Sparks Defense Catapults LA Into Playoff Race As Brittney Sykes Makes Case for Defensive Player of the Year

The Sparks fell to 6-13 heading into the Olympic Break, suffering from 36 missed games from stars Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, and Kristi Toliver. No. 7 overall pick Jasmine Walker was lost in the second game of the season to a torn ACL and Maria Vadeeva remained overseas. However, something that never wavered was the Sparks defense, which remained Top 5 in the WNBA in defensive rating, No. 2 in opponent points per game, No. 1 in forcing turnovers, No. 2 in steals per game, and No. 4 in blocks per game.

That defensive prowess carried over to the second half of the season, helping the Sparks win four consecutive games as the Ogwumike sisters and Toliver returned to action. One of the consistent leaders of LA’s defense, which has given the team new life in the playoff race, has been Brittney Sykes.

Also known affectionately as “Slim” to teammates and fans, she has emerged as a dark horse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year as a perimeter defender who has consistently limited opposing team’s best guards and created havoc with steals, blocks and points off turnovers.

In training camp, Sykes said she wanted to build off earning a spot on the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive Second Team by making the first team or being in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. So far, her efforts have put her in the mix as Slim is third in the league in steals per game (1.7) and second in the league among players who have appeared in at least 20 games in opponent turnovers per game (13.3) when she is on the court.

Meanwhile, the 5’9” guard has the eighth-best defensive rating in the league among players who have appeared in at least 20 contests this season and average at least 20 minutes per game (94.5).

However, the 27-year-old’s herculean defensive efforts are perhaps best appreciated when placed in the context of the Sparks defensive performance as a team this season. LA’s opponents average 98.2 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the league. When Sykes is on the floor, however, LA’s opponents average just 94.8 points per 100 possessions. If this were the Sparks total average with and without the Syracuse graduate on the floor, they would rank second in the league in this statistic. Additionally, while LA’s opponents average 78.8 points per 40 minutes, they average just 75.8 points per 40 minutes when Sykes is in the game.

Currently in the hunt for the final playoff spot, the Sparks (10-15) are in position to extend their season. In a regular season full of adversity, the Sparks have fallen back on their stout defense time and time again to grind out victories.