Could Ezi Magbegor be just what the Opals need for the FIBA Women’s World Cup?


If the Opals messy, disappointing Tokyo Olympic campaign had one bright spot, it was the emergence of Ezi Magbegor as a legitimate force on the international stage.

After a blistering season with the Seattle Storm in the WNBA, Magbegor has returned to Australia and looks to play a key role in the Opal’s 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup campaign.

Magbegor’s talent and athleticism were obvious in Tokyo, but it remained to be seen whether she could 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 Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year, and earning second-team all-defensive honours, Magbegor started for most of the season for the Seattle Storm, only ceding her spot when the Storm signed eight-time All-Star and former MVP Tina Charles mid-season.

But just how has Magbegor taken her game to the next level and what does that mean for the Opals?

Athleticism leads to offensive gains

It is 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 true shooting percentage of 59.36 per cent, which is well above the league average of 54 per cent.

On a team with WNBA stars like Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Tina Charles, Magbegor was never going to be the offensive focus.

Instead, she has worked hard to get herself into the right positions on court and uses her athleticism to score.

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Being able to punish a defence that isn’t paying close attention to you is crucial, as otherwise the offense grinds to a halt. 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 draws to cut to the hoop.

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Magbegor has great hands and body control, allowing her to catch and finish in the lane even among traffic and through contact.

This is an underrated skill that makes her a great pick-and-roll partner.

Below we see a Stewart-Magbegor pick and roll where Magbegor is able to roll to the hoop and side-step defenders to finish.

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For the Opals, Magbegor won’t have players like Stewart to work with, however she should continue to be an effective pick-and-roll partner for Seattle Storm teammate and fellow Opal Steph Talbot.

3-point shooting is where Magbegor needs to improve to take her game to the next level.

Magbegor only attempted 29 threes all season, though she is shooting a respectable 34.48 per cent.

In the 2022 WNBA season, Seattle’s offense often got bogged down with two non-shooters in Magbegor and Gabby Williams, which was a major contributing factor in Seattle’s decision to sign Tina Charles.

But Magbegor is a good free throw shooter (her career average is 76.47 per cent), an important predictor of three-point shooting, so it is definitely possible for her to improve.

A defensive star in the making

Even after the signing of Tina Charles, there were many that argued that Magbegor should continue to start, and the defensive end was the reason why.

Magbegor is second in the league in blocks per game, averaging 1.76, and leads the league in blocks per 48 minutes (a statistic that accounts for variation in minutes played).

This includes a career high seven blocks against the Phoenix Mercury on June 12.

At 193 cm with a 2-metre wingspan, Magbegor’s length makes her a presence around the ring.

She can expertly switch on to her opponents, contain them post up and block the shot.

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But Magbegor isn’t just a paint-bound centre. Her speed and mobility on the perimeter allow her to switch out and contain guards.

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Magbegor’s skill allows the Storm to run an aggressive pick-and-roll defensive scheme, with guards forced to make passes over Magbegor’s long arms.

And if she’s defending off-ball, Magbegor’s speed and length allow her to quickly recover to help and swat away what look like open layups.

Opals head coach Sandy Brondello says the Opals will be able to take advantage of this too.

“Because of her athletic ability you can do a lot of different scheming … she moves quick from a to b. It allows us to be a little bit more disruptive.”

Magbegor’s one defensive weakness might be her ability to guard the biggest, most skilled post players, who can push her around.

However, the retirement of Sylvia Fowles marks the end of that era of post-player, and there aren’t that many post players that would scare you going against Magbegor either in the WNBA or at the World Cup.

Playing a ‘big role’ for the Opals

The Opals as a team are lacking that dominant, individual scorer that many of the other world-class teams have—at least until we see what Lauren Jackson can do in her comeback.

Ezi Magbegor is probably not going to be that player, at least right now.

Ezi Magbegor takes a shot during the Women’s Quarterfinal between Australia and the USA during the Tokyo Olympic Games.(AAP Image: Joe Giddens)

What she will do is be an excellent part of a team offense, an effective pick-and-roll player, cutter, and transition player that will help the Opals piece together an offense.

On the other hand, she can be the kind of dominant defensive player that scares opposing players and will help the Opals win games.

And the Opals want her to stick to her strengths.

“We want her to be who she is,” Brondello said.

“Getting out and running and getting easy baskets.

 “She’s a star in the making and she’ll be playing a big role for us.”

Basketball fans in Sydney will soon get to see Magbegor and the Opals take on the best in the world and hopefully improve on their performance from Tokyo.

Any chance of that will depend in large part on Magbegor’s improved WNBA play translating to international basketball.

If she can continue to stifle opponents defensively and outrun them on the other end, the Opals will be in good shape to take on the best in the world.

ABC Sport is partnering with Siren Sport to elevate the coverage of Australian women in sport.

Georgia Munro-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.



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