If you listen closely, you might be able to hear the faint sound of the winds of change coming from College Park Center in Arlington, Texas.
The Dallas Wings have been on a heater, and what looked to be a playoff-disruptor team is shaping up to be even more than that—an actual threat to the upper echelon of teams.
Thanks largely to their elite frontcourt of Satou Sabally, Natasha Howard, and Teaira McCowan, the Wings sit in fourth place in the standings as of July 28. They overtook the struggling Washington Mystics for the position and are keeping pace with other surging teams, like the Atlanta Dream and Minnesota Lynx, that are also seeking to shake up the postseason.
What exactly has made Dallas’ frontcourt so formidable this season? Boards, second chance scoring, and unselfish play have primed the Wings to remain a threat to teams missing the power at the rack to counteract them.
The Wings have been crashing the boards this season, and they have the stats to show for it. They nabbed a season-high 54 rebounds in one game, and in two other matchups this season, they had rebound totals of 50 and 48 boards. They average a league-high 39.5 rebounds per game (RPG), with Sabally leading the team with 9.3 RPG. She and her frontcourt teammates have been dominating the glass lately, especially in their big win against the Las Vegas Aces on July 7.
During their battle with Las Vegas, the Wings outrebounded last year’s champions 36-25, leading to a slight advantage on second chance points and helping them to get over the hump for a close 80-78 win. Howard and McCowan were especially brilliant during the game, combining for 23 of the 36 boards grabbed by the team.
In this sequence, we see how important Howard and McCowan are for Dallas down the stretch. This is especially true when playing against a generational talent like the Aces’ A’ja Wilson. Here Wilson waits for the board while being defended by McCowan, who adeptly reads that there are three other Dallas players around to assist with covering Wilson if Kelsey Plum were to miss her open three-point shot. As the shot careens, McCowan manages to seal Wilson off enough that she is a non-factor, allowing Howard to grab the defensive board with ease. This clutch time play while the game was tied with just over half the fourth quarter to go was big for the Wings and exemplifies how they can use those two players to seal wins late in games.
With even less time on the clock, McCowan is the one to secure a clutch board—or two—in this sequence. She somehow manages to battle it out and win against Wilson in the post, grabbing the rebound between Wilson and a jumping Jackie Young. She then makes the big decision to take a step out of the paint, ensure the ball is secured, and take a shot. Despite getting that shot blocked, she took time off the clock by grabbing her own rebound and taking another shot, leaving Las Vegas with just a few seconds to make something happen. The Aces did not, and the Wings were able to finish the game with a pair of free throws. While a trip to the line wrapped up the game, it was the rebounding and defensive effort of both Howard and McCowan that kept the Aces at bay in this matchup and led the Wings to the upset victory.
Second Chance Points
Being elite at grabbing boards brings second chance points, and the Wings are leading the pack in this regard. They have 14.7 second chance points per game (PPG), which also tops the league.
With her athleticism and strength in the post, Sabally has been one of the more adept Wings players at making second chance points possible. In the above clip, she gets her own rebound after smoking a layup in transition and is able to fight through two Los Angeles Sparks players to get the putback layup. Sabally is always in the action on offense, often mucking up opposing defenses’ plans to kill a Wings play on offense after a missed shot.
Sabally is right in the mix again in the play shown above. She grabs the offensive board and shoots a pass out to Crystal Dangerfield to reset the Wings’ offense. Dangerfield finds Howard waiting in the wing. Howard is then able to post up on Nyara Sabally with ease and score. The Wings’ focus on consistently feeding their bigs, no matter who has been defending them, has been allowing their guards to be more versatile; Dallas relying less on Dangerfield and Arike Ogunbowale for scoring has helped the Wings grow their game.
Helping Each Other
Speaking of the Wings’ growth over the course of this season, assists for Dallas were high during the team’s five-game winning streak in July. The Wings crept up to second overall in assists over that stretch, averaging 22.7 assists per game (APG) between their win against the Aces on July 7 and loss against the Connecticut Sun on July 25. On the season, they are only averaging 19.4 APG. This change shows how their offense has been bolstered by their frontcourt and them figuring out that they have the most success scoring at the rim.
And the Wings certainly have been successful on that front. Specifically, within five feet from the rack, Dallas is shooting 59.9 percent from the field. The offense from Sabally, Howard, and McCowan has helped this team stifle the bigs on every team the Wings face and kick down the doors of several teams this season, including the Aces and New York Liberty.
Over their last six contests, the Wings are also shooting 62.9 percent from the field on two-point attempts that were assisted, which is good for second in the league behind the Liberty over that same stretch. However, overall on the season, the Wings are only shooting 56.2 percent from the field on assisted shots. As the season has developed, the Wings have started to lean into helping one another more, especially in the paint, which has allowed them to score at a high clip during this recent streak.
The Wings are flying high after capturing some wins and climbing the standings, but they know that they can—and need to—soar even further. Sabally spoke about the team’s strong play as of late after the team’s win over the Los Angeles Sparks on July 22, saying that “it’s nice to see things flourishing.” Sabally went on to add, “But it’s actually scary because we’re not even at our peak yet. You know, like, we have so much; our ceiling is so high, and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.”
After taking a dip and falling to the Connecticut Sun on July 25, the Wings will aim to ascend again as they take on the Washington Mystics on Friday.
Stats as of July 28. Unless otherwise noted, stats are courtesy of WNBA.com.