Aari McDonald makes an electrifying impression at the Los Angeles Sparks

Aari McDonald makes an electrifying impression at the Los Angeles Sparks

McDonald finished with a career-high 23 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, and 0 turnovers in her 40 minutes of action against the Aces. She was clearly a go-to offensive player and was able to challenge Plum “from north to south” time and time again, as Sparks head coach Curt Miller noted in his postgame press conference.

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McDonald’s play has shown a steady upward trend all season. After a lingering ankle injury, the point guard’s playing time increased from 15.2 minutes per game in May to 25.8 minutes per game in June and 33.4 minutes so far in July after Layshia Clarendon and Lexie Brown were sidelined indefinitely due to illness. Likewise, McDonald’s point total has nearly tripled from the first month of the season to now, from 5.7 points per game in May to 14.7 points per game in the first three games of July. After starting the last seven games, she’s averaging 12.4 points and a whopping 5.6 assists per game.

“Playing with a coach and teammates who believe in you and trust you to make the right play,” McDonald told the press after the Sparks’ win over the Aces. “That’s all I needed, someone to believe in me. And when that happened, my confidence was boosted.”

Miller echoed his point guard’s sentiments: “You can feel the confidence. You can hear the confidence that she just wanted a coaching staff to believe in her. She just wanted a chance at this level and she feels it.”

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Even during a tough losing streak, McDonald’s impact was undeniable. On June 28, she recorded her first career double-double with 10 assists and 12 points against Phoenix.

After a disappointing loss to the Washington Mystics on July 2, in which McDonald had 17 points and 6 assists, Miller still sang her praises. “I love that Aari is taking advantage of her opportunity,” Miller said after the game. “She’s getting more comfortable. You can tell she’s learning the system better and better. I think she appreciates the green light our team has given her to not only lead this group, but to play her game: to play fast. She has the green light to chase her own offense as a point guard. I love what she brings.”

Fans are drawn to McDonald’s electrifying energy. When she extended the Sparks’ lead to nine points with a step through against Plum, both Sparks and Aces fans at Arena erupted in deafening cheers. Her teammates were just as excited.

“Aari’s speed is incredible,” Sparks teammate Kia Nurse, the only defenseman to have consistently started for the Sparks this season, told The Next. “Her vision and ability to read the game makes me believe she’s just scratching the surface of what she can do in this league, which is crazy considering how talented she already is.”

When asked about McDonald’s incredible energy, Sparks rookie Rickea Jackson emphasized how it affects the rest of the team. “She keeps our energy high while keeping us calm,” Jackson said. “… Whether it’s scoring a basket or kicking the ball out, she always makes the right play. And she always takes responsibility, too, and I think that’s important as a point guard.”

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While McDonald’s offensive production has been particularly notable recently, her defensive production has been her trademark since college. “Not only is she on offense and obviously capable of scoring points, but she’s on defense as well,” Nurse told The Next. “She’s a pest out there, going at people and forcing them to do things they don’t want to do.”

The undermanned Sparks will be looking to bounce back from their tough road trip with a few wins, and on a young team hungry for wins and experienced leadership, McDonald’s influence will be invaluable.