With lots of optimism early on, the Wings were expected to be a tier or two above where they ended last year. Trades and waives led to a solid core with viable rotations that could win against opponents on any given night. As we approach the halfway mark of the season, the Wings are where many expected them to be. So far, they’ve claimed wins against heavy hitters, like Washington and Connecticut, which spoke to their revived cohesion and playmaking. However, they crumbled in close-game scenarios against Seattle and Los Angeles, giving up obtainable wins. The team isn’t in an area of too much concern right now, but a couple more losses could put them near the end of the pack instead of in the middle sweet spot where they’re expected to be on paper.
In an article I wrote prior to the start of the season, I staged a couple questions that the Wings have pretty much answered, but there are a lot of lingering questions remaining for this team. Let’s revisit a few of those topics with a fresh point of view and then dig in a little more to see what we can get out of Dallas.
First, questions surrounding the Wings’ point guard spot became even more interesting after Dallas waived Moriah Jefferson on May 9. Since moving on from Jefferson, coach Johnson has dug into her guard bag each game and given several players a healthy amount of minutes. Of course, some are utilized more than others, but for the most part, each of those players gets their turn.
Most notably, Marina Mabrey has become the primary leader and facilitator of the offense. Although she’s struggled through a stretch of games, Mabrey is one of Dallas’ newest and more reliable core members, shooting third-highest on the team in both three-pointers (at 42.6 percent) and field goals (at 47.4 percent). She logged double digits in the first seven matchups, recording three games with 20 points or more and one double-double.
On top of that, Mabrey has shifted her game to play more team ball while still channeling her fiery spirit. She credits her development of a more selfless perspective to working with a mindset coach during the offseason. Mabrey’s fresh mentality and willingness to share the ball seem to be paying off as she averages a career-high 3.2 APG, according to Basketball Reference.
With a little more consistency, Mabrey is sure to be (a) a star and (b) a problem. She takes pride in defense, can score, is spicy, and—let’s not forget—is coming up as a free agent in 2023. Consistency for Mabrey not only means further cohesion with the Wings but also a higher asking price in the future.
Along with Mabrey, guards Tyasha Harris and Veronica Burton have gathered significant minutes early on in the season. Harris comes off the bench with the second unit for Dallas and really pushes the pace when she’s on the floor. She only averages 5.0 PPG but has been one of Dallas’ more consistent three-point shooters, shooting fourth-highest on the team at 38.9 percent. Harris’ presence is not only felt in transition but also on the defensive end, and she is adept at setting up teammates.
📺League Pass pic.twitter.com/B4gGqBSrl9
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 22, 2022
Similar to Harris, Veronica Burton also pushes the ball up the floor and gets her teammates into position. On the flip side, Burton is having trouble scoring. She’s only scored in five out of 13 games, recording four points or less each time. Coach Johnson compares her to old-school guards, saying that Burton is defense first and can affect the game in ways other than scoring. And while that may suffice in the short term, history suggests it won’t last for long. The 2021 first overall pick, Charli Collier, plays less minutes than Burton, and we’ve barely seen a glimpse of Collier’s offseason development. And the 2021 fifth overall pick out of Arkansas, Chelsea Dungee, was waived by the team. I want Burton to find her stroke soon because if she doesn’t, she may be either sitting on the bench or out of a job like Dallas’ last couple of picks. She’s a hustle player who needs a little more grooming and can most likely be a great guard in this game. I doubt she’s on a ticking clock, but the saying “stay ready so you don’t have to get ready” remains true.
Gold Medal Lish
Now, while I tend to stray away from it for professional reasons, how can I not fangirl about Allisha Gray? Not only is she one of my favorite players, but she is also an offensive goddess, a defensive beast, and the true definition of a two-way player.
Currently averaging 14.8 PPG, Gray is logging double figures in just about every game, has scored over 20 points three times, and is often just shy of a double-double. She’s done more playing off the ball this season compared to last, which makes her a great spot-up shooter and has helped her average an impressive 45.2 percent from behind the arc.
LISH CAN’T MISS pic.twitter.com/h1SZOqGRE1
— Dallas Wings (@DallasWings) June 5, 2022
Per Synergy, Gray ranks eleventh in the league—excluding players with less than 30 possessions—in points per possession and a low sixth in the league in turnover rate.* Plus, she’s very aggressive defending, grabbing 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Her efficiency on both ends make her a reliable option when the Wings are in need of a boost, or getting a stop.
Whether she’s cutting to the basket or hunting players down for a block party, Gray’s presence is felt all over the floor. She, similar to vet Kayla Thornton, notices most of the mistakes her team makes and is there to clean it up off the glass or reset the flow.
Like Marina Mabrey, Gray is another player whose price is going up. She is sure to draw eyes very soon with her contract ending after the 2023 season. If I were her, I’d be surveying teams that could add a WNBA championship ring to my Olympic gold medal.
Renewed Defense, Offense Loading?
Dallas’ defense has looked more team friendly and in sync compared to last season. The Wings are still playing man-to-man defense, but they are now paying more attention to detail on switches and the open man. Johnson continuously tells her team to let the defense dictate the offense, and they’ve been sticking to it.
That defense to offense transition though 👌 pic.twitter.com/0ByqvwA4Q3
— WNBA (@WNBA) June 12, 2022
However, that tactic does not necessarily work for every player and their skillset. Players like Mabrey and Gray can flourish in this system because their games come alive in the transition from defense to offense. After a couple of games and more practice with the team, Satou Sabally and Teaira McCowan are increasingly finding their own rhythms too. But in Burton’s case, committed on the defensive end yet struggles to score, what is the answer to get her going? Isabelle Harrison, who has a mix of high- and low-scoring games, is another player who has more to give than what is being tapped into at the moment. Her inconsistency may partially be a result of changes in rotations, but it still poses an issue when shots she routinely makes rim out instead.
I think Dallas’ system works, but it has to fall within the lines of a player’s individual game. What works for one set of players may not be the case for another batch, so you have to draw up plays that lean into those players’ strengths. On top of that, you can get all the stops you want in a game, but if you cannot convert them into buckets, then you’re wasting valuable energy. While maintaining strong defense, the Wings should be able to rely on their shotmaking to either take the lead or stay competitive. Instead, we’ve seen good stops or defenses turn into missed shots or turnovers.
Speaking of the Wing’s offensive issues, teams are guarding Arike Ogunbowale much differently this season than previously, which is causing her to have stalled first halves. Johnson and the Wings have to figure out ways to get her more involved in scoring as she’s essentially the team’s foundation. Because everything flows through her, when Ogunbowale is slowed down, the entire team follows.
All in all, the Wings answered the questions staged in my previous piece regarding the point position, rotation of guards, and who can efficiently and consistently knock down shots. The next orders of business are to figure out how to get Ogunbowale going in the first halves of games and determine what Dallas needs to spark some consistency. The Wings don’t have long to find an offensive rhythm, so it’s time to lock in on garnering more cohesion before the midway point. This year’s competition isn’t waiting around for anyone.
*Synergy stats sourced on June 9.