When the season first began, the Dallas Wings were up to their usual: playing hard, yet losing close games.
But now, almost two weeks after their roster finally came together, Dallas is starting to play better. In fact, all of their six losses so far have been in single digits. They have won four of their last six games, including a big one over the defending champion Seattle Storm.
The Wings are the youngest team in the WNBA with three rookies, three sophomores, and no one older than 28. They have leaned heavily on dynamic scorer Arike Ogunbowale for the last two seasons, but thanks to new signees and two straight top-notch draft classes, the young squad is at last showing the rest of the league that they are contenders.
Second-year forward Satou Sabally and four-year veteran Allisha Gray returned from 3X3 Olympic qualifying competition earlier this month, and made an instant impact. Sabally, who played professionally as a youth before her star career at Oregon, give them a player that can score both inside and on the perimeter. Since returning, she has averaged 14.4 points and 7 rebounds per game. Gray is averaging 10 points per outing, but is struggling to find her rhythm. Although she will need to play better for Dallas to take the next step, she has shown improvement each game.
Before Sabally was inserted into the starting lineup, Marina Mabrey had put the league on notice that she is in the running for the Most Improved Player Award. She is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 16.9 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Mabrey, who was college teammates with Arike Ogunbowale before both were drafted to separate teams in 2019, has improved every year she has been in the league. But this season the guard is playing with tremendous confidence, and she is very aggressive. She has improved her ball-handling, mid-range game, and her ability to finish around the rim. Now with her new assignment, Mabrey leads a bench that head coach Vickie Johnson expects to score around 40 points per game. She is a big reason why Dallas is turning their season around.
We all know what Ogunbowale can do: she can flat out score the basketball. This year she again leads the way, averaging 20.9 points per game while shooting 38 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point land. She is a high-volume shooter who puts up a lot of shots; a crafty playmaker who can’t be left alone for a minute – especially in crunch time.
The Wings’ success could come down to how efficient Ogunbowale can be. Taking high percentage shots and getting her teammates more involved could help them in the long run.
To start the season, the team had four rookies. Charli Collier and Awak Kuier were drafted with the first two picks on the WNBA Draft. Chelsea Dungee was drafted fifth and Dana Evans, 13th.
Collier has started 10 out of the 11 games she played, and has seen about 13 minutes per game. Johnson said her limited minutes have a lot to do with opponent matchups. Collier is averaging 4.2 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Kuier and Dungee have hardly had any playing time at all. Kuier, a highly-vaunted center from Finland, has played in just four games, and Dungee, who was the SEC’s leading scorer in her senior season, has clocked minutes in just seven games. Evans was traded to the Chicago Sky two weeks ago. In return, Dallas received a third-round 2022 pick, the rights to swap 2022 first-round picks with the Sky, and rookie Shyla Heal, who was immediately waived.
Johnson, in her first year coaching the team, is in win-now mode, which means rolling with her more experienced players. Right now the rookies may still not see much more playing time, but they are all talented prospects who could help the team in the future.
If the Wings want to contend for the WNBA title, they will need to continue to improve in all aspects of the game. The big key is how efficient Ogunbowale can be. Sabally and Mabrey must also continue their outstanding play and help shoulder the scoring load. Johnson said before the season started that she would help make Gray the best two-way player in the league. If both of them can live up to their end of the deal, the team could go a long way.
Dallas is third in the league in scoring, averaging 85.5 points per game. They also lead the WNBA in rebounding, with a 39.2 percent average. One area the team does need to improve would be defense, as they give up 83.2 points per game. If they could knock that number down at least 10 points, it would make them a more complete team, and that goal is possible, with their size.
Keep an eye on the Wings – they could make noise for the rest of the season.