Preparing for Takeoff: Dallas Wings Terminal Six Loading

The Dallas Wings are in the playoffs, and with the season drawing to a close the young team has hit their stride at the right time. Between injuries, on-court kicks, and calls for the head coach to switch up the play-calling, the road to the postseason has been a whirlwind for Dallas. They’ve proved to be a middle-tier team that could win or lose against any opponent on any given day. While this is where the team has remained over the past few years, despite refreshing the roster, the Wings’ late-season push has worked in their favor. 

The team is still working on building a new identity under their second-year coach, Vickie Johnson, who has been the center of a lot of conversation this season compared to last. Fans like to use her as a scapegoat for Dallas’ fluctuations, but this five-game win streak has shown that she can get her team to buy in despite some friction.

 

As we continue to highlight the Wings as a team that looks good on paper and holds a lot of potential, the reality is that you never know which Wings team will show up. One day they’re claiming wins against the top two seeds, but the next day they’re going into overtime with the lowest seed. Even still, Dallas is gaining more traction with each postseason appearance. The real concern should beconsidering the issues they’ve been facinghow high can the Wings realistically fly?

Let’s get a clear picture of the turbulence in Dallas and assess how this affects the Wings’ postseason flight.

 

A Wounded Unicorn

Satou Sabally has missed 22 total games (excluding today’s Liberty matchup) due to health and overseas commitments. She injured her knee against the Seattle Storm on June 12 and was then sidelined for seven games. Only three games after returning, Sabally injured her ankle July 12 against the Storm and hasn’t touched the court since. Sabally’s health is an area of concern as she hasn’t played more than 17 games a season (2021) since being drafted in 2020. Her injuries have caused Dallas to lose some of its consistency and one of its top performers. 

On top of her battle with the injury bug, Sabally has been more available for her overseas commitments than for the Wings. Coming off her best offseason this year, Sabally and her Fenerbahçe team swept Mersin 3-0 in the Turkish League Finals to clinch the championship. In the last Finals matchup, Sabally was named the MVP after racking up 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. 

 

This was some of the best basketball she’s played since college, and many hoped she’d carry that same fire from the Turkish League over to the WNBA courts. While Sabally missed the first five games of the season and left the Wings to go 3-2 during that time, she tallied a solid 11 points and five rebounds in her first contest back with Dallas. While her game isn’t the flashiest, Sabally—when healthy—is pretty consistent, efficient and impactful. 

 

Before her knee injury, Sabally had five double-digit games this season, including two double-doubles. In total, she logged double digits eight times out of the 11 total games she’s played thus far. If she would have continued at that pace, Satou could’ve been Dallas’ highest or second-highest scorer this season. 

However, we can’t ponder on the “ifs” and “could have beens” in basketball. It’s nice to play scenarios out in our heads, but the reality is the best ability is availability, and Satou is coming up short in that area. Sabally and the Wings organization need to pay more attention to her injuries and work to make her stronger and healthier so that she can deliver for her team. I’m sure she’s an asset that Dallas doesn’t want to give away, but Sabally can’t continue on this path because it could possibly decrease her overall value.

 

On-Court Frustrations and Locker Room Morale

I would love to be a fly on the wall in the Wings locker room. While I don’t believe there’s any major conflict going on, I do believe there’s a disconnect somewhere in the building. There have been a few instances this season in which players haven’t been on the same page or there’s been player-coach tension. The team’s overall disposition we see when watching their games shows that Dallas is missing the culture mark, and this issue has spilled onto the court a few times. 

Dallas’ centerpiece, Arike Ogunbowale, has had several moments of on-court frustration this season during which she’s been unable to maintain a poker face. From an away game in Los Angeles to the home turf in Arlington, we’ve seen Ogunbowale annoyed and it hasn’t always been expressed in the best light. There have been a few kicking incidents, and Ogunbowale’s actions have received mixed reviews from coach Johnson, causing quite the stir on social media. With five technical fouls to her name, Ogunbowale is ranked second in technical calls this season—tied with Diana Taurasi at five and below Skylar Diggins-Smith at eight—and was also ejected from the Seattle Storm game on June 12. 

During the offseason, CEO and president Greg Bibb and others praised Ogunbowale for her development as a leader and remarked that her newly signed contract spoke to her individual growth. While I think she has improved by sharing the ball more and connecting with her teammates, Arike still has room to grow as a leader and star player in the league and on this team. She’s one of those players that fans love to hate but also love to watch; they love her when she’s up but kicks her when she’s down (pun intended). As the Wings’ marquee player, Ogunbowale has a bigger responsibility than her teammates. Whether intentional or not, her actions reflect on the organization. That’s just how the game goes, and she has to learn to play it to her advantage.

There has also appeared to be some tension between Wings players and coach Johnson this season. A couple of players have spoken up about coach Johnson’s tactics and how she makes plays for her guards more than other positions. While it’s mostly said in a funny manner, there’s always a little truth in a good joke, right? All things considered, coach Johnson has to work to connect with her players more. There isn’t an immediate call for a “Red Table Talk” where everyone needs to lay it out in the open. With the Wings’ five-game win streak serving as evidence, Johnson appears to be getting through to her players now more than ever. But relationships are built over time and don’t develop easily in the first seasons of a new coach’s career. Johnson was able to connect with former Wings player Moriah Jefferson and has a budding relationship with rookie Veronica Burton. It looks like other players are now coming around, slowly but surely, and as they should because it will benefit not only the team morale but also their play.

 

See Also

2022 Playoffs

The Dallas Wings are currently the sixth seed as they head into the final three games of their schedule. If the seeding continues to stand as it does now, they’ll have tough competition right out of the gate as matching up against any of the top three teams will be a challenge. But with Sabally and Ogunbowale out with injuries, Dallas needs to stretch its rhythm beyond the first round of the playoffs. 

In that first round, the Wings could be facing the three-seed Connecticut Sun, who Dallas claimed the series win against 2-1 this season. One shining light in starting out with tough competition is the new 3-5-5 playoff format. Dallas played Chicago last season in the first-round, single-elimination game and was bounced out as the Sky went on to win the chip. Now if the Wings were to fall short in the first game of the initial round, they have a shot to claim a second-game win and break the tie in the third contest. And as previously stated, if Connecticut is Dallas’ first matchup, the Wings claimed that series 2-1 in the regular season, so they have a slight advantage there. 

And if that’s not enough to give the Wings a bit of an edge, let’s break it down a little more to see what is working in the Wings’ favor from a statistical standpoint: Per WNBA Stats, Ogunbowale is tied for third in the league in points per game (19.7) and has sole possession of third in three-pointers made (83). She won’t be available for the remainder of the season or the first round of the playoffs due to undergoing an iliac crest core muscle avulsion repair. Yet, Arike’s shooting ability, speed and playmaking will be a relief in the second round should Dallas move forward and she’s at full strength.

Next, walking double-double Teaira McCowan is second among players in the league with at least 10 games played this season in field goal percentage (61.3), coming in right behind Sylvia Fowles (63.4). The Wings’ guards’ ability to feed McCowan’s paint dominance is a problem that no team wants in the playoffs. 

 

McCowan has scored double digits in the last eight contests with five of those being double-doubles. The Wings get the ball to her inside and let McCowan go to work. Her production has accelerated so much over this last stretch of games that she’s drawing triple teams and still manages to get her team a bucket.

Additionally, Dallas has three solid perimeter shooters in Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey, and Allisha Gray, who are all shooting above 33.0 percent. Tyasha Harris and Kayla Thornton are also ready to take an open shot. In terms of defense, Burton, Gray and Thornton have given the Wings the boost of confidence they need to commit on both ends, not to mention the versatile playing style that Isabelle Harrison and Awak Kuier bring off the bench. Harris, Burton and Mabrey have done a great job of facilitating the Wings offense. Johnson has been able to give them all healthy minutes and allows them to impact the game in their own way. In exchange, we’ve seen Burton take more offensive initiative, a new 15-point season high for Harris, and a career-high 31 points for Mabrey. 

 

The Wings have a chance of making it past the first round of the playoffs if they can continue to hit on all cylinders. While it would be preferable for the team to be at full health before the season ends, they’ve made it this far without all their pieces. I’m hopeful the team can maintain their flow despite losing two of their top players to injury and focus on the task at hand: a lengthy postseason run. Dallas’ motto anytime a player goes down is “next man up,” and they have walked the talk on that so far.

Intentionality can turn an unpredictable season into a good thing when exercising a little patience and flexibility, and Dallas’ game has opened up so much since they’ve allowed themselves to adapt. As they finish up their 2022 campaign, the Wings have to put an emphasis on playing team ball as they are at their best when they share and communicate. How far the Wings can fly as they wrap up the regular season and head into the playoffs is dependent upon whether they drift apart and have to land early or soar together as a single unit to their championship destination.

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