By Shannon Belt, IT Intern
Kristi Toliver had made her presence known in the basketball world long before her current lead scorer role for the Los Angeles Sparks. In 2009 she began her career in the WNBA, going third overall in the first round to the Chicago Sky. In her 11-year career, Toliver has made an impact for the Sky, Mystics and for the second time in her career, the Sparks. Her team sits (4-3) so far this season, Toliver has been a driving force in keeping the fight alive within Los Angeles and this isn’t anything new. As both a seasoned vet and an NBA assistant coach for the Washington Wizards, the duality of Toliver plays a huge role in team development.
Before punching in their first win of the season on May 28 against the Sky, the fresh-faced Sparks were struggling to mold a true team identity. Injuries have now snatched Chiney Ogwumike and Nneka Ogwumike, who are both still questionable to play with knee soreness. These aren’t the only changes for the short-handed squad. New additions of Kristine Anigwe and Karlie Samuelson on June 4, have called for even more adaptations for LA. This is where Toliver steps in.
As a team that has had to do so much transitioning in less than a month, having a player that is reliable and mature is essential. So far this season Toliver has been the player to answer the call. After opting out of the 2020 season and previously being with the Washington Mystics during the 2019 championship run season, she has continued to prove her longevity in the WNBA. Most would suspect the loss of a year of playtime would make the point guard a bit rusty but that couldn’t be further from the truth in Toliver’s case. Within seven games she is averaging 10.2 points, shooting 61.8% from the field and 90% from the free-throw line. While her contribution has been a key factor to the four wins, Tolvier’s mindset is always on improvement.
“I mean, I think I’m just finding my form,” Toliver said in the post-game press conference after the Sparks 98-63 win over the Indiana Fever on June 3. “You know this is something I certainly expect out of myself as far as shooting the basketball and obviously it always feels good when you get to see the ball go in the basket.”
In Saturday’s noon rematch game against the Sky, you could see the gears turning. After beating Chicago back to back last week, today’s outcome took a bit more finesse than the other two wins. Creeping in the corner of the court, Toliver served a helping role all game, sneaking in five points, two assists and even two offensive rebounds. While this go-round she didn’t drop 22 points, her impact is beyond the stat book. Not only does the 5-foot-7 guard know what she is doing on the court but the confidence that comes with experience shows in every hustle play. The Sparks allowed the Sky to slither back into the game and take a four-point lead, Toliver re-entered the game. After having four fouls against her in the third quarter, she could be seen cutting to the basket and going up against the likes of center Astou Ndour-Fall to keep the possession alive.
“I think I was definitely trusting my instincts, coaches, teammates you know, everybody encouraging and kind of poking at me and really understanding and responding to the situation, and you know I embraced it I’ll continue to embrace it,” Toliver said when asked about her mindset during games. “You know it’s fun when you trust your instincts and just be yourself and that’s what I was able to do.”
In a rebuilding phase like the one that Los Angeles is embarking on, having at least a couple of players who know who they are as players already help ease the high-pressure situation. Toliver is without a doubt one of those players. As the Sparks continue to go through a transition to a new era of basketball and grow into their new identity, head coach Derek Fisher can rest assured that Toliver will be a consistent player within the ever-changing squad.