The Dallas Wings started the season with a new head coach, an incomplete roster, and lost four of their first five games. While ranked third in scoring this season, Dallas’ biggest challenge has been closing out games. It seemed like the team needed to establish a starting five, but head coach Vickie Johnson continued to experiment with different lineups, totaling nine on the season; with the Wings’ depth, it wasn’t a bad idea to rotate players to get minutes, preserve health, and garner chemistry on the court. However, after the losses began piling up, clear changes needed to occur.
Players like Arike Ogunbowale, Satou Sabally, and Marina Mabrey recorded top performances over the past few weeks, pushing their team to a 7-8 record. Nearing the halfway mark of the season, the Wings are forming a rhythm and producing on the floor. Their roster depth continues to grow, as at least four players scored in double digits over the last four games. With a little more consistency in closing out games and continuing to share the ball, the Wings are pushing for a potential playoff run.
The Power of the Hydra: Depth
As previously mentioned, Dallas has tried nine different starting lineups this season, with Ogunbowale, Mabrey, Sabally, Moriah Jefferson, and Charli Collier making the most appearances. In Dallas’ last five games, Vickie Johnson has kept Ogunbowale and Sabally on the floor as she rotates in bench players. Sabally and Ogunbowale have been a staple in the team’s success since Johnson made this call, with the Wings outscoring opponents in four of the last five second quarters.
As Johnson arranged different teammates on the floor together, the chemistry between players grew tremendously, and players such as Bella Alarie and Tyasha Harris gained more minutes. The Wings began to play with more comfort and familiarity, ultimately forging the chemistry many have longed for. The power of having a deep roster is always having a player to go to in clutch moments or when the team goes cold. Kayla Thornton can be counted on to jump into the game to get defensive stops and quick buckets, or Isabelle Harrison to be strong in the paint and snatch rebounds. While Johnson hasn’t officially established a starting five, she has no problem giving players a chance to make a difference for their team—making them unpredictable but essential and potential threats.
Against the Minnesota Lynx last Saturday, Marina Mabrey demonstrated why she should be in the conversation for Most Improved Player. Dallas fell into a shooting slump in the third quarter and was outscored after being distracted with foul calls and neglecting their ball movement. With Sabally and Ogunbowale on the bench, coach Johnson went to Mabrey, Gray, Harris, Alarie, and Harrison to start the fourth quarter. Mabrey commanded the floor in the fourth, scoring 12 points and killing the Lynx’s momentum as they tried to get back into the game. Her versatility shined as she hit mid-range jumpers, threes, and upped the pressure on defense. While Mabrey knows that she can score for her team, she says she’s been working on her defensive skills, working to be an all-around player for her squad.
See also, Mabrey on improving her defense and the technical call with Clarendon late in the game. pic.twitter.com/AonkVj6vFX
— Jasmine (@harperxxwrites) June 20, 2021
Mabrey brought the fourth quarter heat once again against the Indiana Fever, as she went into halftime with six points, but punched 14 points on the night. She loves to end games on a high note, cashing in on threes and playing hard on defense. Competing against players like Nia Coffey, Crystal Bradford, and Brionna Jones for the MIP award, Mabrey is a strong frontrunner based on stats and how she pushes the Wings to their full potential.
The fifth-leading league scorer, Arike Ogunbowale (19.5 points per game), is keeping the Wings afloat this season. In games where Dallas has struggled to dig themselves out of deep trails, Ogunbowale has found the light. Opponents fight to keep her off the line, but it’s inevitable with Ogunbowale’s style of play, shooting a career-high 86.5 percent from the free-throw line. She has also shot well from the perimeter, with another career-high of 38.8 percent from three.
In game two versus the Lynx, she went 4-of-5 from three and extended her double-digit scoring games to 50, the most in league and franchise history.
“Ma-Rike” is one of the most powerful duos this season, only playing in their second season together since both being drafted out of Notre Dame. They are lethal on the court, and deeply connected off, supporting one another for awards and praising accomplishments, as best friends do.
Arike had 50 straight double figure games. Sounds like an all star to me 👀😘❤️
— Marina Mabrey (@mmabrey1) June 20, 2021
The German Unicorn
Satou Sabally’s time overseas competing in the 3×3 Olympic qualifiers for Germany helped her to become a more confident and aggressive player. In her first game back from the qualifiers, Sabally came off the bench against the Seattle Storm, scoring 18 points on 43.7 percent shooting and nine rebounds. In game two of Dallas’ mini-series against the Phoenix Mercury, she recorded 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and took 50 percent of Dallas’ free throws, going 5-of-6. Sabally scored a season-high 24 points against the Las Vegas Aces and supported Dallas defensively. Even in a loss, she stood firm against big’s Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson, and she hit big shots to kill the Aces rhythm.
🦄 doin' 🦄 things!
@satou_sabally | #TakeFlight pic.twitter.com/xOCcxUawtQ
— Dallas Wings (@DallasWings) June 13, 2021
In addition to averaging the fifth most minutes, Sabally is third on the team in scoring. In only her sophomore season, Sabally is destined to evolve into an All-Star over the next few years. When she enters the game in attack mode, she is almost unstoppable and can give you a variety of shots, on the rocks or with some heat.
Buckets, Defense, and More Buckets
While Ogunbowale, Mabrey, and Sabally have logged high scoring games this season, it goes without saying they aren’t doing this alone. Players like Thornton, who bring an extra edge to the court, have given Dallas a boost in scoring and getting stops. Thornton balances the Wings, providing an offensive start in dim moments, or blocking the lane to cut the opponent’s momentum—much like Jefferson, who absolutely pushes the energy for Dallas. She is hard to stop once she gets the ball in her hands and loves when her team plays at a high pace. Harris is a walking bucket, and, like her shoes, grabs your attention when she’s on the court.
Dallas currently has four players averaging double digits per game—Ogunbowale, Mabrey, Sabally, and Allisha Gray. On Thursday, six Wings players scored in double digits, the team recorded their third straight game shooting perfect from the free-throw line. After a slow start to the season with the absence of Gray and Sabally, the Wings are whole and learning how to take full advantage of their weapons.
Charli Collier recorded a career-high 12 points against the Indiana Fever on Thursday. Shooting 80 percent from the field and grabbing seven boards, Collier found her flow as she played an aggressive 27 minutes. In her last few games, she has struggled against bigs Brittney Griner, Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Napheesa Collier, but the number one overall pick doesn’t shy away from a challenge. With her consistent starts, look for Collier to bag more buckets and be a dual threat defensively and off the glass.
Awak Kuier is beginning to touch the court, as she recorded a set of free throws against the Indiana Fever late in the fourth Thursday. While she plays alongside bigs Harrison, Alarie, and Collier, Kuier may get less touches this season as a result, but she gains more time to develop for a postseason run. She will also be a strong go-to for the Wings next season as she grows into a stronger post player, one who can also switch to the power forward position.
Chelsea Dungee is an untapped resource for the Dallas Wings. While she brings some intensity defensively, Dungee hasn’t taken a lot of shots this season. Against the Fever, she shot 0-of-2 from the field and perimeter, and is 1-of-6 from mid-range and 1-of-5 from three on the season. Dungee can be a major offensive tool to the Wings if Vickie Johnson gives her more minutes. In her final game with the Arkansas Razorbacks, she recorded 27 points, shooting 33.3 percent from the field, 3-of-6 from behind the arc, with three rebounds and two assists. The Wings should certainly find a way to harness all that potential.