2020 WNBA Season Preview: Dallas Wings

The Dallas Wings are up next. WNBA franchises don’t get the level of scrutiny or reporting that NBA teams do, obviously, and as such it would be nice to have a better handle on organizations like the Dallas Wings. 

Given these limitations, the Wings seem to have the most dysfunctional WNBA front office in the league, with stars in back to back years forcing trades. Liz Cambage is now in Vegas and Skylar Diggins-Smith is in Phoenix. Cambage reportedly was unhappy with the decision to fire Fred Williams and wanted to play in a bigger market. Diggins-Smith criticized the organizations support of her during her pregnancy, among other concerns.

On the court, they are set up to be exciting and potentially quite good in a few years. Arike Ogunbuwale had a successful rookie year. Satou Sabally has the potential to be the best player from this draft, and at minimum should be a solid WNBA starter. If even one of their other 2020 draft picks hit, that is the foundation for a promising team that should make the playoffs in a few years. 

Cambage’s reasons don’t necessarily mean the organization is dysfunctional. Wanting to work in Las Vegas or LA instead of Dallas is reasonable and not necessarily the fault of Dallas. Though one wonders why moving on from Fred Williams was so necessary, given they will be lucky to develop a player as good as Cambage and he was a decent coach. 

Diggins-Smith’s criticisms are more serious, and Dallas ought to be looking into where they could have provided better service. Also, the new CBA should help WNBA players who become mothers, which is good. 

There’s also the coach, Brian Agler. While the accusations in Penny Toler’s law suit about Agler are from his days coaching the Los Angeles Sparks, it is still notable how media averse he has become. It will be interesting to see what happens when WNBA games begin and he has to answer questions from the media.

For all the off court issues, the on court product is quite promising. The team now has to figure out how to put themselves in the best place to keep their high draft picks, should any develop into true stars. Dallas will never become LA as a destination, but it is still best practice to build a professional organization that players want to play for. Seems obvious, but organizations from across sports struggle with this every year.

This season, though, may not see many wins. For all the exciting young talent on this team, it is hard to win without many veterans who will contribute. Allisha Gray will and Astou Ndour should she come over from Europe, but unclear who else will. If Sabally is pro ready and comes out playing well that pushes their ceiling higher, but is a lot to expect of a rookie. Offensively this team should be better than  second from the bottom as they were in 2019, but the defense will be interesting. Most stats per basketball-reference.com and PIPM per Jacob Goldstein.

Roster Breakdown

Notable Additions:

Katie Lou Samuelson, Astou Ndour, Mariah Jefferson

Notable Losses:

Kayla Thornton, Azura Stevens, Glory Johnson

Draft Picks:

1st round: Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, Tyasha Harris

2nd round: Luisa Geiselsöder 

Projected Depth Chart:

Guards: Arike Ogunbuwale, Moriah Jefferson, Tyasha Harris, Allisha Gray,

Wings: Kayla Thornton, Satou Sabally, Katie Lou Samuelson

Bigs: Isabelle Harrison, Astou Ndour, Bella Alarie, Megan Gustafson, Kristine Anigwe

Luisa Geiselsöder is unlikely to come over this year. The 6’3” German center is only 20 years old and is a draft and stash player. Twelve names are listed here as definites for the roster, with Anigwe the most on the bubble of the players here. One more spot could open up should Ndour not come over, and the choice wil likely then be between Marina Mabrey and Karlie Samuelson.

While Ndour is the only international player who may not come over, she is also the position they would have the hardest time replacing.

Playing time breakdown:

The guard spot is the most stable at this point for the Wings. Ogunbuwale is starting. Probably moving to the 2 and not at the point guard like last year. She can play point, and maybe long term that will be her role, but between signing Jefferson and drafting Harris, Dallas has other options now. 

Ogunbuwale was productive in raw numbers, but an EFG% of 44% was less than ideal. She will hopefully be more efficient in an off ball setting, for instance by improving her 3 point shooting with easier attempts, given she was a much better shooter in college than she showed last year. Her ability to playmake from the shooting guard will be a benefit, as an assist to turnover ratio of 1.5 was good given she was thrown into the fire with limited talent around her.

For point guard, either Harris or Jefferson will get that spot, with the edge going to Harris. Though I was lower on Harris for her limited upside than where she was drafted, she should be a steady player. She also provides more size than Jefferson and could cross match on defense with Ogunbuwale and guard 2s. Will Harris shoot enough to keep defenses honest and can she finish at the rim against WNBA size and length are key questions for her future. 

Allisha Gray was the Wings best player last year. She played shooting guard last year, but the question will be can she shift up a position. She has the size at 6’0” to play the 3, but may be a bit overmatched defensively. Her playing time will depend on where Satou Sabally is expected to play. She is too good to be a backup, interesting to see if Dallas looks to trade her long term as she enters restricted free agency after this season.

Satou is the long term answer at the 4, while sometimes playing the 3.. But in the short term, she will likely play the three. At 6’4” she has good size, but is also athletic and will likely not be overmatched guarding opposing 3s athletically, as many 4s are. It would also save her some pounding.

One of the big spots will go to Astou Ndour should she come over. She can play either the 4 or 5, and provide shooting and some rim protection. Isabelle Harrison competed hard for the team last year, but was among the least effective starting centers in the WNBA, by both win share and PIPM. Still, the team is without many other options unless Gustafson figures out defense and/or shooting, or Anigwe wows. 

Bella Alarie was a gamble on potential, as it is harder to get a read on midmajor players. Still, she offers good size at 6’4” and shot blocking. It would be very fun to get a look at her and Sabally together early on. While unexpected for Agler to play both rookies together much, the team may not have better options and is the outcome I am rooting for, as a neutral observer.

Takeaway

The pieces are here for a good team in a couple of seasons, but this year might be a rough one. Still, a team with exciting young players and one more top draft pick next year is a positive outcome. Provided the organization can improve its relationships with its top players, the future is bright in Dallas

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