Each summer every WNBA franchise is tasked with putting together a puzzle of 12 pieces that will pave the way to a Championship.
The Dallas Wings have long been in search of the right players to complete their puzzle, and this season they may have found that missing link in 6-8 Australian center Liz Cambage.
The Wings – then in Tulsa as the Shock – selected Cambage second in the 2011 draft. She entered the league at 20 years old, with professional experience on the Australian National Team, which elevated expectations. She played two seasons, 2011 and 2013, where she averaged 13 points and 13 rebounds. After that she took a five-year sabbatical from the WNBA and surprised everyone last spring when she announced she would return.
Cambage said she is back older and much wiser.
“Leaving and going and playing in China, where I am on the only player where its just all on you, really helps you develop your game,” said Cambage, now 27.
In 2017 Dallas led the league in scoring, averaging 88.8 points per game. So far this season they are sixth, at 82.4 points. Over the last few years they have been a guard-heavy, undersized team that has had to fight each night in the rebounding battle and rely on outside shooting just to get a taste of the playoffs.
Because of their size over the seasons, the Wings have assumed the identity of working from the inside out offensively. But with the addition of Cambage, that game plan has been thrown out the window. Coach Fred Williams said the offense now starts with getting the ball inside to Cambage, and letting opponent defense dictate what happens after that.
She has been working hard to get up to speed with the league, according to Williams.
“She is learning to utilize her turn dribble and has developed a little hook shot,” he said. “It is going to take (a little more time) for her to get into a good rhythm and once she does that, look out.”
But even with the learning curve, Cambage has been a force with how she changes shots, and she is the second-leading scorer for Dallas, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. She is also the league leader in blocked shots, swatting 2.7 per game. Her contributions allow the team to have more offensive opportunities, and it has changed the way opponents attack the paint.
The Wings’ floor leader, sixth-year All-Star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, is averaging 23 points per game and combines well with Cambage to be a formidable high-low presence. But even so, the team has not had an easy go of it this season.
Coming into the year Dallas was deep, but now they are currently have 10 active players due to injury. Glory Johnson was out for a month with a hamstring injury, and just returned to action Friday. Aerial Powers, who has been out due to a quadriceps injury, saw limited action against the Indiana Fever last week. Theresa Plaisance, who is rehabbing an ACL injury that she sustained during the off season, has been on the bench, as well.
Williams said even with as much talent as they have on the team, they have a ways to go before hitting their stride.
“We have only had maybe a month, if that, of our team being together and we are not at full force with Powers and Johnson out,” Williams said. “I just can’t wait to get them back in so we can be on all cylinders.”
The Wings recently signed guard Leticia Romero to back up Diggins-Smith, in a move that the organization hopes will provide more bench production and rest for Diggins-Smith, who is averaging 34.7 minutes per game – second in the league. Cambage said she needs more help in the post, as she is exhausted.
“My body is not used to playing 30 to 40 minutes back to back on the road like this,” Cambage said. “My body will get better, but we are down two post players, and I need a sub.”
Relief may be in sight, as Dallas signed Cambage’s Australian teammate, center Cayla George last week. She is expected to be activated this week.
“Cayla brings a versatile game to our roster, with the ability to play multiple positions on the floor,” Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb said. “She is an outstanding rebounder, and a player who has the ability to extend her shooting range well outside the paint. We are excited to add her to our team.”
The Wings host the third-place Phoenix Mercury tonight – a team seeking their sixth straight win. The match up will pit Cambage against 6-9 Mercury center Brittney Griner.