Arlington, Texas – The Dallas Wings finished wrapped in an injury-riddled season Sunday with a loss to the Seattle Storm – their fourth in a row.
Despite ending with a 10-24 record and missing the playoffs, players and coaches are optimistic about the future, which will feature new players and a healthier roster.
First-year coach Brian Agler, who spent the previous four seasons at the helm of the Los Angeles Sparks, won’t be in the playoffs for the first time in a while. But he laid a good foundation in Dallas this year. The veteran coach said it was refreshing to coach a youthful team, but also challenging.
“I thought we made a lot of strides, I thought we learned a lot. I would probably say the best thing about this year is the learning experience,” Agler said.
The Wings were a completely different team from when he first took the job, as they lost Liz Cambage in a trade and were without their star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith as continues to work her way back from giving birth to her first child. They were without guards Tayler Hill and Moriah Jefferson and forward Azura’ Stevens, who were all injured and missed most of the season.
When players return, and with super-rookies Arike Ogunbowale and Megan Gustafson readying for their sophomore years in 2020, the Wings are looking ahead.
Veteran forward Glory Johnson said she changed her style of play to accommodate personnel absences, and took advice in doing so from a famous fellow Tennessee alum.
“Tamika Catchings told me that once you start to extend your outside game, you extend your game and the play that you have left,” Johnson said. “It takes a toll on your body but when you develop an outside shot you can last a lot longer in any league.”
Dallas was the youngest team in the league for the 2019 season since there were many of the veterans that were sidelined this season. Diggins-Smith, who was on the sidelines at most games, said she was impressed by the team’s relentlessness.
“I was proud of the effort the girls gave,”Diggins-Smith said. “When you come into this league you don’t really have time to prepare as a rookie and get ready. Our young players have been able to make a splash and that’s a blessing in our foundation.”
The rookie that has probably had the most to learn on the fly was Ogunbowale. The former Notre Dame standout was shifted to the point guard position, which she hadn’t played in college, and she held her own. Ogumbowale finished the season as the third-highest scoring rookie in league history. But despite her personal success, she said she wishes the Wings had earned more wins.
“Next year we’re going to be really good once we get some of our best players back and draft a nice core player,” the Wisconsin native said. “Whatever happens in the off season we’re going to come back stronger, I’m excited for the future.”
The Mystics topped the Sky, 100-86. Elena Delle Donne became the first player in league history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line for a season.
If anyone didn’t see Napheesa Collier as one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year at the end of this WNBA season, it wasn’t the former UConn standout.
“(Rookie of the Year) was the goal I set for myself in the beginning of the year,” Collier said. “It’s something I’ve worked towards this entire season. So it’d definitely be really important to me.”
The Minnesota Lynx selected Collier with their No. 6 draft pick, while the other contender in what has become a hot ROY race is the Dallas Wings’ No. 5 choice, Arike Ogunbowale. Whomever wins the race will become the lowest draft pick to do so since Temeka Johnson, who went No. 6 to the Washington Mystics before her 2005 rookie season.
A compelling case can be made for both players. Many of Ogunbowale’s backers laud her scoring (rookie-best 18.5 points per game) and lack of a supporting cast around her. Collier scores 12.9 points a night, but her edge stands in a more balanced game over Ogunbowale in rebounds (6.5 to 2.4), steals (1.9 to 1.0) and blocks (0.9 to 0.0).
Ogunbowale is asked to shoot more, firing off 511 attempts this season (to Collier’s 320). Collier has made the most of her looks, though, owning a 48.4 shooting percentage (to Ogunbowale’s 38.6).
“I would say my all-around game and my efficiency (give me an edge),” Collier said. “I think I affect the game in a lot more areas than just points, and I don’t need as many shots to do it.”
Minnesota’s public relations staff has made campaigning for Collier a collaborative effort. They bring multiple departments together and add to the hype that picks up the most steam, largely through social media. (This year, that also includes plugging Odyssey Sims as the Most Improved Player of the year.)
But Collier’s teammates have been equally as passionate on her behalf, even if they feel like they shouldn’t have to be.
“I don’t even know why we need to campaign for Phee. I think it’s pretty obvious,” said forward Seimone Augustus, who was the 2006 ROY. “And it’s no disrespect to Arike, she’s had an amazing season, well half a season. She started off a little rough at the beginning and then picked it up. But when we talk about a body of work, from start to finish, Phee has been consistent throughout the entire year.”
Coach Cheryl Reeve said Collier’s balanced game makes her the best candidate.
“I’d like to (give Collier the award),” Reeve said. “(She is) just the second rookie ever to compile 400 points, 200 rebounds and 60 steals. And the other player is Tamika Catchings. As I told her, that’s just tremendous company. … Phee just continues to be the best overall rookie in this league.”
Augustus, who went No. 1 before Cappie Pondexter went No. 2 to Phoenix, said overall team records make a difference. The 18-15 Lynx are headed to the postseason, while the Wings have struggled to a 10-23 record going into the regular-season finale.
“It was fun, obviously, to compete with the other rookie you were going against and seeing what they were doing, checking the stat lines and things like that,” Augustus said of her race with Pondexter. “But our competition was way different from (Collier’s) because neither one of us (reached the postseason). Phee’s in the playoffs, Arike is not. Phee’s got the quality body of work, Arike’s scoring the basketball.”
One thing is for certain: No matter who wins, somebody is getting robbed. So Collier’s teammates have done all they can to ensure it’s not her.
“It’s been amazing. I’m supported so much with them. They’re singing it every day,” Collier said. “They’ve been my biggest supporters, absolutely. My biggest advocates.”
She is grateful to have landed in Minnesota.
“I think it’s special (here). We’re a really close team,” she said. “We genuinely want the best for each other. I think that’s really hard to come by, that you recognize that, in order for the team to be great, individuals have to be great, as well. We support each other through that.”