It’s been a few weeks since the Mavericks exited the NBA playoffs, which has left plenty of North Texans experiencing Luka Doncic withdrawal. How does one warm themselves through the metaphorical basketball winter?
By spending the summer watching his WNBA doppelgänger.
Arike Ogunbowale is the closest you’ll see to the Slovenian supernova in the WNBA and not just because they both ply their trade for Dallas teams. Both were drafted in the top five. Both are Pisces (Luka is born on February 28th; Arike, March 2). Both are their team’s undisputed best player. Deserved or not, both draw the occasional ire of referees, most recently with Ogunbowale getting ejected Sunday for kicking a ball.
Too cursory? As Scott Steiner once said, the numbers don’t lie. Starting with the basics, each player is top-10 in their respective leagues in total points, points per game, field goals attempted, field goals made, field goals missed, and usage percentage. They’re also top-five in usage rate, with Doncic first and Ogunbowale fourth.
They cut similar figures—fearless shooters who serve as their team’s offensive hubs. Which comes with drawbacks: not unlike her NBA counterpart, the WNBA has been content to let Ogunbowale shoot herself out at times. “Let Arike do her thing while spending resources to lock down her teammates,” so the thinking goes, and the approach sometimes pays dividends, too. Look no further than the playoff game against eventual champion Chicago last season, when Ogunbowale had 22 points on 16 shots but only one other Dallas player finished in double figures.
Then there’s the other side of the ball. Neither one has seen their defensive growth catch up to their offensive superpowers, and just like Jason Kidd has occasionally prodded his star to do more on defense, Vickie Johnson— herself a defensive-minded coach like her NBA counterpart—has faced the same challenge in Arlington.
But you put up with it because of their singular talent. They go about it differently, of course. Doncic is longer and a more gifted playmaker, while Ogunbowale is the superior athlete, whose powerful-yet-somehow-balletic drives to the basket recall the movements of an elite figure skater.
Just like Doncic, though, everything is in her control, even when it doesn’t go right. Sure, you’ll have head-scratching moments every game or so. They’re the counterweight to all those jaw-droppers. And, just like Doncic, Ogunbowale elevates the play of every player behind her.
Consider the other half of the “Marike” duo, fellow guard and longtime friend Marina Mabrey. After winning a national title together at Notre Dame in 2018, the Los Angeles Sparks made Mabrey a second-round pick in 2019. She showed minimal promise in 31 games in L.A., leading Dallas to acquire her in 2020 for a second-round pick. She’s been electric ever since, averaging double-digit points and raising her assist total in all three seasons as a member of the Wings, along with hitting more than 40 percent of her threes in two of them.
Perhaps Mabrey eventually grows into this if she stayed out west. But it’s not a coincidence how quickly she took off once teaming back up with her Notre Dame running mate, just as it’s no accident that Allisha Gray’s rebounding numbers have improved in all four years she’s played with Ogunbowale. It’s a byproduct of Gray taking fewer shots, something that has also benefited her efficiency. She’s a scoring threat but not the scoring threat, which has opened up other avenues in her game from rebounding to blocking shots to terrorizing opposing passing lanes. That in turn allows Johnson to deploy all three guards without losing much presence on defense, which begets new and unique combinations off the bench.
On down the line it goes. Ogunbowale’s ability to carry an offense means Kayla Thornton can be a defensive stopper who hits threes. It means Isabelle Harrison has more open space to operate in the paint. It means Satou Sabally gets to blossom into her own superstardom at her own pace. Every player in a Dallas uniform can look at Ogunbowale and in some way credit her for their natural games opening up. She’s a critical cog, and it shows in the on/off numbers. This season, the Wings turn the ball over and are a worse rebounding team on both ends when Arike isn’t on the court. Even more importantly, their offensive rating is noticeably worse with her off-court (101.3) than on (106.1).
All of which is to say: Dallas basketball has more than one crown jewel, and with one on pause, the other deserves your attention, if not commands it. Both are going to be here for a long time; months after Doncic signed a five-year extension to keep him in town through 2027, Ogunbowale inked a three-year pact that keeps her in Dallas through 2025. And just like her counterpart at the AAC, she’s only going up.