May 4, 2024 

2024 WNBA season preview: Los Angeles Sparks

Youth movement is underway for the Sparks

The 2024 WNBA season is going to look very different from what the Los Angeles Sparks are accustomed to. Since 2012, the one thing they’ve always been able to count on is the presence of former WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

That won’t be the case this year as Ogwumike headed north to join the Seattle Storm, leaving the Sparks in their first true rebuilding era in quite some time. With three WNBA championships under their belt and five total WNBA Finals appearances, the expectation for the franchise has always been to field a contender. In its first 24 seasons, it only missed the playoffs four times, and two of those were in its first two years of existence.

But the Sparks have missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons now, and they look to rebuild around their recent draft picks. Both Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson, the No. 2 and No. 4 picks in the WNBA Draft, respectively, should make a significant impact this season.

Here’s a look at the Sparks’ training camp roster and its strengths and weaknesses by position.

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

The backcourt

If there’s one thing the Sparks can count on this season, it’s a guard-heavy roster, barring any major transactions before the roster is finalized. Two of the biggest storylines surrounding the Sparks center on guards Lexie Brown and Zia Cooke.

Brown returned to the court in February with Athletes Unlimited after being sidelined for most of the 2023 season, including the final 17 games, due to illness. Before her illness, though, she was playing like a borderline All-Star.

In the 12 games she played, she averaged a career-high 12.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game with shooting splits of 48.6% from the field, 41.5% from 3-point range and 87.5% from the free-throw line. While she was more of a catch-and-shoot player during her first season with the Sparks, she became more of a consistent off-the-dribble player in 2023.

Cooke is in her second season in the WNBA following a rookie year that was defined by fluctuating playing time and flashes of potential. She’s been featured prominently in the Sparks’ offseason community efforts, and it’s probably safe to assume that she’s a lock to make the final roster.

Her shooting numbers were very inefficient last season (28.9% from the field and 26.1% from 3-point range), but she had a few games where she looked like she could be an offensive spark plug whenever the team needed a bucket.

Both Brown and Cooke should be in line for big seasons, with Brown being healthy and ready to play and Cooke likely taking on a bigger role.

The Sparks also welcome Layshia Clarendon back in the backcourt. Clarendon played out of position last season at small forward. While they did an admirable job as a starter, they would be better suited coming off the bench in a more limited role at their natural position.

While the Sparks are rebuilding, veterans like Clarendon who are good locker room leaders are a necessity on any team. Bringing her back was a no-brainer. She’ll help fill the leadership void following Ogwumike’s departure. (Clarendon uses he, she and they pronouns.)

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribe to The Next now and receive 50% off your subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Also providing leadership in the backcourt is Kia Nurse, who was acquired in a trade with Seattle in January. Nurse returned to the court in 2023 after missing the entire 2022 season rehabbing from an ACL injury. Nurse, who has a protected contract, will probably be in contention for a starting spot out of camp but could also be used as a bench scoring option.

The Sparks also have another newcomer on a protected contract in Aari McDonald. McDonald was acquired in an offseason trade that sent point guard Jordin Canada to the Atlanta Dream. McDonald is intriguing and exactly the kind of young player the Sparks should be targeting during their rebuild.

A former lottery pick, McDonald finished second in the 2021 Rookie of the Year voting. She followed that up with a strong second year, averaging 11.1 points per game. Last season, she dealt with a shoulder injury, but when she returned to the court, she was a consistent threat off the bench.

The Sparks also have Julie Allemand, who was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Sky. Allemand is on an unprotected contract, but it seems unlikely that the Sparks would give up a first-round pick in the trade just to cut her. She’s currently rehabbing from an injury overseas but is expected to join the team for the 2024 season.

Allemand has only played two seasons in the WNBA, in 2020 with the Indiana Fever and 2022 with the Sky. She made a big impact with the Fever as a rookie and looked like she had a promising future in the league. Her second season with the Sky didn’t quite go as well, with her numbers and role decreasing. Nevertheless, with a consistent, defined role, she’s capable of being a good backup point guard and could be in the mix for a starting role.

The frontcourt

All eyes will be on the Sparks’ frontcourt as their prized lottery picks make their WNBA debut. Brink at center and Jackson at small forward are the Sparks’ nucleus for the future. Both are in line to be featured prominently in the lineup this season, and both could compete for starting roles.

During Brink’s last season at Stanford, she became a more versatile offensive threat, attempting a career-high 2.0 attempts from 3-point range. Despite her slender frame, she is strong and an effective scorer in the paint. Continuing to develop her 3-point shot makes her that much more of an offensive threat in the WNBA.

Jackson is arguably the most WNBA-ready out of all the incoming rookies. Back in November at Tennessee, she had a strong outing during a scrimmage against Team USA. She would have been a first-round pick had she declared for the 2023 WNBA Draft, but coming back to school for one more year just reinforced how pro-ready her game was.

She’s a versatile wing who is comfortable with the ball in her hands and getting her own shot. For the past couple of seasons, the Sparks have lacked that dynamic wing scorer with size. Their wings have been either too small or not consistent enough of a scoring threat. Jackson will change all of that.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the frontcourt in the early days of training camp has been Li Yueru. Sparks head coach Curt Miller couldn’t stop raving about her and mentioned how, when the Sparks traded for her in February, they saw her as a starting-caliber center.

“She has absolutely been outstanding in the first three days,” Miller told reporters this week. “She is a bonafide center internationally. She is going to impact this league. I come from a team that was built around outstanding WNBA All-Star post players, and what she’s shown these first three days is just amazing.”

Li has only played one season in the league, back in 2022 for the Sky. She played in 16 games and didn’t make much of an impact, but she’s been a strong post presence in international competition. Li could form a formidable frontcourt duo alongside Brink with Brink’s developing ability to space the floor. Li has an unprotected contract, but it sounds like it will be tough to keep her off the final roster.

Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine

Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.

The rest of the frontcourt will be filled out by veterans Dearica Hamby, Azurá Stevens and Monique Billings. Hamby and Stevens are returners while Billings, a Southern California native, joins the Sparks after spending the first six seasons of her career with Atlanta.

Hamby was one of the Sparks’ most consistent players last season once she got her legs under her. The former back-to-back WNBA Sixth Player of the Year split time as a starter and a reserve. Her off-ball movement and activity on the glass make her a solid fit alongside whoever ends up being the Sparks’ primary ball-handler.

Stevens started off last season a bit slowly, as she missed the first five games due to a back injury. But once she was moved to her more natural power forward spot instead of center, she flourished. Stevens is a versatile player, with the ability to operate in the paint as well as step out and shoot from distance.

Billings could be battling for a roster spot, but she brings a valuable skill set. She is a good and mobile defensive player, is active on the glass, and has a consistent midrange jump shot.

Helping round out both the frontcourt and the backcourt are third-year wing Rae Burrell and veteran sharpshooter Stephanie Talbot.

Burrell can play either shooting guard or small forward, and towards the end of the last season, she showed a developing ability to make plays off the dribble. If she can tighten up her catch-and-shoot game, the Sparks have yet another talented young player who can fit their future plans.

Talbot missed all of last season after suffering an injury overseas. She can play both forward positions and has been one of the top 3-point shooters in the league. Her presence and skill set gives the Sparks a little lineup versatility.

Order ‘Rare Gems’ and save 30%

Howard Megdal, founder and editor of The Next and The IX, released his next book on May 7, 2024. This deeply reported story follows four connected generations of women’s basketball pioneers, from Elvera “Peps” Neuman to Cheryl Reeve and from Lindsay Whalen to Sylvia Fowles and Paige Bueckers.

If you enjoy his coverage of women’s basketball every Wednesday at The IX, you will love “Rare Gems: How Four Generations of Women Paved the Way for the WNBA.” Click the link below and enter MEGDAL30 at checkout.

The sum of the parts

The 2024 Sparks have a good collection of individual talent. The one thing they lack is a legitimate go-to scorer, but they have a couple of players who could ultimately become that.

This is going to be a tough group that plays scrappy and hard. The leading scorer is going to vary from game to game, depending on the matchup.

They’re going to be competitive, but wins might be a bit hard to come by. They’re going to give themselves a chance each game, though. And at the end of the day, player development is the main focus for this season.

Want more team-by-team previews for the 2024 WNBA season? Read them all here!

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.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.