The Wings can't seem to close games, despite having drafted one of the best closers that college basketball has ever seen. Can Dallas and Arike Ogunbowale figure things out before it's too late?
Look, if you haven’t been tuning in to a lot of Dallas Wings games, I could hardly blame you. The Wings currently near the bottom of the standings, tied with the Atlanta Dream with a 5-14 record.
And now that we’re more than halfway through the season and the WNBA All-Star Game is singe-digit days away, it’s time for teams in the bottom half of the league to start worrying about their position. It’s difficult to see Dallas climb its way into a playoff spot, but if the team could start closing out close games, it’d give its hopes a huge boost.
The Wings are 2-7 in games decided by five points or less, including going winless in their last three, with those games being decided by a total of 14 points. So what’s going wrong? Well, there are a few things.
To start, Dallas has one of the youngest teams in the league, with its longest-tenured members being Skylar Diggins-Smith, Tayler Hill and Glory Johnson, who have been in the league for six years each. An abundance of youth and inexperience—and the absence of the team’s best player, Diggins-Smith—leads to an expected amount of mistakes. While this team may have plenty to look forward to in its future, the current state of affairs leaves something to be desired.
With Diggins-Smith out for the foreseeable future, coach Brian Angler has handed the keys to rookie Arike Ogunbowale. And while she mystified during her time at Notre Dame and proved to be plenty clutch for much of her college career, she can’t always be expected to buoy the team’s offense late in the game when teams are scheming against her.
Ogunbowale can be streaky—see the discussion around whether we should be judging her for up-and-down performances in her ROOKIE season—but she’s typically the Wings’ best option, no matter how many players are draped all over her. Kaela Davis has emerged as a surprising go-to option late in games, but she only plays 17.9 minutes a game and can go cold just as quickly as it looks like she’s starting to catch fire.
Take the Wings' first loss to the Mercury this week, a 69-64 game in which a poor third quarter allowed Phoenix to take the lead and a fair amount of momentum into the final quarter. Davis wasn’t ready to give up, however, scoring all nine of her points in the final 10 minutes of the game but missing a few crucial shots down the stretch that ultimately saw a comeback attempt end.
A poor third quarter also plagued Dallas the next day in its game against L.A. The Wings bossed the Sparks for much of the first half, holding them to 16 points in both the first and second quarter while they scored 20 and 22, respectively, to enter halftime with a 10-point lead. But it all fell apart for Dallas after halftime, as it only scored nine while L.A. dropped 24 to effectively wrestle control of the game away from the Sparks before handing the Wings their second 69-64 loss in 48 hours.
Ogunbowale failed to score in the final quarter but was pretty impressive distributing the ball and jumping some passing lanes for steals. Her evolution as a passer is going to be important for this team, but right now the Wings need her to be closing games the way we became accustomed to during her time in South Bend if they want to get out of the league basement.
Ogunbowale ran into more trouble during the Wings’ second game against the Mercury this week, finishing the game with eight points on 3 of 15 shooting and a shot chart that does not make for fun viewing.
With a team that ranks third in the league in unassisted field goal percentage and second-last in pace, Dallas is playing a lot of iso ball, allowing defenders to get settled and better stifle its offense, which could be another problem the Wings need to fix.
Again, it warrants mentioning that Ogunbowale is only a rookie, that this team is incredibly young and how it operates is likely going to change once Agler has Diggins-Smith back. As Arike gets more experience under her belt and learns how to better navigate WNBA defenses, we could once again see the player who routinely gave the opposition nightmares in the final few minutes of games. Until then though, it might be tough sledding for Dallas and its star, but occasionally streaky, rookie.
Y’all have heard it before. The WNBA is so important.
Speaking of the Aces, it 100% sucks that A’ja Wilson is almost definitely going to miss the All-Star Game and possibly much of the back half of the season. Las Vegas has been excellent for a solid month and to lose possibly its best player seems unfair. I’m with Mechelle Voepel, let’s just turn off injuries.
Since I blanked on this last week, here’s a reminder that Marina doesn’t give a good got damn about the troll’s opinion and I’m extremely here for it.
Finally, for everyone heading to Vegas for the All-Star Game this weekend, safe travels and enjoy a no-doubt dope experience put on by the W!