The Dallas Wings are 1-1 so far in the 2022 WNBA season, their early results representative of the peaks and valleys of a team not quite set in its offensive identity. The Wings never got going in their season-opening loss to Atlanta, shooting under 25 percent from the floor and scoring just 59 points, but redeemed themselves in Washington, knocking down 13 threes en route to a 94-86 win over the Mystics.
It’s the type of high-variance results typical of a young team early in a WNBA season, especially one that’s missing two of its biggest (literally and figuratively) pieces. Six-foot-seven center Teaira McCowan and 6-foot-4 forward Satou Sabally both missed the start of the season due to overseas commitments, with McCowan only recently joining the team and Sabally still out of the country.
McCowan, who the Wings traded for this past offseason in hopes of acquiring a go-to low post player, played six minutes off the bench in their win over Washington, though she was clearly still getting acclimated after arriving just days prior. Once she gets up to speed, McCowan will be tasked with giving Dallas a routine advantage in rebounding — an area that, while not necessarily a weakness for the Wings in the past (52 percent rebounding rate in 2021; third in the WNBA), can always be improved upon as a team.
In this case, the numbers speak for themselves. According to Basketball-Reference, McCowan has led the WNBA in offensive rebounding rate and ranked in the top two in total rebounding rate in each of her first three seasons in the league (all with the Indiana Fever). Her presence in the paint is, simply put, massive; not only can she out-reach the vast majority of opponents for rebounds, but she’s among the toughest in the WNBA to move off her spot when she secures position.
Such strengths have to look appealing to a Wings team that has been outrebounded 47-39 and 32-29 to open the season, but McCowan’s theoretical impact on Dallas’ 2022 roster is greater than simply winning the battle of the boards. She’s also one of the few players in the WNBA who can physically hold their own against the league’s elite centers; granted, the likes of Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles can give anyone problems, but with McCowan, the Wings at least have the option of playing them one-on-one and not having to compromise the rest of their defense. Dallas will get to test that strategy as soon as May 21, when they play Fowles and the Minnesota Lynx for the first time in 2022.
Sabally’s return will add versatility, but at whose expense?
Sabally, meanwhile, is a player who Wings fans are already well familiar with. Drafted at No. 2 overall in 2020, she has since flashed a wealth of potential, earning All-Rookie honors in 2020 and an All-Star nomination in 2021. She’s currently starring for Turkish powerhouse club Fenerbahçe, which should wrap up its season in the coming days.
In contrast to McCowan, Sabally is not limited to one position, her athleticism allowing her to play comfortably on the perimeter and wreak havoc in more aggressive defensive schemes. It’s part of what makes the potential pairing so interesting: With McCowan a one-player rebounding machine on the inside, the Wings can afford to play a bit smaller around her, and with the way Sabally can handle and pass on offense and create plays on defense, she’ll bring with her some intriguing lineup possibilities.
With those possibilities, of course, comes the question of which Wings currently in the team’s rotation will see their playing time reduced. Sabally’s versatility will be of great benefit to Dallas, but it will likely cost more than one frontcourt player a good chunk of minutes.
The top of the Wings’ 2021 draft class, No. 1 overall pick Charli Collier and No. 2 overall pick Awak Kuier, will likely be seeing much less court time once Sabally returns. Collier’s minutes have been sparse as-is — she played three minutes in the Wings’ opener and two in their second game — but Kuier has been playing twice as much (17.9 minutes) so far in 2022 as she did last year (8.9 minutes), though she hasn’t been very efficient in that time, shooting just 20 percent from the field.
Regardless, McCowan and Sabally getting fully integrated into the Wings’ lineup will, at the very least, add some consistency to what has been a patchwork frontcourt rotation so far, with the ideal scenario being both players starting together. Even if the results aren’t perfect on day one, it’s an important step for a Wings team still searching for its identity to take.