The WNBA’s third-leading three-point maker watched the league’s annual three-point contest on a television in Las Vegas, more than 1,700 miles from the All-Star festivities in Chicago. Lexie Brown would have loved to have been there, but she didn’t get an invite to the contest that, in theory, was created to highlight the sheer talent that made her 45.7% three-point shooter.
Brown said the Sparks guard was “a little” upset to say the least.
The All-Star Game was billed as a passing of the torch, evidenced by 25-year-old A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, 27, giving flowers to retired legends Sue Bird, 41, and Sylvia Fowles, 36. But the weekend’s other events mostly recycled names from the All-Star pool or players already readily available in Chicago. The six-player field features five All-Stars in the three-point contest, a player who shoots better than 40% from three-point range and an emotional fan favorite in Chicago native Allie Quigley.
Two days after Quigley captured his record fourth three-point shooting crown, Brown was back in the gym with Sparks working out the way he always does. She has no problem proving in court why she deserves a piece of the limelight once again.
The 5-foot-9 guard leads Thursday’s matchup with his former team, the Chicago Sky, at Crypto.com Arena in points (eight), rebounds (2.7), minutes (27.9) and three-point percentage. He stepped back into the starting lineup after Brittney Sykes tested positive for the coronavirus on July 1 and helped the Sparks (10-13) win three straight games while averaging 12.8 points and 11 of the team’s 23 points. The three-pointer made by the team was swallowed by Sykes’ four-pointer. lack of play.
For years, Brown told his teammates he was the best shooter in the league. On his fourth team in five years, he finally gets a chance to prove it.
“It was this shootout,” said Sykes, who recalled a game when Brown dropped 31 points on Sykes’ Syracuse team as a freshman at Maryland. “I am not surprised. I’m glad everyone else in the world can see her light.”
The ninth overall pick in 2018, Brown’s career journey in the WNBA is unusual, even for first-round draft picks. Due to the quick turnaround between the NCAA season that ends in March and the draft in April, there are no interviews or pre-draft comparisons. Most teams only draft based on the best player available, not always according to the best, Brown said.
While the players aren’t necessarily set up for failure, the situation isn’t set up for success the most either.
“You just put your head down and work hard and hopefully find yourself in a situation where you can be successful,” said Brown, who went from the Connecticut Sun to the Minnesota Lynx after two seasons with the Sky to win a championship. before settling down with Sparks. “For a lot of players, it probably takes the entirety of your rookie contract to figure that out. … To get to this point, Year Five, I feel like I’m just getting started.”
After averaging 1.6 points in 9.5 minutes in 17 games during the Sky Championship season, Brown received a lucrative offer to stay in Chicago. She rejected it. But the contract chart wasn’t just a feel-good story of a quietly confident actress who believed in her abilities. It was a business decision.
While the league’s salary cap increased 31% in 2020 under the latest collective bargaining agreement, Brown knew the deal did not benefit every player equally. The top salary for top players rose from $117,500 to $215,000 in 2020, an increase of 83 percent. From 2019 to 2020 there was a minimum increase of 35.8%.
As a result, the average rank of players is often cut.
Brown, the 27-year-old general manager, realized the Sky salary situation meant he could have been the best player in training camp and the team still didn’t have the money to sign him for the season.
“That’s just life,” said Brown, who is equal parts realistic about his role in the league and optimistic about the opportunities for growth.
Brown wasn’t upset when she received Chicago’s veteran minimum selection offer. He was thankful that Chicago’s James Wade and former Sparks general manager and coach Derek Fisher were able to make a trade to send Chicago’s rights to Chinese center Li Yueru.
When Brown arrived at training camp with a non-guaranteed contract, she looked at the roster and understood her assignment. It was to shoot.
Although Brown’s primary responsibility was the three-point shooter, it was his defensive play during training camp that most excited Sykes about her new teammate. The guard, who earned first-team all-defense last year, watched as Brown ran through the passing lane and intercepted the pass. Sykes was wide-eyed with assistant coach Latricia Trammell, recognizing she finally had a defensive partner in the former ACC defensive player of the year, who won the title after transferring to Duke.
“You have two players like that, it’s like having two great defensive backs in football,” Sparks interim coach Fred Williams said.
The Sparks are fourth in the league in steals, led by Sykes’ league-leading 2.1 per game, and fourth in points.
Brown said she has fully embraced the three-and-D role for the seventh-place Sparks. Professional work is common in the NBA, where even role players become household names, but WNBA players at the same position have yet to gain the same recognition.
The WNBA has instead focused its marketing on introducing and promoting its next era of megastars, possibly limiting the league’s growth potential.
“If you market to other players, and not just big names, not just kids that come out of BCS schools, you’re going to market to people who see themselves in us,” Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud said. Brown once recruited from Maryland before Cloud transferred to St. Louis. “By expanding marketing at the W, it will only continue to grow our league.”
Cloud and Brown took a look at a marketing plan in Athletes Unlimited. They praised the new league’s commitment to sharing the stories of all its players, who have signed up for an unsanctioned format that doesn’t rely on coaches or general managers.
Players Unlimited handles bench and front office duties each week by preparing the team and determining playing time and rotations. Brown thrived in the sideline role, and took an early shot at his future goal of becoming a WNBA or NBA general manager. On the court, she shot 46.9% from behind the arc in the five-week league and finished fourth on the individual leaderboard where players accumulate points similar to fantasy football performance.
No longer having to answer to coaches or general managers, the players felt empowered. Brown credited the league with building confidence for all WNBA players who found their new offseason homes.
Cloud said Brown was disrespected many times early in her WNBA career and “it took away her confidence, it took away her confidence in her game, her ability.
“I think Athletes Unlimited for all of us, it gave us a sense of freedom to just go out, rediscover our love for the game and play for free,” said Cloud, who finished second on the AU leaderboard and now leads Plays the WNBA. 7.2 assists per game.
Brown continued her impressive play on both ends of the court during the WNBA season. After her 38 steals ranked second among AU players, she had seven steals in two wins while guarding Sabrina Ionescu and Skylar Diggins-Smith on back-to-back nights. She also made six-of-nine three-pointers.
Considering her unspectacular history in the league so far this season, some may be unsure of Brown’s true shooting power.
“But I think as the season went on,” she said, “people were like, ‘OK, it’s a shot.’ “
The next step is to make sure someone in the league office knows.