Dallas’ offseason has shown that the franchise is ready to excel at the next level. After snatching top draft picks over the past three years, the Wings have positioned themselves with a young core that’s ready to bring a new vibe to the W. Things are shaking up in Dallas, and the Take Flight crew members are steadying themselves for another postseason run.
Now, I know it’s way too early to even think about the playoffs before final rosters are made, but this new Dallas team shows promise. And while we’ve long known the Wings to be filled to the brim with potential, this season is all about execution. In order to do that, the team had to lay out some groundwork.
The first order of business was keeping Arike Ogunbowale in tow. Dallas signed her to a three-year fully protected supermax deal and extension, solidifying her as the team’s centerpiece.
Last season, she averaged 18.7 ppg, was selected to her first All-Star Game (after which she was named MVP), and helped her team end its playoff drought. On top of her achievements last year, Arike’s leadership has risen tremendously both on and off the court. She’s used her voice and platform to reach others in the Texas community, welcomed her new teammates with open arms, and is steadily logging time in the gym until May arrives. Arike is growing into her role, and I’m excited to see how her game and leadership come together on the court this season.
Working on Their Days Off
The majority of the Wings players spent their offseason in the gym stateside or overseas. Expect the Wings to take a jump forward on both ends of the floor due to their hard work. I want to highlight a few players whose games I think will ascend this season because of their offseason growth.
Isabelle Harrison was a part of the inaugural season of the Athletes Unlimited (AU) basketball league. She was the first-ever draft pick in the league and ended the season as the Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the AU All-Defensive team, and third overall on the leaderboard. Harrison glowed as she competed in the non-traditional league format, and her game reflected not only the fun she was having but also her development.
— Athletes Unlimited (@AUProSports) February 19, 2022
Per AU Pro Sports, Harrison tallied four double-doubles, recorded 11 games with 15 points or more, and went for 29 points in her penultimate game. Needless to say, her nickname isn’t Izzy Tizzy for theatrics.
The 2021 first overall pick, Charli Collier, played overseas with Famila Schio where she averaged 7.0 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Despite having undergone a knee scope procedure in December, Collier’s game didn’t falter with her Italian team. Per Eurobasket, she shot 90.0 percent from the free-throw line and became reacquainted with her three-point shot, logging 33.3 percent. We could potentially see Collier add long-range shots back to her arsenal, which she strayed from last year.
Thornton’s play wasn’t as confident last season as it was in previous years, and she settled for a pass-first technique that slightly stunted her game. Unlike her 2021 WNBA season, Thornton went on a tear with Reyer Venezia, averaging 10.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg. In Euroleague competition this season, she also carried with her 10 games of 10 points or more and four games with at least three steals. Trust me when I say that this offseason alone left Thornton with a ton of highlight footage to prove that Stella has gotten her groove back.
Awak Kuier is playing with the Ragusa team, where—according to Eurobasket—she averages 16.6 ppg on 58.4 percent shooting from the field and 37.3 percent from behind the arc. She’s logged seven games of 20 points or more; her most dominant performance was against Empoli, recording 27 points and four assists on 60.0 percent shooting from the field, 50.0 percent from three, and a perfect percentage from the free-throw line.
Quite the case has Awak Kuier made for herself as Most Improved Player of the Year in Italy. Impressive jumps in stats as Awak finished 1st in blocks, 5th in rebounds and 7th in points. 🇫🇮🏀💪 #AWAKening #Susiladies #FinnsAbroad pic.twitter.com/mhczDE4X6X
— Basket.fi (@basketfinland) April 8, 2022
Kuier’s time overseas has served her well as she’s made efficient jumps in her game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Awak gains more time on the court since the Wings can now rely more on her offensive game.
Allisha “Gold Medal Lish” Gray was featured on the roster for the 2022 USA Basketball Women’s National Team spring training camp. If selected to the final roster, Gray will be a part of the World Cup and Olympic team that will run through 2024.
Gray’s gold medal run in the inaugural 3×3 basketball tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics solidified her as a dominant defensive and hustle player—one that USA Basketball (and bestie/former teammate A’ja Wilson) could surely use.
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) February 12, 2022
Team USA concluded training camp April 2 and will reconvene in September prior to the FIBA World Cup, which will essentially take place during the WNBA playoffs and finals. It was crucial for USA Basketball to have time together before the W season kicks off as players will be trickling in close to the tournament’s Sept. 22 start date. Expect Gold Medal Lish to use this upcoming season as a ramp up before rejoining the national team and another chance for career-high numbers. Her game instantly elevated after the 3×3 tournament, and although she is already a beast, we can expect that same shift from her this go-around.
Unfortunately, Bella Alarie will not participate in the upcoming season due to personal reasons. As she forgoes this season, Alarie’s rights remain with Dallas upon her return, and she is placed on the suspended list, ineligible to play. Last season, she only averaged 2.6 ppg, but she had standout moments against the Atlanta Dream and Las Vegas Aces.
Prior to the news regarding Alarie being released, the franchise picked up major asset Teaira McCowan through a trade with the Indiana Fever. McCowan brings another level of defense to the Wings as a dominant post player. In 2021, she averaged 11.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg, and 1.6 bpg. Additionally, she set a new single-season record for the Fever franchise of 308 total rebounds. Last season, Dallas’ defense ranked eighth overall and third in most points allowed in the paint (37.4). McCowan by herself adds a new level of intimidation with her size and aggressive playmaking. With her and Collier or Harrison down low, that’s a frontcourt sure to stir up trouble.
In addition to acquiring McCowan, Dallas’ training camp roster features three free-agent pickups.
— Dallas Wings PR (@DallasWingsPR) April 14, 2022
The Wings signed players Morgan Bertsch, Unique Thompson, and Destinee Walker to training camp contracts. Both Bertsch and Thompson were waived by their draft teams, and all three players previously participated in Dallas’ training camps.
Bertsch loves to attack the basket and could be a really good spacer for the Wings. She uses a combination of her height and skill to draw defenders to the basket, which can be used to take pressure off key players.
Thompson is aggressive, can handle herself in the post, and has a nice mid-range shot. Much like Thornton, Thompson’s defense makes her a strong option for the Wings, providing paint protection and size along with her offensive game.
Walker is quick in transition and unselfish with buckets. She always goes for the steal and can knock down a perimeter shot. Her skillset makes her ideal to pair with a variety of players, and her Notre Dame background could potentially fall into the “Ma-Rike” system that fans love so much.
Considering how head coach Vickie Johnson continuously rotated lineups and combinations last season, these ladies could have a legit chance to claim a seat. However, if there’s one thing Dallas isn’t short on, it’s competition.
Also joining the Wings’ camp are new draftees Veronica Burton, Jasmine Dickey, and Jazz Bond.
Veronica Burton led her team with 17.8 ppg and 6.4 apg last season. She led Northwestern University in steals over her four-year career and led the NCAA with 4.0 spg in her final year. A strong defensive player, Burton is known as the “Backcourt Burglar,” which refers to her defensive foundation. She is a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the 2022 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) National Defensive Player of the Year.
Sometime soon – sit back, relax and enjoy 15 minutes of Veronica Burton lighting it up on the court 🍿 ⤵️
— Northwestern Women’s Basketball (@nuwbball) April 12, 2022
I see Burton adding that extra layer of defense that Dallas can build on and being someone who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, a natural competitor. On draft night, when she was asked about her new teammates, Burton stated that she’s ready to get to work ensuring her teammates get the looks they need.
Jazz Bond is a forward from the University of North Florida (shoutout to Duval talent). On the morning after draft day, she was getting in a workout at the gym before traveling to meet her new team. Per the Ospreys’ website, she is UNF’s career leader in blocks with 274 total, finished top 20 in the nation in blocks and blocks per game, and tallied second most in blocks in the ASUN conference. Similar to Burton, Bond’s defense-first mindset is an exceptional pickup for the Wings.
Jasmine Dickey averaged her best numbers this past NCAA season, logging 25.2 ppg and 10.2 rpg on 40.1 percent shooting from the field. As reported by Her Hoop Stats, Dickey was a finalist for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award. Among her strengths, she received praise for her ability to get to the free-throw line, from which she shot 80.9 percent.
Dickey offers the Wings more trips to the line, a strong mid-range game, and a gritty mentality.
Overall, I’ll give the Wings front office a “B-” on their pickups. While Dallas could’ve used a more consistent shooter, defense was the top priority, and the Wings pretty much got what they needed in that regard. All the same, the roster is filled with skilled two-way players who just need the right amount of pressure (training camp) for the diamond to appear.
To conclude, training camp will potentially answer a lot of the team’s long-standing questions. For one, what’s happening at the point guard position? Moriah Jefferson was heavily relied on to facilitate last season, but it may be time to take the offense in a different direction. Coach Johnson is big on giving players their turn and believes that any player can play the one in Dallas’ system. However, a true point allows others to easily fall into their role and leads to more spacing and playmaking. Adding to that, the Wings have a guard-heavy roster, and it’s tough for everyone to get touches. Will fans see Tyasha Harris and Chelsea Dungee touch the court? Or will they be traded? If Johnson isn’t sold on playing them, then it’s time for her to let them spread their wings elsewhere. Lastly, which players can consistently and efficiently knock down perimeter shots? Dallas has to pinpoint and develop those who can make shots at a high percentage to establish a more well-rounded team.
Once the Wings slide players into their positions, it’ll open the doors of what the team can accomplish. Strengths and weaknesses can be identified, groomed, and emphasized during the season. In the coming weeks, Dallas may end up establishing an entirely new identity than what we’re used to, and I’m excited to see it all come together. W basketball is less than two weeks out, and the competition is loading up, so it’s time for the Wings to fall in line.