Nneka Ogwumike is 10 games away from shattering the WNBA’s 13-year-old record for single-season field goal percentage, and she’s doing so as the league’s third-highest scorer. Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler said he doesn’t even run a lot of plays for Ogwumike, who raised her shooting percentage a colossal 18 points from last season to an unheard-of 71 percent.
So how is she doing it?
"We don’t run a lot of things just to get her the basketball. [Nneka] gets hers a lot off just our offense and spacing the defense," Agler said.
She isn’t doing anything fancy. Ogwumike’s game is simple but gritty, with her type of physicality scarcely matched. Nearly all of her points come from a few feet outside of the rim, and are met with contact she’s strong enough to finish through.
"You get the ball to her later on in the shot clock when there’s a lot of space to operate," said Agler. "Now she has an advantage over most people with her quickness and athleticism. She’s doing a lot of this on her own."
Ogwumike’s been a rock in L.A.’s meteoric rise from the WNBA’s lower middle of the pack to the best team in the league by both record and team efficiency measures. She’s undoubtedly the biggest factor in her team’s improvement. She’s made a team-high 179 of the 252 shots she’s taken, making 84 percent of her 122 free throw attempts.
That’s why Ogwumike is set to smash Tamika Raymond’s 66.8 shooting percentage record from 2003. Raymond set that record on half the shot attempts and points per game as the Sparks’ forward is posting.
Ogwumike’s success comes mostly because she’s smart with her shot selection and quick moving off the ball. Straight-line cuts, backdoor looks and spins around defenders without the ball are the bread and butter of what she does to get to the free throw line or create easy assist opportunities for her teammates.
Her off-ball movement has made Ogwumike an easy-to-find target for the Sparks’ offensive focal point. "I think what really helps Nneka is that she and Candace [Parker] have a great chemistry," said Agler. "They can play off each other really well with Candace’s passing ability and Nneka’s finishing ability."
Parker is averaging nearly two assists to Ogwumike per game as the pair run the court with the sort of telepathy that comes from having played together for five seasons. They seem to know how and where the other is cutting and find each other with extremely precise passes for players their size (Parker is 6'4), leading each other right where they need to be.
"You have Candace who’s averaging about six assists a game and I just find my way to cut and make things easier for her to find the open player," said Ogwumike.
Though Parker is the better passer and Ogwumike, of course, the better finisher, no matter who’s spaced out to the top of the key, the two are interchangeable in terms of their skill sets.
"It’s easy for me because she’s so athletic," said Parker. "You’ve got the high-low thing going."
After the Olympic break, the duo should continue their dominance. Agler gave his team a full nine days rest after their final game at the end of July before their month-long hiatus. He didn’t resume practice until Aug. 1, which should benefit Ogwumike, who hadn’t had much time off at all. She plays in Russia for Dynamo Kursk after her WNBA season, and that team’s success stretched their season out from October until they won the championship on May 3. She had just 12 days between the end of the Russian Premier League season and the beginning of the WNBA’s.
"They need some down-time," Agler said after his team’s July 22 win over the Washington Mystics. "Their bodies can really take advantage of this recovery period. And then they’ll come back, we’ll practice, go a couple days and take a day off, go a couple days and take a day off."
Ogwumike should be fully rested when she hits the floor again Friday night against the Seattle Storm (NBA TV, 10 p.m. ET), continuing to add to her unprecedented numbers.