Connecting Pieces of the Puzzle: Which Starting Five Should the Dallas Wings Land On?

With their roster finally whole, it’s time for the Dallas Wings to identify their starting five. Dallas has two of the top 20 scorers in the league, the No. 1 and No. 2 overall draft picks, an Olympic champion and an international baller on their squad—so what’s taking them so long? The culprit seems to be a lack of consistency. 

Sitting at 4-5, it’s time for Dallas to wake up and notice the bomb team that they have. On Sunday, the Wings upset the No. 1 team and reigning champions, Seattle Storm, 68-67, after struggling the majority of the game. Dallas’ transition buckets and defense could not click and offensively they looked gassed, shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from beyond the arc. The WNBA’s 2020 scoring leader, Arike Ogunbowale, scored Dallas’ final eight points in a comeback and called game with a trigger three with 0.7 seconds left in the game.

After ending Seattle’s six game winning streak, the Wings started a streak of their own with their 85-81 win against the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday night. Prior to their matchup against the Wings, the Mercury were hot, winning three consecutive games. During the game on Tuesday, the Wings were ahead at the end of the first half, but their third quarter struggles returned. In the fourth quarter, the Wings rallied to outscore the Mercury 24-20 in the quarter to secure the win. In addition to the favorable result, the Wings’ field goal percentage (42.7) and three-point shooting (38.5) greatly improved compared to their stat lines in their last game against the Storm. Still, with Dallas’ third quarter woes, digging themselves out of bad shots, and undefined starters, the Wings will continue to struggle without an identity. 

They have flair and they have spunk, but now it’s time to turn their talent into wins, starting with establishing their starting five.   

Arike Ogunbowale

Arike Ogunbowale is a high-scoring machine who isn’t afraid to turn up her team’s momentum. She is averaging 22.1 ppg (third-highest in the league) on 39.8 percent shooting and thrives in clutch moments where she turns up her energy. With the ball in her hand, you never know what she will do as she loves to play aggressively, going at every opponent on the court. 

Although she tends to occasionally trust her impressive isolation scoring skills a bit too much, sometimes it’s the only way forward. Ogunbowale wins it down the stretch when her team needs her and isn’t afraid to take a shot, even if she comes up empty. However, she is not the only scorer on the team and needs to look to get her teammates involved more. She is currently ranked in the top 20 in total assists this season but needs to trust her teammates to take more shots when they are trailing. While she can spark an offensive run, she also needs to rely on her supporting cast to get in the groove with her. The more involved the team is, the bigger threat they pose, especially with Arike playing off the ball.  

Dallas will also need to determine if they will play a traditional point guard, such as Moriah Jefferson or Tyasha Harris, or stick with Ogunbowale at lead guard. Can Arike be a true point guard and run the offense? Or is she better as the primary scorer and letting teammates Allisha Gray or Marina Mabrey control the floor? It will be interesting to see how Dallas sets the guard position. 

Marina Mabrey or Allisha Gray

Marina Mabrey’s player development over the last three years puts her in the race for Most Improved Player and Wings starter. She averaged 4.0 ppg in 2019, which improved to 10.0 ppg in 2020 and is currently at 18.8 ppg in 2021. Mabrey is recording career-high numbers, shooting 49.2 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three and leading the league in three-pointers made with 27. She also recorded a career-high 26 points against the Seattle Storm in Dallas’ second game of the season.

Mabrey is currently on a 13 game double-digit scoring streak. Notably, she has scored at least 10 points and five boards seven times in the 2021 season thus far. When paired with Ogunbowale, the “Ma-Rike” duo is unstoppable on the floor, especially in transition. Mabrey is a true starter who likes to strike first, early on and especially from three. When she’s not icing a three, you can find Mabrey facilitating the floor, making hustle plays on the defensive end or hitting mid-range jumpers. Her consistency from three makes her an anchor for the Wings who often have to pull themselves out of bad shot selections, and her versatility makes her a threat offensively. She brings the heat to Dallas and will pull up from anywhere, while letting you know you can’t stop her.

Allisha Gray is a strong facilitator for the Dallas Wings. She is seemingly the glue that brought the Wings to their first victory against the Los Angeles Sparks, contributing 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists. During her time away from the team competing toward the Olympics, Gray helped Team USA to qualify for the 3×3 debut in the Tokyo Games. Team USA went undefeated in the Big Twelve Tournament where Gray averaged a team-high 6.5 points and five boards per game, leading them to the Olympics. 

Gray dropped 15 points, four assists and three rebounds in her first game back with the Wings on Friday, wasting no time getting back in the groove with her teammates, who she has excellent floor chemistry with. She is tied for the longest standing Wings member with Kayla Thornton, playing in Dallas since 2017. The Wings have a strong defender in Gray, who can space the floor and finish strong. 

Kayla Thornton

Kayla Thornton had an impressive start to the season, recording her first double-double of the season in Dallas’ second game. She scored 14 points and 12 rebounds, and her role began to expand as she showed she was the missing piece on the floor. Thornton went on a tear the next four games, scoring in double digits in each one, good for a five-game streak. She fills in the gaps where Dallas lacks, such as in transition defense and hustle plays. Thornton is averaging double digits for the second time in her career with 10.8 ppg and a career-high 7.5 rebounds per game, ranking her 13th in the league. 

Out for two games with a right knee contusion, Thornton saw the court for the first time in six days on Sunday. Despite only scoring two points, she still made plays for her team by snatching four rebounds, adding to Dallas’ 42 overall boards, which helped the Wings out-rebound the Storm by eight. Thornton is an all-around player who catches opponents off guard with her swiftness and physicality. She always has a play up her sleeve. Plus, she leads Dallas as the best three-point shooter at 45.5 percent (albeit at low volume).

Dallas can look to her for more than just support off the bench. She can get you buckets in crunch time and slow down the opposing team’s star player.

Satou Sabally

Also back from the 3×3 Olympic qualifiers, Satou Sabally reminded us why she’s called “the unicorn.” The German-American scored 18 points and secured nine rebounds in her first game back with Dallas and was a major threat in the paint. Although they did not qualify for the Tokyo games, while competing in the trials, Sabally pulled the underdog German team from the bottom of the ranks to a top 10 team. In only three games with the Wings thus far, she has been aggressive and ready to impact the team this season, averaging 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds. Standing at 6’4”, Sabally is comfortable with the ball in her hands but can also post up. She isn’t afraid to come at you one-on-one or go for three. Her length gives her strength on defense and offensively she makes plays for her team on screens and switches. Opponents should be hesitant to try her from the arc as she’s growing more confident in her shot. As told by Justin Carter in The Follow Through, “There’s just so many ways that Sabally expands what Dallas can do.” 

 

Isabelle Harrison or Charli Collier

Isabelle Harrison has been a great player for the Dallas Wings, both starting and playing from the bench. She is averaging 8.9 ppg and went on a three-game double-digit streak, with one double-double, in her first three games of the season. In her first start of the campaign, she claimed eight points and seven rebounds against Seattle. 

On Sunday, in their final game of the three-game series, she dropped 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds against the Storm, marking her fourth time scoring at least 10 points and five rebounds this season. Harrison is a five-year veteran who doesn’t commit simple fouls or mistakes. She’s very strategic with how she plays the game, staying out of foul trouble and remaining calm in tense games. She plays comfortably on the court, especially with Thornton nearby. Dallas can find a stable, consistent center in Harrison.

Turning to the 2021 No. 1 draft pick, Charli Collier ranks fifth overall in total rebound percentage with 18.4, averaging 4.6 rpg. Additionally, Collier is averaging 4.1 ppg on 47.1 percent shooting. The majority of her rebounds are on the defensive end, helping her team to stay active and strong in the paint. While Collier plays well inside and gets her team rebounds, she averaged over 20.0 ppg during her final year at University of Texas and 11.3 ppg in the postseason, which indicates that she can become an even greater offensive threat for the Wings in the future. 

She needs more minutes to become a weapon Dallas can efficiently use in the long run offensively, not just for rebounds.

Along with determining who and how to set the point, Dallas will have to decide who is the better long-term player at center. While Harrison is Dallas’ safety net, she has had her fair share of struggles this season, such as going scoreless against Phoenix and being held to four points against the Sparks. Collier is strong at center but has room for development in only her rookie season.

While everyone likes to call Dallas a young team, and they are technically the youngest, the Wings have the right pieces to the puzzle. Defining their starting five will lead to better playmaking and chemistry on the court. Each of the players listed have made strong cases for why they should be starters. After completing a quarter of the season, it is time for the Wings to unveil their starting five masterpiece and start taking back games they should have won.

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