Wings

What’s Up With the Wings?

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After 16 games, the Dallas Wings were 8-8.

They had just won two straight but were playing Las Vegas twice in three days. The Aces were 15-1 and on an eight-game winning streak.

On the road on July 5th, the Wings led the Aces by two points after three quarters. They lost the game with a disappointing fourth quarter but gained confidence going into the rematch in Dallas two days later.

On July 7th, Dallas went toe-to-toe with the defending champs again but found themselves down double-digits midway through the third quarter.

This time, they fought back.

Dallas had the ball with 14.2 seconds left and the game tied 78-78. First-year head coach Latricia Trammell drew up a play for Satou Sabally. She came off a double screen along the baseline and shot an uncontested 17-foot jumper with a little over eight seconds left in the game.

The shot was no good. However, the Wings’ 6’7” center Teaira McCowan was able to wedge A’ja Wilson, giving up three inches and 45 pounds, under the basket and secure an offensive rebound.

McCowan’s turnaround jumper was stuffed by Wilson, but she was able to recover it and get it up to the rim with four seconds left.

There was a scrum under the basket with bodies everywhere.

Natasha Howard had sprinted in from the top of the key, wrestled it away from the crowd, forced it back up from underneath the basket and was fouled with 0.4 seconds left.

She hit both free throws and the Aces were not able to get a shot off in time after a timeout. The Wings had pulled off the massive upset.

The Wings used that momentum to win their next four games.

It has been up and down ever since.

They have beaten the top three teams in the WNBA in the Aces, New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun. They have also been swept in three games by the ninth place Chicago Sky and lost three games to the eighth place Los Angeles Sparks.

Currently, the Wings are in fourth place with a 19-16 record. They consistently compete, and they can beat anyone on any given night.

But they are also susceptible to losing to anyone on any given night.

What is it about this Wings team that makes them so enigmatic?

Roster

Dallas’s roster is unique. Their starting lineup consists of the 6’7” McCowan, 6’2” Howard, and 6’4” Sabally in the frontcourt. The backcourt is comprised of the dynamic 5’8” Ogunbowale and the diminutive 5’5” Crystal Dangerfield.

The starters have played 373 minutes together this season, the third most of any five-player lineup in the WNBA.

The Wings have played another 92 minutes with the starters and 6’7” Kalani Brown subbing in for McCowan at center.

Size is a strength for the Wings, and they know how to use it offensively.

Strengths

The Wings are able to use their size to their advantage on the offensive boards. Their 32.8% offensive rebounding percentage is far better than Indiana in second place.

In the July 7th matchup with the Aces, McCowan and Howard combined for eight offensive rebounds; the Aces, meanwhile, had five as a team.

Two nights prior, the Aces had seven offensive rebounds which matched McCowan’s total for that game.

Although they don’t shoot a high percentage, the Wings take care of the ball and rebound at such an incredible rate that they are ranked third in the league in offensive rating.

Defense is a different story.

Defensive Issues

In 2022, Dallas finished the regular season with an 18-18 record. They had a defensive rating of 104.3 which ranked ninth in the WNBA. Trammell was hired in the offseason, and fixing the defense was at the top of her list.

“[Defense is] really where you build your team chemistry because I believe that it’s a team defense. It’s not just putting a player out on an island. It’s being there and having your teammate’s back when needed,” Trammell said in an interview before the season.

The defense continues to be a problem.

The Wings currently rank seventh in defensive rating at 104.8. Despite being such a dominant offensive rebounding team, they curiously rank seventh in defensive rebounding percentage.

The defensive scheme falls apart against teams who are able to stretch them out and move the ball quickly. This is very apparent when the opposing post is a threat from the perimeter.

Because the Wings play almost exclusively with a 6’7” center, they are in drop coverage much of the game. In drop coverage, the defense is theoretically able to play the ball screen action two-on-two allowing the remaining defenders to stay home.

This changes when the screener pops instead of rolls. In this case, the ballhandler attracts two defenders, meaning the other three defenders must scramble to guard four.

Getting the Wings in rotation, moving the ball quickly, and capitalizing by making wide open threes has made a huge impact. When in rotation, the Wings are also out of position to rebound which negates their size advantage on the defensive end.

In 19 wins, the Wings have a defensive rating of 96.1 and are giving up 76.6 points per game.

In 16 losses, their defensive rating spikes to 115.1, and they are giving up 92.6 points per game. They give up almost three more made threes on essentially the same number of attempts.

Their size is an advantage offensively, but it has hurt their versatility defensively.

Looking Ahead

Kalani Brown has struggled the most – especially on the defensive end. Her individual defensive rating goes from 92.8 in wins to 122.3 in losses.

Throughout the season, the Wings’ offensive rating plummets by 10.6 when she’s on the floor. Their defense also regresses. The Wings’ defensive rating rises by +9.8.

Trammell has tinkered with the rotation looking for ways to solve the problem.

Other teams like the Liberty with Jonquel Jones have had similar problems. The solution is the ability to be more versatile with lineups. The Liberty can move Breanna Stewart to the post and surround her with more athleticism.

Similarly, Trammell has played Sabally at center with McCowan and Brown on the bench throughout the season.

The results have been disastrous. They foul at an astronomical rate, they give up a lot more offensive rebounds, yet their offense remains just as effective.

The key may be 6’4” forward Awak Kuier. A second overall pick by the Wings in the 2021 WNBA Draft, she has seen her minutes drop this season under Trammell. However, she is athletic, extremely active, able to move laterally very well, and may be the changeup needed at times throughout the playoffs.

Playing Kuier at the center to defend the opposition’s center allows Sabally and Howard to execute their familiar roles. Offensively, Kuier complements the perimeter games of Sabally and Ogunbowale.

The Wings need to find an answer when teams force them to play defense on the perimeter.

If they want to make a deep playoff run, they’re going to have to think outside the box.

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

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