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WNBA 2019 Team Preview: Dallas Wings (#8) look to remain in playoff hunt without Diggins-Smith, Cambage

The Wings may play the entire 2019 season without Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Thanks to first-round draft pick Arike Ogunbowale and returning player Glory Johnson, they are still competitive.

Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale will be relied upon to fill some of the scoring void Skylar Diggins-Smith will leave behind in the 2019 season due to pregnancy.
Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Wings were 15-19 in the 2018 regular season and earned a second-straight berth to the WNBA Playoffs, as the eighth seed. But they lost 101-83 to the Phoenix Mercury in the first round.

Dallas’ two leading scorers, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage, made the All-WNBA Team and led Dallas to a 14-9 record through July 19. But the Wings lost 10 of their last 11 games and then-head coach Fred Williams was fired after an Aug. 12 loss to the Washington Mystics.

Though former Sparks head coach Brian Agler is now in Dallas, there is a good chance he will not coach either member of Dallas’ leading duo in 2019. Diggins-Smith is pregnant with her first child and will miss at least part of this season. Cambage requested a trade and may hold out until it happens.

In the meantime, the Wings have kept most of their other contributors to fill the void that Cambage and Diggins-Smith leave behind. Dallas also drafted two of the 2019 WNBA Draft class’ most notable names: Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale and Iowa center Megan Gustafson.

The Wings still have enough talent to make a third consecutive playoff berth. Can they get their chemistry together to do so?

Season outlook: The Dallas Wings in 2019

Familiar faces

The backcourt returns Tayler Hill and Allisha Gray. Hill was traded to Dallas from the Mystics during the 2018 season in exchange for Aerial Powers and averaged 5 points per game with the Wings.

Gray started every game for Dallas in 2018 but her production dropped to 9.2 points per game from 13 points the year before.

In the frontcourt, Kaela Davis and Azura Stevens return. Davis averaged 5 points per game in 27 contests in 2018, while Stevens averaged 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Dallas also re-signed several players, likely in anticipation of Cambage skipping the 2019 season if she is not traded. Glory Johnson was cored, but she re-signed for the 2019 season. Johnson, meanwhile, averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds per game in 2018, both career lows. That said, the drop in production was in part because of Cambage’s presence.

Kayla Thornton and Cayla George re-signed with Dallas during free agency. Thornton averaged a career-high 9.2 points per game in the 2018 season and started 32 games. George averaged 3.6 points per game last season.

Notable newbies

The Wings’ notable additions came from the WNBA Draft with Ogunbowale (fifth overall) and Megan Gustafson (17th overall). Ogunbowale will bolster the backcourt with her ability to score off the dribble. Gustafson can fill the rebounding void that Cambage would leave behind.

Biggest obstacles

Here are the biggest challenges the Dallas Wings face in 2019:

  1. Will the Cambage situation be resolved before midseason? The Wings retained most of their roster despite the rumors surrounding Cambage. Still, players may not feel secure and play at their best until this situation is resolved, whether Cambage is traded or returns in a Dallas uniform.
  2. How does Brian Agler ensure that his young players and veterans get ample playing time? Agler is one of the WNBA’s best coaches; he has won two league championships — with the Storm (2010) and the Sparks (2016). However, he has been reluctant to play younger players. Though Ogunbowale and Gustafson are two of the biggest names in the 2019 draft class, it’s unclear how much of a role they will get for Dallas. This is particularly the case for Gustafson because the frontcourt rotation is deep even without Cambage.
  3. Can Hill quickly regain her 2016-17 form? Hill shot below 30 percent from the field in the 2018 season; she was recovering from a torn ACL in 2017; and she started in Washington for the Mystics and was second in Most Improved Player voting in 2016. Hill can expect to have a larger role in the short term, with Diggins-Smith’s absence. But the addition of Ogunbowale makes Hill’s future in Dallas uncertain even if she is under a maximum-level contract.

Game zone

Preseason opener

Dallas Wings vs. Atlanta Dream

When: Monday, May 13, at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT

How to watch: To be determined

Notes: The Wings will start their preseason game schedule at a two-day event hosted by the Connecticut Sun. Dallas will start this event against the Dream, which advanced to the WNBA Semifinals last year. This game will be a good first opportunity for rookies like Ogunbowale and Gustafson to show their skills at the professional level. The Wings will play the Sun the following day at 7 p.m. ET.

Season home opener

Dallas Wings vs. Minnesota Lynx

When: Saturday, June 1, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: College Park Center, Arlington, TX

How to watch: WNBA League Pass, additional networks to be determined

Notes: The Wings’ home opener will be against a Lynx team that is looking to rebound from a first-round playoff exit last year. It is also the first meeting of the season between head coach Brian Agler and Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, who squared off against each other in the 2016 and 2017 WNBA Finals. This time, they are coaching teams that are retooling without some of their top stars. For Minnesota, the Lynx will be without Maya Moore who is taking the 2019 season off to rest.

Marquee matchup

Dallas Wings vs. Phoenix Mercury

When: Tuesday, June 20, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: College Park Center, Arlington, TX

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Notes: The Wings will face off against the 2018 Western Conference semifinalist Phoenix Mercury at home — and on national television. While a veteran frontcourt battle looms between Johnson and Mercury center Brittney Griner, there is also an intriguing rookie matchup between Gustafson and Mercury forward Alanna Smith.