If Opal’s disappointing, chaotic campaign had one bright spot, it was Izzy Magbigor’s emergence as a legitimate force on the international stage.
After a busy season with the Seattle Storm in the WNBA, Magbegor is back in Australia and is looking to play a major role in Opal’s campaign for the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
Magbegor’s talent and sportsmanship were evident in Tokyo, but it is not yet clear if she can translate that into taking the next step.
In the 2022 WNBA season, Magbegor answered that question with a resounding yes.
A legitimate contender for both Defensive Player of the Year and Enhanced Player of the Year, and earning second-team defensive titles, Magbegor started most of the season in the Seattle Storm, only relinquishing her spot when the eight-time Storm took over All-star and former VP Tina Charles mid-season.
But how did Magbegor take her game to the next level and what does that mean for opals?
Sports lead to offensive gains
It’s the offensive end where Magbegor has taken the biggest step forward, increasing her points per game from 6.7 to 9.5 across the 2022 WNBA season, on a real shooting percentage of 59.36 percent, well above the league’s average of 54 percent.
On a team with WNBA stars like Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Tina Charles, Magbegor was never the offensive focus.
Instead, she worked hard to hit the right positions on the court and used her athletic ability to score.
Being able to punish a defense that doesn’t pay close attention to you is critical, or else the offense will stop. Magbegor is great at this.
In this game against the Washington Mystics, she is able to work off the ball and take advantage of the attention Stewart attracts to the hoop.
The Magbegor has good hands and good body control, which allows her to pick up and finish on the trail even between traffic and through contact.
This is an underrated skill that makes them a great partner.
Below we see the Stewart-Magbegor pick and roll where Magbegor is able to roll to the hoop and side defenders to finish.
As for Opals, Magbegor won’t have players like Stewart to work with, however it must continue to be an effective partner in picking fellow Seattle Storm and fellow Opal Steph Talbot.
Three point shooting is where Magbegor needs to improve to take her game to the next level.
Magbegor has only attempted 29 three-pointers all season, despite shooting at a respectable 34.48 percent.
In the 2022 WNBA season, Seattle’s offense often bogged down with two non-shooters Magbegor and Gabby Williams, which was a major factor in Seattle’s decision to sign Tina Charles.
But Magbegor is a good free-throwing shooter (her career average is 76.47 percent), and she’s an important indicator of her three-point shooting, so it’s definitely possible for her to improve.
Defensive star in the making
Even after signing Tina Charles, there were many who argued that Magbegor should go on at the start, and the defensive end was to blame.
Magbegor ranks second in the league for blocks per game, with an average of 1.76, and leads the league in blocks per 48 minutes (a statistic representing the variance in minutes played).
That includes a career high seven blocks against the Phoenix Mercury on June 12.
With a length of 193 cm and a wingspan of 2 meters, Magbegor’s tallness makes her a presence around the ring.
She can expertly switch to her opponents, contain them to spread and block the shot.
But Magbegor isn’t just a paint-related hub. Its speed and ability to move around the ocean allow it to switch and contain guards.
Magbegor’s skill allows Storm to implement a strong defensive scheme, while forcing the guards to make passes over Magbegor’s long arms.
And if she’s defending the ball off the ball, Magbegor’s speed and length allow her to quickly recover to assist and block what looks like open passes.
Opals coach Sandy Brundello says Opals will be able to benefit from this as well.
“Because of its mathematical ability, you can do a lot of different schemes…it moves quickly from A to B. That allows us to be more turbulent.”
Magbegor’s only defensive weakness may be her ability to guard the largest and most skilled post players, who can push her.
However, Sylvia Fowles’ retirement marks the end of that era of post-player, and there aren’t many players who would fear you facing Magbegor either in the WNBA or at the World Cup.
Playing a “big role” for opals
The Opals as a team lack that dominant singles scorer that many other world-class teams have – at least until we see what Lauren Jackson can do on her comeback.
Ezi Magbegor probably won’t be that player, at least for now.
What you will do is be an excellent part of a team attack, an effective pick and roll player, a cutter, and a transition player who will help the Opal collect an offense.
On the other hand, you can be the type of dominant defensive player who scares the opposing players and helps the opals win matches.
And opals want them to hold on to their strengths.
“We want it to be what it is,” Brundello said.
“Go out and run and get easy baskets.
“She’s a star in the making and she’s going to play a huge role for us.”
Basketball fans in Sydney will soon see Magbegor and Opals compete for the best in the world and hopefully do better from Tokyo.
Any chance of that will depend in large part on Magbegor’s improved WNBA play which translates to international basketball.
If she can continue to stifle opponents defensively and outrun them on the other end, Opals will be in great shape to take on the best in the world.
ABC Sport has partnered with Siren Sport To raise the level of coverage of Australian women in sport.
Georgia Monroe Cook is the captain of the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team, The Gliders, and holds a PhD in History and Gender Studies, with a focus on the WNBA, from the University of Sydney.