How indispensable Kayla Thornton can reach stardom

Some steps to turn the Dallas Wings stopper into an all star

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PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 16: Kayla Thornton #6 of the Dallas Wings plays defense against the Phoenix Mercury on August 16, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

The Dallas Wings, through the team’s history, have had very few players they can rely on to guard the opposing teams best player.

The exception? Kayla Thornton.

Somehow, despite this success, Thornton has yet to make an all-defensive team.

Her teammate, Arike Ogunbowale, knows the impact Thornton has on the floor.

“She is our best defensive stopper,” Ogunbowale told The Next. “One of the best defensive stoppers in the league and we follow her.”

For Thornton and what she does defensively, it’s just part of her game and she doesn’t worry about awards.

“[Defensive Player of the Year Consideration] is out of my control,” Thornton said. “I just come and do what I love and that’s defense. Whatever assignment I have to contain, that’s what I do….As far as the offense, when my defense is good it translates over to my offense.”

Ever since arriving in Dallas in 2017, Thornton has been the Wings’ best defender and even added a decent three-point shot to her arsenal, 33.3% through 11 games in 2020.

Defense will keep a player on the floor in general, particularly for a team Brian Agler coaches. Yet Thornton’s minutes per game are actually down in 2020 so far, just 22.7 after logging 30.4 in 2019.

Fewer fouls

On three different occasions through 11 games this season, Thornton has gotten in foul trouble early with at least 3 fouls before halftime. In all three of those games, Dallas lost momentum and allowed teams to take control of the game in her absence. The Wings are 0-3 when Thornton has three or more fouls before halftime this season.

Are things like this are common for aggressive defenders? Yes. But Thornton had lowered her fouls per 36 minutes to 2.6 in 2019. This year, to date, they are up to 4.2.

Dallas simply can’t afford for this to become the new normal. The Wings need her to be aggressive. They’re better when she is on the floor and leading the charge on defense. When it comes playoff time, this early foul trouble for Thornton absolutely cannot happen if the Wings want to advance

Establish a post-up game

Thornton has flirted with some post-up situations throughout the season off and on, but never consistently. With her strength and increased shooting ability, she can be lethal in the post.

She says her defense translates to her offense, but that offense is usually just a 3-pt shot or a drive to the basket. The Wings shouldn’t necessarily run the offense through her, but she needs at least one play for her to help broaden her offensive game and get touches in the post. Per Synergy, she’s improved from 0.636 points per possession on post-ups in 2019 to 0.8 in 2020. But she’s had just five such possessions so far this year.

Hall of Famers like Tamika Catchings and Dirk Nowitzki greatly benefited from adding a post-up game to their arsenal. Both players became nearly unstoppable on offense when they added that tool. Thornton can do the same and would make her someone every team has to game plan for, not just on defense like they do already, but on offense as well.

Here’s a video example of three post-up type situations, two of three by Catchings, that would be a prime addition for Thornton:

Dallas is a team with a litany of offensive weapons, but few of those options present inside, halfcourt scoring opportunities, though players like Isabelle Harrison and Ogunbowale do have this post-up game in their arsenal already. Thornton, doing the same, would take her game to new heights.

This would give Dallas another dimension to work through and makes them a more lethal offense on all three levels. And it would give Kayla Thornton the tools she needs to take her from contributor to featured player.