Dallas Wings: Season Review

Looking back on what went right and wrong for the Dallas Wings in 2020

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Dallas Wings Team Photo, Dallas Wings Twitter.

The Dallas Wings’ 2020 season came to an abrupt end after their 82-79 win against the New York Liberty due to a win later that day by the Washington Mystics to secure the eighth and final WNBA playoff spot on September 13. The Wings finished with an 8-14 overall record.

Months earlier, President and CEO Greg Bibb expressed his thoughts to the media on Zoom about what he was expecting from his young club in 2020.

“Well clearly I would be lying if I didn’t say wins and losses matter,” Bibb said back on July 10. “Certainly want to see a positive result there. Effort is always important in my eyes. Did we put forth an effort? Did we play well? Did we play smart? What were our mistakes? We know we’re young, we know we’re gonna make mistakes. What were those mistakes and are we seeing the same mistakes game in and game out or are we addressing those and not seeing them multiple times? Are we playing smart basketball? Are we playing with passion and energy? Are we competing? I think those are the most important things and hopefully all those rolls off and translates to W’s.”

So let’s evaluate how the Wings managed, based on Bibb’s own expectations.

One thing they always did was put forth effort. No matter the deficit, no matter the circumstances with injuries and what not, this team always fought and put forth effort. They competed all the way through their final game of the season, always very passionate and team-centered.

The question of whether they played well is more complicated. No team is without its faults and errors. They had many times in which they had stretches of excellent basketball and kept themselves in games, though they had more games in which they did not and were inconsistent with their play.

Playing smart? Both a yes and no. This question is one of the main areas in which you can truly point to youth. Many first and second-year players on the team with very little experience in a league took on a league filled with veterans and battle-tested players who know the game quite well. It showed.

When it came to their mistakes, it’s a mix. They did see some of their mistakes game in and game out throughout the season, but they also fixed some important ones. The ones that got fixed were taking fewers ill-advised shots throughout the year and letting the game come to them, as well as fixing their issue of slow starts on offense.

Overall, though it didn’t result in a playoff berth or championship, most of his expectations were met. Had it not been for key injuries late in the season, they would’ve likely made the playoffs, which they haven’t been to since 2018 when Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage were on the team.

It was a season in which expectations weren’t high, but one of the main things expected of the team was growth. Of course the team wanted to make the playoffs, but they aren’t walking away from the season with their heads down, but instead, their eyes pointed towards a very bright future.

Brian Agler knew the team would face challenges this season and is proud of the way his team never quit fighting.

“Our season was a roller coaster for a variety of reasons,” Agler said following the team’s season finale, a win over the New York Liberty. “We took some losses, we battled some really good teams to the wire, we had a series of injuries that just kept happening, happening and happening. But I always look at, when you face adversity, it also creates opportunities, and we had some people really take advantage of some opportunities they were given this year. To play through a season and go to the very last game and playing for your post season life, whether we get in or not, it was important for us to win and dealing with adversity today with our numbers, I don’t know if we could have come out of here with more experience or a better feeling like we accomplished something.”

Though they won’t be the team hoisting the championship trophy this season, the Wings had many accomplishments as individuals and as a team in 2020 — many of which came from Arike Ogunbowale.

Ogunbowale averaged 22.8 points per game for the season, earning her the 2020 WNBA Peak Performer Award for scoring, being the second Wings player in the last two seasons to win the award (Cambage in 2018). It’s the highest average by a player in their second year and she joins Cynthia Cooper and Seimone Augustus as the only players to be a top three scorer in the first two years of their career. Ogunbowale joins Diana Taurasi (’08 and ’06) and Maya Moore (’14) as the only players to ever average 22.8 points per game, 3.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds in a single season.

With 37 straight games in double-figures scoring, Ogunbowale has the second longest streak of reaching double-digits in franchise history. Ogunbowale recorded four games with at least 30 points, shooting at least 50 percent from the field in all four. Statistically, it is hard to argue she doesn’t belong on one of the All-WNBA teams.

Ogunbowale’s collegiate and new Wings teammate this season, Marina Mabrey, had quite the year herself, a vital progression for the Wings. Mabrey’s campaign, once she entered the starting lineup, made her a candidate for Most Improved Player. Her numbers for the season were: 10.0 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game & 1.3 steals per game on 43.0 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three and 66.7 percent from the free throw line. Since entering the starting lineup on Aug 14: 13.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game & 1.7 steals per game on 43.4 percent from the field, 41.0 percent from three and 66.7 percent from the free throw line. She also had a career-high 24 points in the final game of the season against the Liberty, to go along with a career-high six made threes in the game.

It’s clear to all who watched this Dallas team throughout the season that the chemistry between Mabrey and Ogunbowale worked. After four years together at Notre Dame, the two picked up where they left off and played extremely well together. Since Mabrey entered the starting lineup in their last 13 games of the season, which technically shifted Allisha Gray to the small forward position in the starting lineup, the fighting Irish duo was the second highest scoring backcourt in the WNBA at 38.1 points per game behind only Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith who had a combined 39.0 points per game.

Another reason to be excited about the future is seeing the way the Wings rookies performed, led by Rookie of the Year runner-up Satou Sabally. The Wings rookies started off the year hot and were doing well enough early on, it sparked thoughts that it may have been time for all three to enter the starting lineup. Bella Alarie was one of the top players in the league in blocked shots, finishing fifth in block percentage among all players, not just rookies.

Tyasha Harris showed her ability to be a true point guard in the WNBA, but with the play of Mabrey this season, it may not be in a starting role for Dallas going forward. Sabally made franchise history by collecting her first double-double in her third career game, the sixth fastest in franchise history. She was also the first rookie in franchise history to have at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a single game. Sabally finished the season with three 20+ point games in 2020 and five total double-doubles with three of them in a row late in the season.

Harris and Sabally made franchise history with their point totals in their first game, marking the fourth and sixth-most points by a Wings rookie in their debut. It was also only the sixth time in WNBA history that multiple rookies reached double-figure scoring outputs in a season opener. Sabally’s 11 point, five rebounds, and five assists against Atlanta was the first time in franchise history that a Wings rookie had at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists in their debut since 2010. Alarie’s four-block night against the Chicago Sky on Aug 4 was tied for second-most blocks by a rookie in a single game in franchise history.

Some of the Wings veterans hit milestones of their own as well.

Kayla Thornton surpassed the 1,000-point mark just as Ogunbowale did this season when she had 11 points in a loss to the Sky on Sept 11. Gray had her highest point per game scoring mark at 13.1 points per game, since her rookie season when she won Rookie of the Year in 2017. Her work in the offseason paid dividends on the court. Later in the season she went for a career-high 26 points in a loss to the Minnesota Lynx on September 4. Not only did Gray and Thornton step up on the court, but off it as well, as team leaders helping guide the young players throughout the course of the year. In a year where their team was one of the two youngest in the league, they were asked to be leaders and help the team along, so they stepped up.

“Every team, no matter what sport you play, has its own journey,” Agler said. “And our journey was to grow this year, try to make the playoffs of course, but our journey was to try and grow, try and evaluate, try and get some young players some opportunities and then just see where we go and I think we saw a lot of growth from year one to year two with Arike [Ogunbowale], with my year one and year two with Allisha [Gray], we had a lot of new players come in and prove throughout the course of the year and I feel that we just learned a lot about ourselves and that is what you want to do in a season. Learn a lot and have a good feeling at the end and momentum going into next year.”

The milestones and accomplishments in 2020 didn’t only come from the players, but their coach as well. Agler won his 282nd game against the Atlanta Dream on August 8 to put him in second place on the all-time wins list and finished the season at 287 career wins.

Aside from milestones and their bit of growth, the Wings have plenty of things to work on — finishing close games, consistent defense and needing to add rim protection to the team. Half of Dallas’ 14 losses in 2020 were by single digits. They just didn’t execute late in game as often as they should’ve. They had their opportunities, but squandered them with careless turnovers and bad shot selections, showing their youth.

Defense was probably their weakest point all season long. They spent the offseason acquiring shooting and it paid off offensively, with Dallas finishing sixth in the league in offensive rating, but the defense did not improve over the offseason. For the season, Dallas was outscored by its opponents by a total of 78 points. The team finished 10th in opponent points per game at 87.0, along with a 110.4 defensive rating, ranking 11th in the league. It’s safe to say they were awful defensively.

A part of what made them so ineffective defensively was their lack of rim protection. Dallas allowed the third highest field goal percentage on scoring in the paint, allowing too many easy baskets around the rim all season long.

Plenty of decisions loom for the 2021 Dallas Wings. But there’s no shortage of progress 2020 provided to help them make those decisions.