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2023 WNBA season preview: Are the Wings ready to contend after a big offseason?

The Dallas Wings have been steadily improving since the 2020 WNBA season, and a handful of big roster changes have elevated the team’s expectations for 2023.

Chicago Sky v Dallas Wings
After a flurry of offseason activity, expectations for the Dallas Wings are higher for 2023 than they’ve ever been.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Wings begin the 2023 WNBA season with a renewed sense of optimism that the franchise hasn’t seen since relocating from Tulsa years ago. The Wings have steadily improved in each of the past three seasons, and a big offseason has put them in a position to continue that upward trend and, ideally, make some noise in the WNBA playoffs.

Though the ever-changing competitive landscape of the WNBA will undoubtedly factor into reaching this goal — Dallas may be seen as a candidate to be the “best of the rest” in the league standings (behind the oft-mentioned Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty) simply due to the number of pieces other teams have lost — the Wings did plenty themselves to bolster their cause. Dallas invested heavily in its frontcourt through offseason signings and acquisitions, shored up its perimeter shooting through the draft and hired an all-new coaching staff to lead the team.

Chicago Sky v Dallas Wings
Forward Natasha Howard highlights an extensive list of Wings offseason acquisitions.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

These changes didn’t come without sacrifice, though, as the Wings parted ways with several mainstays and fan favorites from previous seasons. How quickly (and effectively) the Wings are able to overcome this roster turnover and establish chemistry between the newest members of their core will be crucial as the franchise shoots for its best season since moving to Dallas.

Wings go big by investing in Howard, McCowan

The emergence of Teaira McCowan in 2022 was a sight to behold. The 6-foot-7 center went on a tear after being named the Wings’ starter midway through the season, averaging 16.2 points and 10 rebounds per game in the team’s final 13 games — a period during which Dallas had the WNBA’s second-best offense (110 points scored per 100 possessions). McCowan was named the WNBA’s Player of the Month for August, and her performance earned her a new three-year deal that will make her the Wings’ anchor for the foreseeable future.

Joining McCowan in the Wings’ frontcourt will be Natasha Howard, who Dallas acquired in a three-team trade. The WNBA’s 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Howard brings a skilled low-post game and pick-and-roll aptitude to Dallas, which will be a welcome complement to the Wings’ guards.

While Howard is perfectly capable of playing center in smaller lineups, it seems likely that the Wings will start her next to McCowan, creating an interesting — if unproven — pairing. This would, in theory, move versatile forward Satou Sabally to the bench, though first-year Wings head coach Latricia Trammell could also start Sabally on the perimeter if she chooses.

How will Dallas replace production of Gray, Mabrey?

For as much as the Wings invested in their frontcourt, their situation on the perimeter looks less certain, at least for the time being. Guards Allisha Gray and Marina Mabrey, who combined to average 29.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game in 2022, were both traded during the offseason, leaving a hole in the Wings’ rotation and a gap in their offensive hierarchy that does not have an obvious resolution.

Of course, as long as Arike Ogunbowale is in Dallas, the Wings will have a clear No. 1 offensive option; the All-Star guard has ranked no lower than third in the WNBA in usage rate in each of her four seasons in the league, and there’s no reason to believe that her role in 2023 will be any smaller.

After Ogunbowale, which Wings perimeter player will have the ball in their hands consistently? Diamond DeShields seems like the ideal candidate to be that secondary offensive creator. DeShields was acquired from the Phoenix Mercury in February’s massive four-team trade, and she’ll add an extra gear of athleticism to the Wings’ group of guards that they didn’t have before.

Chicago Sky v Dallas Wings
Diamond DeShields projects to play a key role for the Wings in her first season in Dallas.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Beyond Ogunbowale and DeShields, though, don’t be surprised if rookies make up a significant portion of the Wings’ perimeter workload. Dallas made four picks in the first two rounds of the 2023 WNBA Draft, and every one of those players (forwards Maddy Siegrist and Ashley Joens and guards Lou Lopez Sénéchal and Abby Meyers) are still on the roster as the team gears up for its preseason finale this Saturday. While each of these draftees has a varying degree of offensive versatility — Siegrist, for example, led the country in scoring for Villanova as a ball-dominant forward, while Lopez Sénéchal did most of her damage for UConn operating off the ball — they are all strong outside shooters, which hints that the Wings will rely on them to space the floor while Ogunbowale, McCowan and Howard do what they do best.

Wings’ ambitions should match expectations

Despite the question marks, the Wings are set up nicely to eclipse the 18-18 record they posted in 2022. Beyond their own roster improvements, some of the Wings’ stiffest competition from recent years has fallen off; the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx are entering rebuilding phases, while other teams like the Chicago Sky, Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury will face a good deal of questions themselves.

With the competitive landscape of the WNBA taken into account, the Wings’ No. 5 spot in ESPN’s preseason power rankings seems well-deserved. There’s certainly room for Dallas to maneuver even higher, too, and the team’s offseason moves suggest that they’re ready to compete; a top-four finish in the regular-season standings no longer seems like such a lofty goal for the Wings, and their successes should now be expected, rather than a pleasant surprise.