WNBA Sparks-Sun trade grades: Chiney Ogwumike reunites with MVP sister Nneka in surprise deal
The Sparks sent the Sun a 2020 first-round pick
The Los Angeles Sparks continued their busy offseason on Saturday afternoon. Just athey sent Odyssey Sims to the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for Alexis Jones, the Sparks completed a surprise trade with the Connecticut Sun to acquire former No. 1 overall pick Chiney Ogwumike. In exchange, the Sparks sent the Sun their 2020 first-round pick.
The move came out of nowhere to most outside observers, and according to a report from WNBAinsidr's Rachel Galligan, that's because Ogwumike forced her way out by threatening to walk away from the team and focus on her budding broadcasting career with ESPN. Given the network's presence in Los Angeles, the Sparks are the perfect situation for Ogwumike to continue playing and working on TV.
And that doesn't even take into account the fact that she'll be able to reunite with her older sister, 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike. The duo played together for two seasons in college at Stanford University, leading the Cardinal to two straight Final Fours.
But aside from the drama of Ogwumike forcing her way out of Connecticut, and the neat story of her teaming up with her sister, how will this trade impact both teams on the court? Let's take a look.
Los Angeles Sparks trade grade: A-
- Chiney Ogwumike
From a pure talent standpoint, there's no question this deal is a home run for the Sparks. The Ogwumike sisters are two of the league's premier frontcourt players, and Los Angeles now has both of them.
Chiney has dealt with injuries, missing two full seasons in 2015 (knee) and 2017 (Achilles), but when healthy is one of the most efficient scorers in the league, and a dynamite rebounder -- in particular she is relentless on the offensive glass. Last season, Ogwumike finished third in the league in field goal percentage at 60.3 percent, and grabbed over seven rebounds per game, which was good for ninth in the league. In terms of offensive rebounding, only Minnesota Lynx star Sylvia Fowles was better than Ogwumike.
Though she operates almost exclusively in the paint on the offensive end, her athleticism and wide array of moves makes her a super tough cover on the block. And with Candace Parker and her sister Nneka both able to play away from the basket, the Sparks can make any frontcourt combination work.
At the same time, there are still some major questions regarding the Sparks' roster. Their recent trade with the Lynx to move out Sims made sense because of salary cap concerns and the potential to clear the decks a bit for a Liz Cambage trade. Now, though they boosted their overall talent level in acquiring Ogwumike, they still have the same concerns regarding their cap space and have an unbalanced roster.
They still need to sign All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray, and their frontcourt is bit overloaded now with the Ogwumikes, Parker, Jantel Lavender, first-round pick Kalani Brown and last year's first-round pick Maria Vadeeva. And given their acquisition of Chiney, trading for Cambage now makes less sense, even if they sent out a few frontcourt players in return.
There's no doubt the Sparks got much more talented on Saturday, but it will be quite interesting to see if they make any other roster moves ahead of opening day, which is now less than a month away.
Connecticut Sun trade grade: B+
- Sparks' 2020 first-round pick
Any time a star player forces their way out, it's not great news for the team that has to trade them, but the circumstances could be far worse for the Sun. Much like the Sparks will now be dealing with an overstocked frontcourt, the Sun had to navigate that problem last season, and would have again this campaign.
Their three best players, Ogwumike, Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones, were all bigs, and couldn't play together. Though head coach Curt Miller experimented with Thomas at the three, her skill set is much more valuable at the four, where she can operate as a point forward. And after a breakout season in 2017, when Ogwumike was out injured, Jones was forced to take a step back. She still won Sixth Woman of the Year, but only played 20 minutes per game. Along with that trio, the Sun would have also struggled to find minutes for both Morgan Tuck and their first-round pick this season, Kristine Anigwe.
With Ogwumike gone, Jones can move back into the starting lineup, where she'll form the Sun's best frontcourt pairing with Thomas. In 241 minutes with Jones and Thomas on the floor and Ogwumike on the bench, the Sun posted an outrageous plus-17.3 net rating. Jones' ability to space the floor and knock down 3s -- she shot 46.7 percent last season -- opens up all sorts of space for Thomas to go on her powerful drives into the paint.
Plus, the Sun were going to face some salary cap issues of their own down the line with all three of Ogwumike, Jones and Thomas, and may not have been able to keep all of them long-term. Ogwumike is a great player, but she wasn't the best fit with this current Sun roster, and flipping her for a first-round pick is a good bit of business that will help the Sun in the future, while not hurting them too much in the present.
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