February 12, 2023
Stephanie Talbot and Azurá Stevens ready to build in Los Angeles
The veteran sharpshooter is eager to bring her talents to the Sparks.
Two of the main issues that plagued the Los Angeles Sparks for the past couple of seasons were the lack of consistent three-point shooting and lack of rebounding and size and the paint. The team made a couple of free-agent moves this month to address those issues with the signings of Stephanie Talbot and Azurá Stevens.
Talbot arrives in Los Angeles after having spent the last two seasons with the Seattle Storm. She brings a career average of 37.6 percent shooting from three-point range and during her two years with the Storm, she set career-highs in three-point percentage with 41.5 percent and 39.7 percent.
Throughout her five-year WNBA career, Talbot has been known for her long-range prowess. She’s someone opposing defenses need to know where she is on the court at all times. But she’s looked to expand her game as well. As a member of the Australian national team, Talbot has made more of an effort to be able to handle the ball a little more and become more of an off-the-dribble threat as well as a playmaker.
“I’m definitely known in the WNBA for three-point shooting, but in particular, when I played for the Opals, I think something I’ve really improved over the years is being able to get downhill, come off the pick and roll and facilitate. So keep on improving that and hopefully bring some of that to the Sparks as well,” Talbot said during her recent media availability session. “Passing is something I’ve always been good at, more of the decision-making for me. Being able to come off the pick and make the right decision and make a good pass.”
Talbot showed some of that ball-handling and passing ability last season in Seattle and with what should be a prominent role with the Sparks, she will get that opportunity to improve even more in those aspects. She’ll also get the chance to play multiple positions. As a big ball-handler, Talbot is able to play either small forward which is probably her natural position, or power forward in small-ball lineups to space the floor.
In today’s day and age, capable three-point shooting and versatility are a must with the game continuing to move towards ‘positionless’ basketball. In some lineups, Talbot can even play the two-guard, giving new head coach Curt Miller the ability to juggle lineups and put different looks on the floor against opposing defenses. Being able to be interchangeable in the lineup like that is something Talbot is looking forward to bringing.
“Definitely being a bigger guard gives me the versatility to maybe playing the four and stretch the floor from that position and do whatever I need to do to help the team,” Talbot said.
Turning their attention to their other area of emphasis in rebounding and defensive presence around the basket, the Sparks zeroed in on one of the top free agents on the market in Azurá Stevens. Stevens had spent the last three seasons with the Chicago Sky and was instrumental in their 2021 championship run.
Stevens is another versatile player who can play multiple positions from center to power forward and even some small forward as well. She’s expected to step right into the starting lineup and play alongside Nneka Ogwumike once the latter announces her expected re-signing. Stevens has been a productive player off the bench for the Sky the past couple of seasons but as enters the prime of her career, she’s ready for a starting role.
“I think a huge thing for myself is rebounding more. I think that’s an area I really can grow in, is more consistent rebounding. And even other things, I think I’m a pretty good passer too, I think being able to highlight that area of my game,” Stevens said during her recent media availability. “There’s a lot of different ways I can impact. I think increasing in all those areas while still being able to carry on with shooting well from the outside and being efficient down in the post. But I think in some of the other areas in terms of assists and blocks and especially rebounds, just increasing those numbers.”
Stevens, like Talbot, is a player that helps usher in this new era of ‘positionless’ basketball. Players are no longer pigeonholed into what is considered the norm for their assigned position. The offensive end isn’t the only area that Stevens can display her versatility. She can guard multiple positions too.
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“Having a bigger role, I want to be a consistent player that this team can really count on me for night in and night out,” Stevens said. “I think I impact the game in a lot of different ways. Defensively and offensively I can play multiple positions, I’m a versatile player. I can guard multiple positions. Just bringing that and being consistent in those areas on a nightly basis.”
The Sparks came into this free agency period with the most cap space in the league. For a team that needed a big splash as they move forward with the vision that Miller and new general manager Karen Bryant have laid out, they have done well addressing some key areas. Both Stevens and Talbot were among the better free agents on the market. Both Miller and Bryant identified them early as key targets and they were able to pull it off.
Written by David Mendez-Yapkowitz
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.