The resurgence of Candace Parker

Then former MVP is a candidate for multiple awards

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Candace Parker #3 of the Los Angeles Sparks drives to the basket against the New York Liberty on August 11, 2020 at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

Last season was probably one to forget for Candace Parker. She missed 12 games while battling injuries and put up a career-low 11.2 points per game. She was never really able to get into a real rhythm and string together some consistency, and the Los Angeles Sparks were unceremoniously swept by the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA semifinals.

Fast-forward to this season, a season that almost wasn't due to the ongoing global pandemic, and what a turnaround it's been for the former MVP.

Before the 2020 season tipped-off, Parker talked about how much better she felt health-wise and how the advantages of being in a bubble environment meant no travel from city to city and would allow for more time for recuperation and managing wear and tear.

Now, 13 games into the season, the Sparks are tied record-wise with the Las Vegas Aces for second place in league standings, and Parker's resurgence is a big reason why. She's putting up 14 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field, 38.5 percent shooting from three-point range, 9.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.3 blocks.

Parker has vaulted herself back into the MVP conversation, and on a call with media Tuesday afternoon, she mentioned how for the past couple of years, the team who has had the winner of the MVP Award, has gone on to win the championship.

"I don't think it's by accident that, that happens…I myself realized that the best players have to step up, and I think so far this year, we've done it collectively, different games we have different weapons," Parker said. "But whether we're putting the ball in the hoop, or I myself, we're putting the ball in the hoop, I know the impact that I can have on the defensive end as well as on the offensive end. I think this year, among other years, I see the value in that."

Parker has looked like the lethal offensive player she's been her entire career. She's handling the ball and playing her traditional point-forward role. She's taking players off the dribble and attacking the rim as she did against the Atlanta Dream when she sent the game to overtime. She's knocking down her perimeter shots; her 38.5 percent from three is the second-highest mark for her career. She's posting up and using her size and skill advantage against opposing defenders.

But perhaps her biggest contributions this season have come from the other end of the floor. While Parker is a legit MVP candidate, she's also positioned herself into the race for Defensive Player of the Year. She's been one of the best defensive players in the league, and the charge she drew on Elizabeth Williams last week cemented the win over the Dream.

Since that game, Parker has joked about how she tries to take one charge per year and how that was her one for the season, but the fact remains that her defensive effort has helped power the team through their current win streak.

"I think we're playing with an energy and a confidence, and I think that goes across the board. Defensively we're so athletic and so long that it's fun to fly around and see what happens," Parker said. "Whether my team needs me to take a charge or whether they need me to block a shot, they know they can count on me."

In addition to defense, Parker has been a force on the glass. She's had seven double-doubles this season and she leads the league in rebounding. When the Sparks started off the season with inconsistency and alternating between wins and losses, Parker spoke about how the team was being outrebounded almost every game and how she wanted to change that.

It's certainly been a concerted team effort to improve their rebounding, but once again it's Parker who has led the way on that end. In the win over Atlanta, Parker's 14 rebounds were a season-high. She's always been a double-double threat and a good rebounder, but this season, in particular, she's been rebounding at a career-best rate.

"Defensive rebounding has been an issue for our team, probably since I've been here with the Sparks," Parker said. "I think it's focus going in, but it's also just being able to move and be in good position. I think a lot of that is our defensive schemes. Coach (Trammell) does a hell of a job of making sure we know our scheme…And I do believe our team is successful when I'm able to rebound the ball. When that happens, we're able to get out and do what we like to do."

Parker's recent play saw her win the Western Conference Player of the Week Award for last week. It's the 27th time she's taken home those honors which ties her for second-most in league history. In the Sparks three games last week, she put up 18.3 points per game on 54.5 shooting from the field, 11.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists as the Sparks went 3-0.

There's still a lot of time left between now and when the playoffs begin, and Parker wants to make sure that she maintains this level of consistency that helps give her team a chance to win every time they set foot on the court.

"I always talk about just an opportunity, I just want to be healthy. I don't talk about my health, but I do everything in my power to make sure that when I step on the court, I'm as close to one hundred percent as I can be," Parker said. "I can control my energy, I can control my effort, I can control the decisions I make on the court, and I'll live with it."

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