How Satou Sabally can be more effective for the Dallas Wings

A pair of tweaks for 2020 ahead of what looks like a bright future

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 2: Satou Sabally #0 of the Dallas Wings drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Sparks on September 2, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

For the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft, expectations were high, and so far, rookie Satou Sabally has accepted the challenge.

It began off the court first, as Sabally was named to the newly formed WNBA Social Justice Council and is the only rookie on the council. This council consists of Layshia Clarendon, Sydney Colson, Breanna Stewart, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and A’ja Wilson.

So she has quite a lot on her plate off the court as well. Being a part of this council, as well as other initiatives like the #IAm campaign is a lot for a rookie, though Sabally clearly values her role in it all and has kept these conversations about social justice at the forefront all season long.

But let’s not miss: she’s been extremely effective on the floor as well.

Since her return to the court after battling a back injury that kept her out of game action almost two weeks, Sabally has been playing some of her best basketball of the season, posting averages of 17.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in her four games back from injury. In her nine games before injury, Sabally recorded only a pair of double-doubles, but since returning, she has three in four games.

The Oregon product is the only rookie to tally multiple double-double this season. Sabally has the most double-doubles of any rookie drafted by the Wings since the team moved to Dallas and she has the third most rookie point/rebound double-doubles with at least 14 points in franchise history.

Brian Agler has recognized the play of his rookie this season.

“Her ability to drive and get the ball to the rim,” Agler cited as a Sabally strength. “She’s not necessarily a back-to-the-basket type player inside. She has the ability to get the ball to the rim and score, that’s where she’s scoring right now. Her three-point shot will come around. She’s a really good shooter, just hasn’t found her touch yet this year outside of a couple of occasions.”

Here are some other areas Sabally can tweak to build on her early success.

Take what she’s given

Like her teammate Arike Ogunbowale as a rookie, Sabally isn’t always letting the game come to her. Instead, she needs to take what the defense gives her. Those ill-advised shots come in spurts, suggesting it is mindset, rather than situational.

Moves such as this one against Candace Parker are where Sabally thrives.

On this play, she took what Parker gave her defensively and had the patience to not settle for a difficult shot on this possession and scored off of a beautiful up-and-under move. Parker, incidentally, is the ceiling for Sabally in many ways.

But first, she needs to work on her predictability. Once she gets a basket or two around the rim, she steps outside to test her jumper. When the defense sees her jumper isn’t falling from beyond the arc, they have her right where they want her.

She hasn’t been one to often work from the mid-range. She’s been mostly beyond the arc or inside the paint area for her scoring, which speaks well of her process, emphasizing the higher-percentage shots.

But once the defense realizes the three-point shot is off, they know she has no other choice, but to take it to the rack, and it’s fairly obvious when she is doing so. At these times she is often swarmed by defenses at the rim, resulting in either an increasingly difficult shot or a turnover.

This does not mean that Sabally should refrain from being aggressive and looking to score, but to just pick her spots better. Know what’s working and what’s not. Keep the defense on their toes. Still be aggressive, but also look to do things like facilitate to open teammates more, so they don’t always know when you’re choosing to score. It will, in fact, open up those drives more and paint opportunities. Mix it up. It’s all apart of the growing pains of the WNBA.

Abandon the three…for now

Too often in 2020, she has settled for a three-point shot that is simply not falling. Sabally has had five games this season in which she took three or more three-point shots and missed them all. Three of those five came in a row in games two, three, and four of this season, going 0-13 in that span.

Ever since the end of her sophomore season at Oregon, Sabally hasn’t shot well from three. In her final season as a junior at Oregon, she shot just 34 percent from three-point range after shooting 41 percent her sophomore campaign. The shooting woes in college have trickled down into the WNBA and have only gotten worse.

For the season, Sabally is shooting just 19 percent from beyond the arc. She has had just one game in which she shot above 33 percent from beyond the arc in games she’s attempted at least three.

At the rate in which she has been missing from three, you would think the coaching staff may have reached a point to where they would have her scale it back, but no. Her light is as green as ever — largely because once she’s effective from three, it will open up both her interior play and the overall spacing for the Wings.

Obviously you don’t want to hamper the confidence of a player of Sabally’s caliber, but they also have to be honest with themselves as coaches and acknowledge whether it’s hurting the team or helping. And for a player who averages four attempts per game from distance, in the very least it’s time to consider cutting back on attempts — at least during the stretch drive of a playoff run.