Sparks tout Candace Parker for Defensive Player of the Year

Candace Parker has a crowded trophy case at home. The Sparks forward has twice been voted the WNBA MVP, not to mention the 2016 WNBA Finals MVP, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, and the 2013 All-Star Game MVP. And she brought home a lot of hardware during her college days at Tennessee.

In 2020, though, Parker is garnering some hype for a different accolade: Defensive Player of the Year. It’s one of the few distinctions missing from her résumé, but one that would carry extra meaning for her.

“I think that might be above the two [MVPs] I got at home, honestly. Better late than never, I guess,” Parker said after the Sparks’ Friday night win over Atlanta. “If I started my career and somebody said defensive player of the year in Candace Parker, it would have been on the opposite side of the spectrum. I like doing things people say I can’t do.”

Parker’s defensive prowess has been part of her evolution as a player. She came into the WNBA as an offensive juggernaut, and has been a primary scorer for the Sparks for most of her 12-year career.

But this season she has been content to be less assertive on offense most days and find other ways to contribute.

And that largely has come on the defensive end, whether it’s in the paint or playing the role of linebacker and barking orders to her teammates to get them in position.

Friday’s win over Atlanta was an example of the do-everything approach Parker takes. She scored 17 points with nine rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. She also drew a big charge under the basket in the final two minutes of overtime.

As she lay on her back, Parker screamed and flailed her arms and legs in jubilation.

“I try to get one charge a year and that was it,” she said laughing. “My teammates know that every time I get a charge every year, I get that hyped.”

So where does she stand in the race for defensive player of the year? She ranks 28th in the WNBA in defensive rating, though only two players ahead of her – Seattle duo Breanna Stewart and Alysha Clark – play more minutes per game than Parker.

And the Sparks forward is second in the WNBA in rebounding, a category she still emphasizes, as she did Friday with a quote from her late, great college coach.

“In the words of Pat Summitt, offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships,” she rolled off as though she were still at Tennessee.

But regardless of whether she wins the actual trophy, the Sparks understand the impact she is having on that end of the floor.

“What Candace is doing defensively this year cannot go unseen, unnoticed and we can’t not talk about it anymore,” head coach Derek Fisher said. “I think she at least deserves to be in the conversation.  But we have to sustain our effort as a team, and she’ll have to continue to sustain her effort defensively.”

Dallas Wings at Los Angeles Sparks

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.

TV: Facebook, Spectrum SportsNet