An Early Look At The Wings Rookies

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There were a lot of storylines around the WNBA heading into this season. Among those was the question of how the Dallas Wings would use their three first-round picks in 2020.. And while two games aren’t enough to answer that question, it does give us a chance to break down just how the players were used, what their roles were, and to watch a little film of their performances.

Let’s begin by looking at the lineups that the Wings have used.

Rookies and the Lineups They Were In

Dallas’ three rookies had various levels of involvement on Sunday. Satou Sabally started, Tyasha Harris was a key reserve, and Bella Alarie played just a couple of minutes off the bench.

Using the league’s rotation information, here’s how the Wings rotation looked on Sunday. The darker that the player’s minutes are shaded corresponds to the player having a higher plus/minus:Sabally’s minutes are a little skewed because she fouled out in the fourth quarter, but based on her usage before that and the fact that she re-entered the game with Arike Ogunbowale, I think it’s safe to assume that Sabally would have been in the closing lineup over Kayla Thornton.

Sabally spent a lot of time playing with the team’s starters, but she was also the only starter in a late first/early second bench lineup with Allisha Gray, Tyasha Harris, Kayla Thornton, and Bella Alarie.

 That lineup, which was in for just a little over two minutes and was the only time we saw Alarie, was extremely wingy. Harris was the point guard, Gray as the shooting guard, and then the Alarie/Sabally/Harris portion of the lineup was some extreme “positionless basketball” stuff. The team was a +1 in those two minutes, and when Alarie and Harris checked out, the team brought Isabelle Harrison back in to give them a more traditional player at center.

Overall, head coach Brian Agler seemed fine with inserting Sabally into any variation of the team’s lineup. Her best stretch from a plus/minus standpoint was the four-minute stretch that encompassed the Alarie minutes, as well as the minutes with Harrison and Moriah Jefferson back in.

As for Harris, the team matched her minutes to the minutes where Moriah Jefferson sat, so that one of them — and never both, as we didn’t get the Jefferson/Harris/Ogunbowale lineup that I’m really hoping to see at some point — was always on the floor. Harris was incredibly impressive on Sunday, and the fact that Dallas gets to always play a quality point guard allows them to stick to the plan of moving Arike off the ball more.

Let’s see how that changed on Wednesday night when the Wings defeated the Liberty. Here’s the same plus/minus lineup chart but for that game:

The story for Sabally was pretty much the same as it was on Sunday: the Wings clearly value the No. 2 overall pick, and they’re going to play her heavy minutes because of that. Dallas went with a more traditional center rotation, moving Astou Ndour to the bench and mostly matching her minutes to the minutes where Isabelle Harrison sat. We didn’t get a super positionless moment with Sabally in the game this time.

The big change on Wednesday was with Harris. After playing 20 minutes in the opener, Harris saw her minutes drop down to 11 against New York. Why? Because Moriah Jefferson was on fire and Brian Agler chose to give Jefferson an extended run at the point.

This is one of the challenges Dallas  is going to face with their rotation. Jefferson is a very good basketball player. Harris might be a very good basketball player too. Both are at their best as pure point guards, and until Agler explores some guard-heavy lineups, Harris is likely to see her minutes exist on a bit of a see-saw. The more Jefferson does, the harder it will be for Harris to get off the ground.

Meanwhile, Agler continued to use Alarie in that late first and early second quarter time where she played on Sunday, but she also got another chunk of playing time in the third and fourth quarters. However, because the Wings were up big at that point, it’s hard to know if her increase in minutes was more about the Wings giving a young player some minutes in a game where they could afford that, or if Alarie earned the minutes in a crowded Wings frontcourt.

 

Satou Sabally Is Already Doing Everything

Dallas already seems good with just letting Satou Sabally be everywhere on the floor. Take a look at her box scores through two games:

First off, she’s shooting a lot, and while her three-ball is not yet falling — 1-for-8 on the season. That seems like something that will get there with time considering Sabally’s three-point numbers while at Oregon were:

  • 17-18: 37% on 146 attempts
  • 18-19: 41.5% on 193 attempts
  • 19-20: 33.8% on 133 attempts

Sabally is mired in a bit of a shooting slump that extends back to her final season with the Ducks, but you don’t shoot 41.5% on 193 attempts in a single college season as a fluke. Sabally can shoot a basketball. At some point, we’re going to see that happen more often at this level, and then she’ll really be a problem.

But even without that three falling, Sabally is proving to be an issue for opponents. One reason is that she’s not just a catch-and-shoot wing; she can also drive:

I was listening to a coaching podcast recently about closing out on three-point shooters. For players who are excellent three-point shooters, you often want to fully close them out, running them off the line and forcing them to do something else with the ball. If they aren’t good shooters, you close out in a way that prevents them from driving and forces them to shoot.

But players who can both things — shoot the three and drive — are the most dangerous, because closing out on them presents them with the ability to adjust and find another way to score. Sabally does that here. Amanda Zahui B comes flying in to prevent a catch-and-shoot Sabally three. That gives Sabally the room and space to put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket. Because she has the talent to score in a variety of ways, defenses have to make a lot of adjustments when she gets the ball.

Aside from shooting, Sabally has been active on the glass, with nine boards in two games, and showed against the Dream that she can make some passes when needed, racking up five assists in that game. She’s also been getting involved on the defensive end, with three steals and two blocks in the early going.

Sabally’s ultimate ceiling involves her being an elite shooter, but we’ve seen in the early going that she’s capable of doing enough other things that the shot doesn’t have to be falling for her to impact the game. She was a plus-eight against New York, even though she went 0-for-5 from deep. Sabally did it by shooting 50% inside the arc.

Tyasha Harris Has Been Exciting

As mentioned earlier, Harris hasn’t gotten as many chances as Sabally yet, but she’s been extremely impressive in the minutes she has played.

Through two games, Harris is hitting 58.3% of her shots and half of her threes. It’s a small sample, but it looks like Harris’ shot is working at the next level.

That’s not a big surprise. Last year at South Carolina, she scored in the 71st percentile per possession on jump shots, a jump up from the 62nd percentile a year earlier. Harris improved as a shooter over her time with the Gamecocks, so it’s not a surprise that improvement continues with the Wings.

Harris has shown a really good ability to get to her spots and control the pace when she has the basketball:

Harris brings the ball up on the right side of the floor with Kia Nurse guarding her. But a quick change of direction gets Nurse out of position, which leaves Joyner Holmes basically guarding two players on the perimeter. Holmes is a fun, young player, but this is an impossible position for her, and New York is hurt even more because Isabelle Harrison is down there in the lane, where’s she occupying two Liberty defenders. That leaves Harris with the space to dribble, stop, and fire up the nice midrange jumper.

Over and over when watching Harris with the Wings, the word that springs to mind is “comfortable.” She looks so comfortable out there, able to play what’s perhaps the toughest position to play in basketball and to do it well right off the bat.

You see this too in her passing:

Harris is being pretty tightly guarded by Chennedy Carter at the start of this clip, but Harris sees an angle around the left side and starts to drive. She’s quick and is able to get the upper hand on Carter here, but Betnijah Laney slides over to help out. That’s when Harris notices Allisha Gray is now wide open in the corner, delivering a high-arching pass over to Gray, who knocks down the three.

Harris will likely keep seeing a fluctuation in her minutes for a while, but if her play continues at this level, Dallas is going to have their point guard of the future.

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