fisher, his familiarity with both players helps. While things have changed since the last time both players were here, especially Samuelson, he’s confident that they can pick things up quickly and make an impact if called upon.
“We’re just trying to provide enough information that when and if they see minutes and opportunity, they feel somewhat sure of what it is we’re trying to get accomplished on each side of the basketball,” Fisher said. “We’re just trying to cover some things they both remember in some ways and a few new things that we’ve done.”