Jordin Canada rediscovers her love of the game with the Los Angeles Sparks — Andscape
Jordin Canada prefers to call it a return to her old self.
As the Los Angeles Sparks find themselves in the middle of a WNBA playoff hunt with nine games remaining in the regular season, a big reason for their contention has been the play of Canada, the Sparks’ two-way point guard who has put forth a career season.
The 2023 season has been a welcome change of pace for Canada, who had spent the last few years of her WNBA career on a journey to rediscover her love of basketball. It’s a joy that Canada lost early in her career as she struggled to adjust to her role with the Seattle Storm.
For Canada to move forward, she realized she had to first go back home.
This season, as a leading member of the Sparks, Canada’s performance has commanded her place as one of the top point guards in the league and has catapulted her name into the conversation for the league’s Most Improved Player of the Year award.
“We’ve asked a lot of her and a lot of it has fallen onto her and she accepted it,” said Sparks coach Curt Miller. “I feel like she’s just had an outstanding year for us.”
It’s a position Canada always knew she was capable of reaching – the ability to excel at the pro level and play the game with confidence and comfort – though the path hadn’t always been clear.
Now, with her opportunity in the driver’s seat, Canada welcomed the chance to reintroduce herself.
“It’s fun to see her declare her own value,” said Sparks teammate Nneka Ogwumike. “She’s really established herself as a major player in this league.”
Canada describes her four years in Seattle as a growing period. Adjusting to the league, adjusting to a different role, navigating what she said was a hard transition from college to the WNBA. At UCLA, she had been the top dog who scored in bunches and averaged 33 minutes per game. Canada had to figure out and understand how she could adjust her game to be more successful at the pro level.
With the Storm, Canada was playing behind legendary guard Sue Bird while also being touted as Bird’s eventual successor, carrying an unfathomable burden of expectation. After a tough rookie season in 2018, Canada got an opportunity to flash her potential in 2019 when she started in place of the injured Bird, who was sidelined for the season with a knee injury. Canada ended 2019 as the WNBA steals leader, was named to the All-Defensive first team and averaged 9.8 points, 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Bird’s return, however, would return Canada to the backup role for the ensuing two seasons.
“Knowing how competitive she is, how much she loves to be on the court and loves the game, I’m sure it had to be hard playing behind someone,” Sparks teammate Jasmine Thomas said.
Canada struggled to find the balance of trying to fit into a role that she wasn’t used to. Ultimately, Canada said, she began to lose her passion for the game, to the point where playing became like a job instead of something she truly loved.
Canada needed a reset. That started with finding a place where she could be a more valuable asset and play her full game. She found that opportunity with the Sparks in her hometown of Los Angeles.
“This was kind of a pivotal moment in my career if I wanted to continue to stay and be a backup or if I wanted to go elsewhere. I just bet on myself,” Canada said. “I think that was the biggest thing, knowing the type of player that I can be and the player I am, I had to take a chance on myself so I could find an opportunity to showcase that.”
In her first year in LA in 2022, a transitional year for a Sparks organization that endured a midseason coaching change, Canada matched her performance from her second year in Seattle, averaging 9.2 points, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. But something was still missing. That love for the game still hadn’t returned as she had hoped. So in the 2022 offseason, Canada stepped away from basketball. She didn’t go overseas as she had before. She took time off to decompress, immersing herself in activities that brought her the joy she sought from the game.
As she began training for the 2023 season, Canada found herself falling back in love with the process, of wanting to do better and be great. She started seeing those glimpses of joy that had eluded her. Canada compared that feeling of joy to how she felt as a kid playing AAU basketball.
“Just loving the ups and downs and everything that basketball is,” Canada said. “That’s why I fell in love with it. It’s amazing to have that back.”
With her body rested and mind focused, Canada entered the 2023 season ready to put her best foot forward and step up as a leader of the Sparks’ newly assembled team under Miller.
Before becoming coach of the Sparks in 2023, Miller coached two elite defensive guards, Thomas, and Briann January, who retired in 2022. When Miller began working with Canada, he realized he would be coaching a similar type of player. Miller looked to elevate Canada’s premier on-ball defensive talent. The results have surpassed his expectations. Miller has not only utilized Canada to defend against other point guards, but every team’s best perimeter player.
“[From] A 6-foot-2 wing all the way back to the point guard position – she takes the challenge on each and every night to guard the best offensive weapon on the perimeter,” Miller said of Canada, who is 5-feet-6. “It’s been a luxury to be able to tap into.”
There’s a duality to Canada’s defensive acumen that makes her a top threat on that side of the ball. On the ball, Canada is tenacious and smothering, deploying an unrelenting pressure that suffocates ball handlers. Off the ball, she’s elusive and sly, patiently waiting before jumping into passing lanes for a steal or deflection. Canada ranks second in the league in steals, averaging two per game.
Canada immerses herself in game tape. By the time she steps on the court, she knows what her player assignments like to do, where they want to get their shots, the moves they use to get their shots and what she needs to do to stop them. Canada takes it upon herself to set the tone defensively for the Sparks every game.
Ogwumike says Canada’s best defensive quality isn’t tangible, it’s her competitive mindset.
“She takes getting scored on, personally,” Ogwumike said. “She takes it personally when people can have their way on the offensive end.”
In a win against the Dallas Wings on June 25, Canada held All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale, the No. 5 scorer in the league, scoreless (0-of-8 field goals) as her primary defender. In a win against the Las Vegas Aces on Aug. 20, Canada held Kelsey Plum, the No. 7 scorer in the WNBA, to 25% shooting (2-8 field goals) from the field while forcing three Aces turnovers, the most of any Sparks defender.
“I’m bullish on the fact that Jordin Canada this season is arguably having as good a guard defensive year as anyone in the league,” Miller said.
Canada has paired her elite defense with an impressive uptick on the offensive end. She’s averaging a career-high 13.8 points and six assists, which ranks fifth in the WNBA. For the first time in her career, Canada had two back-to-back 20-point games. She accomplishe the feat twice this season.
“She can get to the rim. She can draw defenses and find the high-level passes. She also is shooting the ball well,” said Thomas, who added that Canada is one of the quickest guards she’s ever seen. “This year, I feel like she’s showcasing everything. … She’s doing a great job of being ready every single night, showing what she can do all over the floor.”
Canada has also greatly improved from beyond the arc this season, part of her offensive game that had been viewed as a weakness. Her previous career high 3-point shooting percentage was 21.4%. This year, it currently stands at 33.3%. Against the Aces on Aug. 20, Canada was 4-of-8 from 3. She’s shot 50% or better from long distance in 10 games this season.
“It starts with her dedication to get in the gym and work on it and know that that was a huge growth opportunity for her within her game,” Miller said. “Mechanically, there was nothing dramatically that needed to shift. It was a mindset. It was a confidence. It was a flat, get in the gym and work on it. It’s been fun to see her have her career year from the 3-point line.
With 11 seconds left to play in the fourth quarter of a July 25 game against the Indiana Fever in Los Angeles, the Sparks inbounded the ball trailing by two points. Before taking the court, Miller had drawn up a play to get the ball to Ogwumike inside the arc to attempt to send the game into overtime. Indiana, anticipating action from the Sparks’ All-Star, denied Ogwumike from getting a touch.
With the play broken, Canada called for the ball. With the ball in her hands, Canada’s first instinct was to get to the basket to try and tie the game. As she worked toward the basket, however, Indiana guard Erica Wheeler sagged defensively, playing Canada for the drive. So Canada, with five seconds on the clock, pulled up for a 3.
The shot hit nothing but the net. Canada finished the game with 20 points and 10 assists.
“I’ve been really confident in my 3-point shot this year,” Canada said. “I’ve worked really hard on it.”
Canada’s game winner served as yet another full-circle moment for the Los Angeles native who grew up going to Staples Center to watch the Sparks, then led by center Lisa Leslie. Canada’s childhood teams even played on the court before games. She dreamed of playing for Los Angeles if she ever went pro, and relished the chance to represent and play for her home city.
“I’m very fortunate,” Canada said.
Now living out that dream, she’s focused on giving back to the community that helped her. She recently debuted a player-exclusive shoe inspired by paintings from local kids at the Ronald McDonald House and hosted the kids and their families at a Sparks game earlier this month. She’ll still visit her old AAU team to give advice to the next generation of hoopers.
“That’s something I want to be remembered for is how I impacted the youth. Not just through basketball, but the things I do off the court as well.”
Canada brings a calmness to the Sparks locker room. The sixth-year guard is soft-spoken, reserved and displays a steadiness appreciated by her teammates. Ogwumike, who is locker mates with Canada, said the team often makes fun of Canada for being a “bit of a grandma.”
“She’ll do whatever it takes to be able to sleep,” Ogwumike joked. “We poke a lot of fun with her on that, which is so ironic because she’s always wanting to sleep and lay down – maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s because of how hard she plays.”
Miller praised Canada’s ability to lead by example through her professionalism, effort, passion and competitiveness. He believes that the point guard is still in the process of finding her voice but the growth he has seen has impressed him.
“It’s been fun to watch. She’s not done. I think she has even a higher level of leadership,” Miller said.
While Canada is thriving in Los Angeles, she remains grateful for her time in Seattle.
“I think those years I had in Seattle helped me get to the point where I am now,” said Canada, who won two championships with the Storm. “I’m able to be confident, be a leader, watch the teammates that I had in Seattle and take some things from them – how they command a team, how they communicate. I learned from them and put my own unique touch to it and made it my own.”
Canada’s advice to players who find themselves in the position she was in at the beginning of her career is to stay the course, stay locked in and continue to do what’s needed to get through the adversity.
“It’ll start to make sense at one point,” Canada said.
As she offered advice, Canada recalled a lyric from fellow Los Angeles native, late rapper Nipsey Hussle, whose songs Canada listens to daily, including pregame. In his song “Dedication,” he speaks about staying committed to the grind and seizing opportunity. It’s a message that parallels Canada’s career as she flourishes in her role with the Sparks.
Canada said: “Dedication is where opportunity meets preparation. How are you going to respond?”