Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally of the Dallas Wings are two of the brightest young stars in the WNBA. Between the rising second-year Sabally, a 6’4” unicorn who is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife, and Ogunbowale, who has already established herself as an elite scoring threat at age 23, Dallas fans have much to look forward to. Overseas this (WNBA) off-season, Sabally and Ogunbowale have continued to flash their potential as key players for Fenerbahçe (Turkey) and Dynamo Kursk (Russia) respectively, two of the most dominant teams in EuroLeague Women. Watching overseas action for Satou and Arike has been an eye-opening opportunity to analyze each of their games in a vacuum. Though isolated from each other, Ogunbowale and Sabally are up against premier talent in the EuroLeague tournament, and their strengths are on full display, as are the parts of their games needing improvement if they are to bring out the best in each other and lead Dallas to a championship.
Satou: Spacing the floor on the perimeter
Plain and simple: if Satou became a more efficient three-point shooter—and, thus, a more effective floor spacer—she would immediately make Arike’s life easier. Ogunbowale thrives with the ball in her hand in isolation above all else, having led the WNBA in her second season with 1.17 points-per-possession on isolation plays. In order to create the space needed to best utilize this talent for the iso, Ogunbowale needs to be surrounded by as much outside shooting as possible. As such, it is imperative that Sabally develop a reliable outside shot, and maintain her ability to create space for her teammate to work off the dribble.
Take the above play, from Dynamo Kursk’s recent EuroLeague win over fellow Russian club Nadezhda Orenburg. When the ball enters Arike’s hands, her teammates enter a “five-out” formation, each spacing the floor beyond the three-point arc. By doing this, Ogunbowale’s teammates draw their defenders out, providing her with all the space she needs to operate. Now a one-on-one game, all Arike needs to do is shake her defender off the dribble, which is second nature for an elite ball handler like Ogunbowale. By the time the defense collapses into the paint to stop her, Arike is already in position for an easy open layup, able to draw an and-one off the late arriving interior defenders, to boot.
To best complement this isolation style, Satou Sabally needs to re-establish herself as the kind of genuine three-point threat she was during her time playing at the University of Oregon. Sabally only hit 19.7 percent of her attempts from deep her rookie season in Dallas, a far cry from the 38.6 percent three-point average put up through her three years in the NCAAW. While a drop off in three-point efficiency is not uncommon when making the leap to the pros, Satou’s has been drastic, which threatens to affect her confidence and willingness to let three-pointers fly.
Satou showed some encouraging signs of confidence in her three-point shot during her EuroLeague debut against Alyssa Thomas and USK Praha back in December, hitting a couple of open shots from deep and even attempting the above three off the dribble. (Though it didn’t go in, it’s an encouraging sign she still feels comfortable taking those shots.) Unfortunately, Sabally hasn’t hit a EuroLeague three since that game, going 2-17 on her three-point attempts in tournament play. In order for Satou to stretch the floor, opening up Arike’s isolation game, as well as take the next step as a star in her own right, Sabally needs to be counted on to take—and make—her three-point shots.
Arike: Becoming a more willing passer
As dynamic a scorer as Arike Ogunbowale is, there are times she gets tunnel vision on offense—looking only to score, rarely making plays for her teammates. This can be problematic when Arike is having trouble getting her shot to fall, such as Dynamo Kursk’s recent EuroLeague outing against Izmit Belediyespor. Arike went scoreless through the first three quarters of the game, and while she eventually got hot in the fourth quarter, she struggled to find ways to contribute otherwise. Look at this possession from her cold first half, where she draws three defenders to her off her drive to the basket.
Instead of looking to dish to her teammate Alex Bentley, left open on the perimeter, Ogunbowale puts up a wild layup against multiple defenders in the crowded paint. Of course, Arike wouldn’t be drawing this kind of attention if she wasn’t one of the most dangerous scorers in basketball. Even on a night like this one, where her shot simply isn’t there, Ogunbowale is still recognized as a constant threat, drawing defenders toward her on the drive and disrupting entire defenses with her presence. Arike should be utilizing the space this creates for her teammates with a well-timed pass. If Arike can use the attention she draws to create more open looks for her teammates, particularly a fellow star like Satou Sabally, the Dallas Wings will be that much harder to stop.
To really unlock the best of Satou’s game, Arike should particularly work on her passing in the fast break. Sabally can be quite difficult to deal with in transition, utilizing a mix of speed, handles, and size to get buckets. Look at this play, where Satou takes it coast to coast before hitting Alyssa Thomas with a nasty spin move on the way to two points.
While Ogunbowale is a fast-break threat in her own right, this is again undermined somewhat by her laser-focus on scoring—like in this play where she jacks up a difficult mid-range jumper early in the shot clock instead of dishing it out to any of her open teammates, such as Stephanie Mavunga running to the rim, or Yulia Cozik on the perimeter.
To fully unlock Satou’s offensive potential, Arike needs to become a more skilled and willing passer, taking advantage of the attention defenses give her to create opportunities for her fellow young superstar.
Satou: Looking to set more screens
Satou Sabally performs the role of oversized wing extremely well, so much so that it can be easy to forget that, at 6’4”, she’s on the taller end of the WNBA. Sabally should look to take advantage of her height and ability to fill space by becoming a more active screener. Arike Ogunbowale thrives in plays off screens, able to take even an inch of space created by a strong pick and turn it into a layup, open shot, or two free throws. Take this possession, where Ogunbowale uses a screen from teammate Elizaveta Shabanova to get her defender off balance and out of position, opening up the opportunity for an easy shot in the paint.
Sabally has a great frame for setting screens. When she gets to her spots early and commits to picks physically, Sabally can really impact the game with her screening, creating ample room for her teammates—and herself—to make plays. Here’s a great screen from Satou, where she creates space for her Fenerbahçe teammate, Kayla McBride, to get a pass off to a freed-up Olcay Çakir for three.
Again, Sabally already has the skills and body to be an elite screener; she needs to lean into that, and actively look for spots to set picks. More Arike-Satou pick and rolls would be a boon for the Dallas Wings’ offense. Between Ogunbowale’s ability to create with the ball in her hand, and the threat of Sabally rolling towards the basket, we’re looking at some devastating, and very entertaining, basketball.
Arike: Navigating screens on the defensive end
For a player so adept at orchestrating screen plays on offense, Arike Ogunbowale is a bit too easy to shake with a pick on the other end of the floor. When in single coverage defending a pick and roll with the Wings last season, Ogunbowale allowed 55 points on 46 possessions, per Synergy. Arike often gets caught out of position off opposing screens, allowing drives when she goes over, or open threes when she goes under. Other times, Ogunbowale will be taken out of the play entirely, running into a screen. Take this play, actually the second consecutive offensive play where Nadezhda Orenburg ran this exact screen on her. Ogunbowale goes directly into a hard screen and ends up chasing her defensive assignment, Daria Namok, who is left open for a jump shot.
With Arike out of position, the rest of Dynamo Kursk’s defense is forced to compensate, collapsing their man-to-man coverage to cover the hole in the coverage left by Ogunbowale. On the WNBA side, Ogunbowale’s difficulty with navigating screens on the perimeter makes life harder for Sabally, one of Dallas’ defensive anchors, who is forced to exert extra energy on these defensive plays. Working on her decision making and reaction time when faced with a screen would help Ogunbowale alleviate some of the pressure on her teammate.
Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally have given us a lot to be excited about over their young professional basketball careers. Their time playing star roles on two of Europe’s most competitive clubs have showcased their immense talents, and given both Sabally and Ogunbowale ample opportunity to work on their games. If the two of them can learn to play together, and modify their games to accent each other’s talents,the Dallas Wings will join the WNBA’s elite sooner rather than later.
WNBA stats courtesy of WNBA.com, except where otherwise noted. EuroLeague stats courtesy of Scoreboard.com. All film courtesy of FIBA’s YouTube channel.