The Dallas Wings have not been able to make a move into the upper half of the WNBA since arriving in North Texas ahead of the 2016 season.
The Wings have made the playoffs only three times and lost in the first round all three years without hosting a home playoff game. They also haven’t had a winning season.
But the tides are shifting. Dallas’ confidence is high after a surprising run to the playoffs last year. The group has a year under its belt playing in coach Vickie Johnson’s system. Nearly all of the 2021 team is back, and the franchise added rising star Teaira McCowan in a trade and Veronica Burton with its first-round pick in the draft.
The goals that have eluded the franchise since its relocation may now be attainable.
“I feel like for a while now Dallas has been moving a lot of pieces in and out and I feel like we finally have a stable core,” Wings forward Isabelle Harrison said. “Last year, we were still getting to know each other, new coaching staff, new players. This year, it’s like a sisterhood.”
Here are five things to know about the Wings before Saturday’s season opener against the Atlanta Dream:
Making some noise
Johnson said when she arrived in Dallas before the start of last season that people would give her crazy looks when she said the Wings would make the playoffs.
Dallas proved her right, but the team ended its season anticlimactically with a first-round loss against eventual champion Chicago.
“I haven’t forgot that feeling, honestly,” Harrison said. “I’m definitely going to have that feeling on my shoulder the entire season because it was terrible.”
The season may have ended on a low note, but overall it was a major step in the right direction for the Wings. And now they want to go even further.
Johnson and club president Greg Bibb have both said the goal isn’t just making the playoffs. That has been achieved. It is taking that next step as a team. The players feel the same way.
“This year, we want to do more. We want to succeed more,” guard Allisha Gray said.
Face of the franchise
Arike Ogunbowale has been Dallas’ star ever since she entered the league following a historic career at Notre Dame. She already is a two-time All-WNBA player, scoring champion and WNBA All-Star Game MVP. No other player has scored more points than her over the past three seasons.
But the expectations around Ogunbowale have changed. She signed a supermax extension in February that, according to Spotrac, will make her one of the top earners in the WNBA next season. The Wings have goals beyond just making the playoffs. It’s no longer solely about the future at College Park Center.
Ogunbowale has never been one to shy away from the biggest moments. This season is likely to provide some of the biggest in her career.
“This is her team,” Johnson said. “This team is gonna take the face of her.”
New playoff structure
After using a playoff format the past six seasons that featured two rounds of single-elimination games, the WNBA has made a change to its postseason.
The new format is a traditional eight-team tournament with three rounds of matchups. The first round is best-of-three with the semifinals and finals being best-of-five. There are no longer byes as all eight playoff teams enter the tournament in the first round.
Last season, Dallas was the No. 7 seed in the playoffs and faced No. 6 Chicago in the Windy City in a winner-take-all contest. In this new format, they would have faced No. 2 Las Vegas. The Aces would have hosted the first two games of the series with a potential Game 3 taking place at UTA’s College Park Center.
“I feel like it’s better that way,” guard Marina Mabrey said. “One and done is kind of hard to do.”
Defense will be key
The Wings offense likely will be one of the best in the league. Ogunbowale’s skills on that end are evident, but four other Wings players averaged double figures last season. Throw in McCowan and Dallas has plenty of players who can go get a bucket.
“Everybody on this team can score,” Harrison said. “But that’s not a priority to me. I want to make sure that we’re getting stops because that’s something I felt like we could have worked on last year.”
Johnson is a defensive-minded coach, and she preaches that end of the court all the time. Harrison said Johnson starts every practice with a shell drill, a simple exercise where defenders work on their positioning as offensive players pass around the basketball.
The Wings were eighth in defensive rating last season while learning Johnson’s system. They would like to see that improve in the second year of the system.
“We know that we’re eventually going to score 100 points a game if you let us, but can we stop people?” Mabrey said. “I think that’s something that is a mindset more than an ability. We’ve come in with the right mindset because we know that defense wins championships.”
A different Charli Collier
After being selected with the No. 1 pick in 2021, Charli Collier had an up-and-down rookie season. While she did manage to earn a spot on the All-Rookie team, she played double-digit minutes only five times after the start of July.
People around the team have said Collier looks much more confident heading into this season. She feels the exact same way.
“I just feel really good right now,” Collier said. “Mentally, physically, overall, my game, I just feel really confident.”
Collier had offseason knee surgery in December that cut short her time playing overseas, but Johnson said she is healthy heading into the season.
However, Johnson doesn’t want to put any expectations on Collier. All she wants her to do is play her minutes and play her minutes hard.
“I’ve been in the league 26 years — five players, it takes them longer.” Johnson said. “It takes them four to five years to develop to who they are. And you can see the glimpse in the second and third year to see if they’re going to the next level or not.”
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