June 14, 2022 

The Fred Williams era is underway

Fred Williams' first game as Sparks head coach didn't quite go as planned but there is reason for optimism going forward

The Fred Williams era for the Los Angeles Sparks got underway on Saturday with an 89-72 loss to the visiting Las Vegas Aces. It was the Sparks’ first game since parting ways with former head coach and general manager Derek Fisher.

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The last time the Sparks matched up against the Aces on May 23, they found themselves down 39-19 at the end of the first quarter before ultimately falling, 104-76. The initial effort was better on Saturday, but not enough to avoid a similar outcome.

Before the game, Williams had mentioned a few things the team had gone over during the week’s practices that he wanted to see implemented in games, specifically speeding up the offense a little bit more, limiting turnovers and being a more aggressive defensive team.

The defense has been a big issue this season which comes as a bit of a surprise considering how the Sparks have been among the WNBA’s elite on that end of the floor the past couple of seasons. Williams believes that the foundation for that defense is still there and that when adding new players, it’ll take some time before it all comes together.

“Every year when you have new players, new faces, and when you have younger players, it takes a little bit more time to get them acclimated to what you’re trying to do on defense,” Williams said before the game. “I think the style now going forward is just trying to be in the mindset of being more aggressive, trapping the screens a little more and trying to take the ball out of the opponent’s hands.”

It started that way for the Sparks. They were able to keep pace with the Aces in the first quarter, unlike the last time. But the second quarter was where things got out of hand, namely on the defensive end and the Sparks were never able to recover.

They gave up 27 points in the second quarter and trailed 52-35 at the half. For Jordin Canada, the Sparks’ defensive issues that quarter started with them not getting back enough in transition.

“I think it was our transition defense. It allowed them to get out and run. I think in that second quarter, they hit timely threes and it allowed them to gain that lead,” Canada said after the game. “You’re trying to drive them off the three-point line. . .not helping and allowing them to shoot wide-open threes. I think that’s when they got hot and as you can see, they scored 27 in the second quarter. I think that’s honestly where we kind of had our slippage.”

Despite the loss, there were some things the team did a little bit differently under Williams that were noticeable. While the Sparks only scored 72 points, there were times the offense seemed to flow a little bit better, particularly with Canada and Chennedy Carter sharing the backcourt.

Williams played his entire rotation, including seldom-used second-year forward Jasmine Walker and rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa. After the game, Nneka Ogwumike mentioned how she could see the differences and how they can benefit the team moving forward.

“There was flow. One thing I liked that Coach Fred did is I like when he plays JC and Chennedy together. I think it offers a really different perspective, especially with how quick both of them are,” Ogwumike said. “We still have some chemistry that we need to build, we still have some synergy that we need to build, but to get a bulk of people in there is good. I think that’s always good. Everyone got in.”

As far as Williams’ assessment of himself in his first game as Sparks head coach? He feels like he saw what he needed to see in order to string together some really good practices this week. The Sparks don’t play again until Sunday, June 19, on the road against the Dallas Wings, so they have time this week to continue getting acclimated to Williams’ style.

“I got what I needed to get in and get on film and get game tested. We got practice tested, but we needed to get game tested and get tested with one of the best teams in the league,” Williams said after the game. “For me, it’s just keeping this team intact, having fun together, and learning together. I still have their eyes in the huddle and they executed plays and they tried to do some things out there; it was that much away from happening. By the time we play here next time at home, you will see a big-time result with this team.”

And as far as Williams’ potential job prospects, he was already committed to taking on the role of assistant coach with the Auburn women’s basketball team under head coach Johnnie Harris before being named Sparks interim head coach.

He was supposed to leave for Auburn before the end of the WNBA season, but obviously, those plans have changed. He still has the Auburn position available once the Sparks season is over, but depending on how things shape up, he’s okay with being considered for the Sparks full-time head coach.

“I’m just gonna enjoy coaching and helping this team and helping the game and WNBA, period,” Williams said. “It’s nice to know that I’m needed at both places and right now, I have to go with what’s right in front of me and help these young ladies get to another level.”

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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