Nylon Calculus: Candace Parker is having a resurgent WNBA season

(Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
(Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

It’s been an up-and-down start for the Los Angeles Sparks but Candace Parker is playing as well as she has in a long time.

Candace Parker has accomplished just about everything possible on the WNBA court. She’s a former Rookie of the Year, a five-time All-Star, two-time champion, two-time MVP and a Finals MVP. But, at 34, she’s also entering a different phase of her career.

By Positive Residual’s Estimated Contribution, her last two seasons have shown a steady decline from her career peak in 2017 and they were the least impactful seasons of her career other than the injury-shortened campaigns of 2010 and 2011. But, seven games into this unusual WNBA season, she’s making it clear that she’s not planning on just slowly regressing her way into retirement.

Again, we’re only seven games into the season but by Estimated Contribution, this has been the fifth-most impactful season of her career and she’s seen a big jump in effectiveness at both ends of the floor over the past two years.

Parker’s per-game averages are down from career peaks — 14.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists — in a few areas but she’s still thrown down some ridiculous lines that display her historic versatility. She just missed a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists in a 16-point win over the Lynx. A’ja Wilson got the better of her in a recent matchup against the Sparks, but Parker still put up 20 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

Candace Parker is making it work on defense

A decrease in minutes explains the drop in her per-game numbers but, per minute, Parker is averaging a career-high in defensive rebounds to go along with a career-high in 2-point percentage. Her block percentage is higher than it’s been since 2012 and her steal percentage is the highest it’s been since 2017. Her work on defense, in particular, has been driving the Sparks and she’s been the foundation for the third-best defense this season.

Parker has been very effective in leveraging her mobility in helping close down the center of the floor. Of her 11 blocks so far this season, none have come at the rim. She’s blocked a 3-pointer and then 10 that have fallen in the 4-14 foot range. But she’s also been an intimidating presence in the middle of the floor, just keeping opponents away from the basket even if she’s not blocking shots. Just 42 percent of opponent shot attempts have come in the paint, the third-lowest mark in the league.

The addition of Seimone Augustus has been huge, for both Parker and the Sparks. Augustus has been incredibly disruptive, averaging more steals per possessions than she has in any season since 2009. In the 73 minutes she and Parker have been on the floor together, opponents have scored just 80.8 points per 100 possessions, the lowest mark of any two-person duo to play at least 70 minutes together this season. Augustus is just part of a deep rotation of aggressive, swarming guards — including Riquna Williams and Brittney Skyes — who are helping ensure opponents are turning the ball over on roughly one out of every five possessions.

The Sparks have a long way to go before Parker could claim another ring. Their three losses have come against other contenders — the Storm, Sky and Aces — but they’ve also beat the Lynx and Mercury, two other teams with championship aspirations. The offense hasn’t been running on all cylinders but you can pin at least some of that on an absurdly uncharacteristic cold shooting streak from Chelsea Gray (3-of-20 on 3-pointers from a career 38.5 percent 3-point shooter).

But the most important thing for the Sparks’ ceiling is Parker showing she can still be a dominant two-way force. So far, she has.

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