In 2023, the Dallas Wings began to approach the potential projected onto the team since the organization began to accumulate a number of highly-drafted players, headlined by Arike Ogunbowale in 2018 and Satou Sabally in 2019.
For the first time since relocating Dallas and adopting the Wings moniker, the franchise won a playoff series, sweeping the Atlanta Dream in the first round. Even as they were subsequently swept out of the semifinals by the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces, the Wings can exit the season with a sense of optimism, seeing 2023 as a substantial step toward future seasons of championship contention.
Here’s three takeaways from the Wings’ 2023 season, as well as a look ahead to 2024:
Dallas’ Big 3 delivered
During the 2023 offseason, Dallas jumped into the blockbuster trade that sent Jonquel Jones from the Connecticut Sun to the New York Liberty and grabbed Natasha Howard, a three-time champion and two-time All-Star. Howard proved a perfect complement to Ogunbowale and Sabally, equipping Dallas with an über-athletic, threatening threesome capable of competing with the W’s best combinations.
As our Edwin Garcia analyzed, Ogunbowale is a singular “offensive juggernaut” who more effectively applied her quick-twitch athleticism on the defensive end this season.
Unencumbered by injuries, Sabally began to blossom into the best version of herself, consistently flashing her two-way, multi-dimensional talent as she earned Most Improved Player honors.
While Ogunbowale and Sabally were named All-Stars, Howard was not selected to participate in the league’s midseason festivities. Yet, she turned in a season on par with her All-Star-worthy efforts with the Seattle Storm and Liberty, with a box score-stuffing stat line of 16.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. In addition to her tangible on-court production, Howard also brought the intangibles acquired through her championship experience to the Wings. As Howard told The Athletic’s Dorothy Gentry, “Being a veteran, using my voice, showing them the ropes and that this is what it takes to become the top-four seed has helped. Just the experience of being in these situations, winning three championships...I know what it takes.”
The Wings established an identity
Crucially, the Wings did not simply rely on the individual brilliance of their three stars to earn 22 wins and secure a top-four seed. The team, under the guidance of first-year head coach Latricia Trammell, had a defined identity, leaning into being a fast-paced, high-scoring offensive outfit that absolutely dominated the boards.
The Wings opted for offensive volume over efficiency. Around the middle of the league rankings in both traditional and effective field goal percentage, Dallas attempted a league-leading 73.2 shots per game, with the 3.3-shot gap between the Wings and second-place Liberty larger than the difference between the Liberty and second-to-last Los Angeles Sparks. The Wings also led the league with 13.1 fastbreak points per game. In short, the Wings were Texas gunslingers, quickly firing off shots.
And when the shots were off target, the trio of Howard, Sabally and Teira McCowan often corralled them, helping the Wings grab a league-leading 11.8 offensive rebounds per game—another number that far exceeded their opponents. Dallas’ offensive rebounding percentage of 36.9 percent cleared the second-ranked Indiana Fever by more than five percentage points. These offensive boards also contributed to the Wings’ 14.8 second-chance points and 42.3 points in the paint per game, marks that again were the best in the league.
Room for refinement remains
For all the Wings did well, they could have been even better.
Dallas slogged through several stretches of less-than-inspiring play during the 2023 season, suggesting that the team has yet to fully develop the maturity and focus needed to be a truly elite team and bona fide title contender. Although the only team to notch wins over the Aces, Liberty and Sun, the Wings lost two-game sets to the Sparks, Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx.
It also would have been encouraging to see some of the Wings’ younger players in Veronica Burton, Awak Kuier and Maddy Siegrist get more playing time, not only to establish a deeper rotation but also to gain a greater understanding of what these players can contribute in future seasons. As someone who can defend the perimeter like a seasoned vet, Burton deserved more than her less than 14 minutes of playing time per game. Kuier, when given the chance, showed off the kernels of her star-level upside. Siegrist’s limited run did little determine whether she is better suited to serve as a floor spacer or post scorer on the offensive end.
5 STRAIGHT FROM AWAK KUIER pic.twitter.com/K87NrjGMD8— Dallas Wings (@DallasWings) September 20, 2023
What’s in store for the 2024 offseason?
This offseason, the Wings’ first order of business should be inking Sabally, a restricted free agent, to the richest-allowable contract, thus locking her in alongside Ogunbowale and Howard, who are signed through 2025 and 2024, respectively.
Although Sabally’s new contract will take up a significant chunk of Dallas’ estimated $395,676 in cap space, the organization should have room to retain Kalani Brown and Odyssey Sims, both of whom are unrestricted free agents. While another team may attempt to poach Brown by presenting her with a starting opportunity, she is important to Dallas’ identity, allowing them to overwhelm teams with size for a full 40 minutes.
Many teams SHOULD be open to bringing Kalani Brown onboard this off-season (THREAD). #WNBATwitter— Alford Corriette (@alfcorriette) October 4, 2023
When it comes to post play:
- Kalani has exceptional footwork
- Uses her size (6’7, 245 lbs.) effectively (has a great seal)
- Makes quick decisions (especially with her counters) https://t.co/JGEUd8GFPO pic.twitter.com/jHEqLL8Yw0
Sims proved valuable to the Wings during the playoffs, using her postseason experience to serve as a steady off-the-bench option. As Dallas frequently has undergone significant changes in successive offseasons, opting for continuity seems like the smarter approach, allowing the team to build on this season’s step forward through increased cohesion and internal development.
Diamond DeShields also is an unrestricted free agent. After she missed the entire 2023 season due to a knee, her future with the team is difficult to discern from the outside.
The Wings also will have the opportunity to import even more high-upside talent, with two first-round picks in a potentially deep draft. ESPN’s initial mock draft envisions Dallas selecting two guards who could augment their high-scoring attack in LSU’s Hailey Van Lith and Virgina Tech’s Georgia Amoore.