Head in the Game: Can the Wings Still Stage a Postseason Run?

Before the Olympic break, the Dallas Wings’ chances of achieving their goal of striking a postseason berth were dwindling. After losing three games straight going into the WNBA’s Olympic break, the Wings looked less and less like playoff contenders. Largely due to declines in shooting percentages, an inability to convert during transition buckets and their star players going cold, Dallas fell to a 9-12 record after fighting to remain at the .500 mark. 

Three Straight Losses

The biggest issue for the Dallas Wings is their consistency. Dallas has one of the deepest rosters in the league, but as soon as they begin to find their niche, the Wings lose their footing. The Wings rank second in free throw percentage (84.3 percent), third in points scored per game (85.1), third in rebounds per game (36.9) and third in perimeter shot percentage (36.1 percent). While their stat lines stand strong, players’ ranks and chemistry on the court are slowly falling out of place. Three key factors are causing this talented Wings team to lose games: poor shot selections, frustration on the court and a lack of consistency.

Dallas, as a whole, performed relatively well against the Liberty on July 5. Only losing by three points, the Wings’ shot selections were not bad at all. However, the team failed to end the game with the energy they started with. As we have seen many times with Dallas, they love to kick off games with a bang, hitting threes to establish dominance, getting a quick steal or making big defensive plays. But they began to lose that rhythm somewhere around the third quarter, missing open shots and committing turnover after turnover. In close games like this one, the Dallas Wings have to show control in their final minutes and close out more efficiently.

The Wings really struggled against the Lynx in their final matchup of the season, which took place on July 7. Dallas’ communication was poor and the chemistry was lost on the floor. Because of the Lynx post players, Wings players were forced to shoot, but the shots just weren’t falling. Dallas shot 41.9 percent from the field, which served them well, but went 32.1 percent at the perimeter. Dallas suffered from all three factors against the Lynx by throwing up bad shots and not fighting through their setbacks. Dallas went 0-of-8 from behind the arc in their last shots of the game and ended 9-of-28. The Wings’ inability to play through calls caused them to be outscored 25 to 14 in the fourth quarter, and their game frustration transferred into their next game against the Las Vegas Aces.

In their July 11 matchup against the Aces, the Wings started off strong with fluid ball movement and by getting players open for good looks. The Wings got the ball to Charli Collier early and intentionally let her set the pace for Dallas. Dallas led by five after the first quarter, with Collier leading the Wings with eight points, and looked well on their way to hitting head coach Vickie Johnson’s goal of 22 or more assists. 

However, reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson was just getting warmed up for the Aces. Guarded by Satou Sabally, Wilson and the other Aces used size to their advantage to draw fouls and win on the boards. The remainder of the game was a downhill spiral as the Aces claimed foul after foul against the Wings. Back in their third quarter woes, Dallas looked out of sync, and a handful of their big time players were in foul trouble. The team’s inexperience began to show and translated onto the court as the Wings lost their focus. 

Still, players like Allisha Gray and Moriah Jefferson continued to make plays for Dallas despite their impending loss, both ending the game leading the Wings with 14 points. 

Collier logged a new career-high 13 points, followed by Alarie’s new high 11 points; both Collier and Alarie showed resilience in the paint against the reigning MVP and Aces veterans. 

Star Power Trouble

Franchise player Arike Ogunbowale mentioned a month ago that her goal was not to focus on her double-digit scoring streak but to make the playoffs. Since then, Dallas went 3-5 in their last eight games and Ogunbowale’s rank declined. Starting as one of the top three players in scoring this season, Ogunbowale has fallen to eighth, averaging 18.9 points per game. In the team’s last three matchups, she was held to 12 points or less each game. Although she has kept her double-digit streak alive by scoring a minimum of 10 points, her team has suffered without her high performances as the majority of the Wings’ plays are centered around the All-Star. In her last three games, Arike shot a combined total of 28.3 percent (13-of-46) from the field and 23.5 percent (4-of-17) from the perimeter. While Ogunbowale says her eyes are set on the playoffs, her streak is important to her; otherwise, she wouldn’t continue to take hefty shots in order to keep the record alive.

Nonetheless, Ogunbowale continues to stamp her name in WNBA history. She scored 26 points at the 2021 WNBA All-Star Game, which is the fourth highest individual score in All-Star history, and took home the MVP trophy. She also clinched the title as the first All-Star to live-tweet during the game during her breaks from cashing in on the court. After being cut from the initial All-Star roster, Ogunbowale played with a chip on her shoulder and proved why she should’ve been an original All-Star. As the leader of the Dallas Wings, Ogunbowale has to put on for her team night in and night out to help them claim wins and get a shot at the playoffs.

Marina Mabrey was a front runner for Most Improved Player after making clutch plays and shots to kick off the season. She garnered high recognition from players and fans across the league for her versatility, providing physical defense, pop-up shots, mid-range jumpers and—of course—her high-arcing three-pointers. 

In the team’s last three games, Mabrey scored 15 points (Liberty), nine points (Lynx) and went scoreless against the Las Vegas Aces. After logging two 28-point, career-high games against the Chicago Sky (July 2) and Minnesota Lynx (June 19), Mabrey has been pretty quiet. For the Wings to stage a comeback in the remainder of the season, Mabrey has to reclaim the shots she made so effortlessly and  physical defense she brought at the beginning of the season.

Additionally, Satou Sabally has been neutralized for the Dallas Wings; however, Sabally’s dilemma has been both foul trouble and a decrease in scoring. In her last three games, Sabally struggled with remaining on the floor amid foul calls. She scored 16 points but also had three personals against the New York Liberty; 12 points and five fouls against the Lynx; and only five points but five fouls against the Aces, with three personals before halftime. As the third-leading Wings scorer, Sabally has to do better to remain out of foul trouble. Her team is better when she’s on the floor, setting screens and being the dominant force she is.

Need More Minutes

Head coach Vickie Johnson has made it clear that prioritizing a starting five is not on her agenda this season. While she has used some lineups more consistently than others, we have seen over ten different starting lineups from Johnson thus far. If Johnson doesn’t want to establish a true starting five, she has to play the best five at that moment. With that being said, she needs to give the following players more minutes:

Tyasha “Ty” Harris is averaging 5.1 ppg, down from her average last year of 6.8. Like Jefferson, Harris brings the energy to Dallas but in a more controlled fashion, similar to Gray. Harris has had big moments this season, such as scoring 18 points against the Sparks (June 1) and 13 points against both the Mercury (May 29) and the Lynx (June 19). The more touches Harris is given, the more plays she can get for her team, like the major defensive play she had against the Las Vegas Aces. 

She can get you buckets and hone in on defense. With more minutes, Harris can get Dallas moving when they are stagnant in scoring.

See Also

Chelsea Dungee is still not being used in Dallas, again an untapped resource. Dungee has barely seen the floor and averages 3.7 minutes on the court. As previously mentioned in my last article, Dungee has more potential than just defensive power. She was a prime scorer on the Arkansas Razorbacks women’s team, but she has not been used properly in the first wind of the season. Even in games where losses are imminent, Johnson has not used Dungee at all. She needs to hit the floor and gain more experience than just watching as she could serve as a key piece to improving Dallas’ game.

The 19-year-old Finnish power forward/center Awak Kuier gained more playing time in Dallas’ last game versus the Las Vegas Aces. She entered the game in the second quarter and played a total of about nine minutes. However, Kuier looked very out of place on the floor, and because she did not play to her strengths while in the game, she looked as if she was clueless on the court. Johnson has to get her more touches and build her defensive ability. While she is on the smaller end, Kuier can be a rebounding queen and scoring machine like Sabally when mentored correctly. 

During this Olympic break, Allisha “Gold Medal Lish” Gray made a strong case for an uptick in her minutes with the Wings. She understood the assignment and received an Olympic gold medal—her first Olympic medal—in the debut of 3×3 basketball in this year’s Tokyo Games. Alongside teammates Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and Stefanie Dolson, the U.S. team ended the games 8-1 with their only loss to Japan.

Gray had some major plays throughout the tournament along with first-class defense and athleticism to clinch wins for her team. She was a hustle player—taking on the strongest opponent, getting rebounds on both ends of the ball, hitting big shots, grabbing steals and ultimately living up to the moment. 

Her teammates praised her tenacity throughout the tournament, saying she’s an underrated player.

“I think Allisha Gray doesn’t get enough credit for who she is as a basketball player,” said Plum

Doesn’t get enough credit is right, along with not enough minutes. We saw the type of player Gray is in the first game of the season where she secured 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists. She played aggressively and in control, similar to her performance in the 3×3 tournament. She’s at her best when she can challenge an opponent and bring out the humble beast in herself. There’s no reason why Allisha Gray shouldn’t be a permanent starter for the Wings or, at the least, near the top of the leaderboard in minutes played. 

Coach Johnson needs to dive into her bag of tricks to see what worked before the Olympic break and strategize how to minimize the team’s weaknesses while elevating their strengths. While we love to say the Wings will be postseason contenders in years to come, Dallas wants it now. However, the team’s All-Stars and rising stars have to be better with taking shots and facilitating going forward. Also, Johnson has to give vital players more minutes on the floor to garner better team chemistry and to put away close games.

Although it was not a factor early this season, the frustration the Wings display during games is beginning to catch up with them. In order to be the threat they truly are, it is time for Johnson to mold her team, both on and off the court, and help them control their emotions. Despite the last few games not going in their favor, the Dallas Wings are a great squad, and giving players more minutes and utilizing them correctly will enhance Dallas’ reputation as an all-around team.

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