Dallas Wings Offseason Breakdown
Steve Pimental does a deep dive into the offseason of the Dallas Wings including their acquisitions and losses and what the fantasy outlook is like for key players.
With the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, the WNBA is in the midst of its most exciting offseason ever. Nine former All-Stars changed teams, and all of the contenders made significant moves in an arms race that rivaled the NBA’s 2019 offseason. With several weeks to go before the WNBA draft, this seems like the perfect time to take a look at each team’s recent moves, as well as the work that remains to be done before the start of the season.
Signed Moriah Jefferson to a three-year contract starting at $170,000.
Signed Megan Gustafson for three years and a total of $190,500.
Signed Morgan Bertsch, Imani McGee-Stafford and Karlie Samuelson to one-year deals.
Signed Isabelle Harrison to a three-year contract starting at $150,000.
Traded Skylar Diggins-Smith to the Phoenix Mercury for the number five and seven picks in the 2020 draft and Phoenix’s 2021 first-round pick.
Traded Phoenix’s 2021 first-round pick to Chicago for Astou Ndour.
Traded Azura Stevens to Chicago for Katie-Lou Samuelson and Chicago’s 2021 first-round pick.
I really liked Dallas’s offseason. I’m not sure the signings of Gustafson, Bertsch, McGee-Stafford and Karlie Samuelson were necessary, especially so early in the offseason, but none of those players are making much more than the minimum. Some (maybe most) of these players won’t even make the roster, considering Dallas has 14 players under contract and four of the first nine picks in the WNBA draft. I don’t know Dallas’s plans for all of those draft picks and bench players, but I am pretty confident they have one. Locking up those players for cheap, even if it turns out to be a mistake, won’t be much of a mistake.
Dallas did well getting three first-round picks for Skylar Diggins-Smith, especially if you compare that to what the Connecticut Sun got for Chiney Ogwumike last season. Draft picks aren’t nearly as valuable in the WNBA as they are in the NBA, but they almost certainly weren’t going to get more than that considering everyone knew they had to trade Diggins-Smith.
As I mentioned in my Chicago Sky Offseason Breakdown, I didn’t like the Dallas-Chicago trades for the Sky. I do like those trades for Dallas. Dallas had money to spend, so paying Astou Ndour is not a problem, especially since you get Katie-Lou Samuelson as well. I like Azura Stevens quite a bit, but I’m not convinced she is ever going to be a significantly better player than Ndour. I also have health concerns about Stevens after she played just nine games in 2019.
I think bringing back Isabelle Harrison and Moriah Jefferson was important, as well. Harrison was Dallas’s best big in 2019, and while she may be best suited as the first big off the bench for a contender, I think getting her on a three-year deal for less than the max is a win.
Moriah Jefferson hasn’t played a full season since 2016, when she averaged a career-high 13.9 points in 30.4 minutes. If she is back at full strength, she gives the Wings the true point guard they were missing last season and also raises their ceiling significantly. She never really fit next to Kelsey Plum in Las Vegas, but she should be a much better fit next to Arike Ogunbowale or Allisha Gray.
The Wings have the second, fifth, seventh and ninth picks in the first round of the draft. I would put the over/under on the number of picks they actually make in the first round at two. I cannot see them trading out of the second pick, but all of the other picks are likely available, especially if the Wings can package them for a star player.
Dallas is deep at every position outside of small forward. They also could use a superstar to pair with Arike Ogunbowale. Satou Sabally is the obvious pick for Dallas, and any other option, including trading down, would be a mistake. She would fill the need at small forward, and in my opinion, she has the best chance of anyone in this draft class outside of Sabrina Ionescu to be a superstar.
Assuming the Wings pick Sabally, they would be free to use whatever draft picks they keep on the best player available without really worrying about position. A big would probably make more sense than a guard, though Dallas could draft a point guard to back up Moriah Jefferson.
Projected Starting 5:
PG Arike Ogunbowale
SG Allisha Gray
SF Kayla Thornton
PF Astou Ndour
C Isabelle Harrison
On Twitter, @wnba_shay asked us to predict Dallas’s starting five, and got six different answers from six different people. So, since every position is seemingly up for grabs, let’s look at them each in turn.
This position may be in question, but Arike Ogunbowale’s spot in the lineup is not. Dallas should have an easier time scoring thanks to some of their offseason moves, but they will certainly need Arike’s scoring again this season. Arike was third in the WNBA in usage last season, and while that number should come down a bit with more offensive weapons around her, she will still shoulder a heavy load. Her usage rate could also fall even more if she slides to the two, which would mean starting Moriah Jefferson at point guard. Jefferson started all 34 games as a rookie for the San Antonio Stars in 2016 but she has played just 16 games since 2017, all off the bench. The best version of the Wings probably has Jefferson playing 30 minutes per game at point guard, but it seems unlikely we get there right away. Even if Jefferson looks like her old self from day one, I could see head coach Brian Agler easing her back into the rotation.
The other reason I don’t think Jefferson will start right away is that it would likely push Allisha Gray to the bench. Gray has started 97 of 102 career games, including all 34 in each of the last two seasons. She fits next to Arike as a low-usage player who doesn’t need the ball in her hands and can guard the other team’s best guard every night.
This situation is almost identical to point guard. Kayla Thornton started here out of necessity last year, because Dallas didn’t have a natural three, and they had roughly 314 bigs. Thornton is one of those 314 bigs, but she averaged career highs in points, rebounds and assists despite playing out of position. Her 30.8-percent career three-point percentage would play much better at the four, but Allisha Gray doesn’t really have the size to play there, and Katie Lou Samuelson hasn’t proven she is a starting-caliber player in this league. Dallas could (and in my opinion, should) draft Satou Sabally to start at small forward, but I am always skeptical of rookies starting right away for teams that have other viable options.
One way to get away with Kayla Thornton’s lack of spacing at the three is to play one of the league’s best three-point shooting bigs at the four. Dallas gave up a future first-round draft pick for the privilege of giving Astou Ndour a max contract, and while that doesn’t guarantee her a starting spot, none of Dallas’s other bigs played well enough last season to lock up a spot. If Thornton eventually finds her way into starting at the four, Ndour could wind up starting at the five, though she will have plenty of competition.
Surprisingly, none of the aforementioned starting lineups on Twitter, including my own, included Kristine Anigwe. If Dallas is going to make the playoffs this season, it will likely need Anigwe to become a starting-caliber center. Anigwe has the size to match up defensively with any center in the league, but she will have to cut back on her 5.6 personal fouls per 36 minutes if she is going to stay on the court enough to make a big impact. Anigwe was 23rd in the WNBA in rebound rate last season, ahead of Natasha Howard, Alyssa Thomas and Chiney Ogwumike, among others. She may never be a go-to scorer, but she shouldn’t have to be on this team.
Isabelle Harrison was Dallas’s best big last season, and she will almost certainly get the first shot at starting again this season. Harrison started 29 of 31 games for Dallas in 2019, and was fourth on the team in true shooting percentage and rebounding rate. Ideally, Dallas would start someone with a higher ceiling and a more consistent offensive game, but it doesn’t appear that player is currently on the roster.
Dallas doesn’t have the star power to compete with the contenders, but I would argue they are the deepest team in the league. I love the three-guard rotation of Ogunbowale, Jefferson and Gray, and that doesn’t even include anything they get from Tayler Hill, who has dealt with injuries the last three seasons. At forward the Wings have Kaela Davis, Megan Gustafson and Imani McGee-Stafford to back up the potential starters. As Zach Lowe is fond of saying about the NBA, there is a lot of value in not giving any minutes to bad players, and Dallas should be in that position this season.
They have enough depth and draft picks that they could afford to trade some for some higher-quality talent and still be at least three deep at every position. Dallas some upside in the form of Jefferson and Anigwe, but it’s really difficult to see them as anything more than a seventh or eighth seed in this league.
I think it’s crazy that Dallas has 100/1 odds. I think they are clearly better than Indiana, New York and Atlanta, and should have better odds than those teams. Even so, it’s difficult to imagine any scenario where Dallas wins the WNBA title. They don’t have a go-to scorer in the post, unlike all of the contenders, and it’s just impossible to imagine they can score enough to keep up with teams like Washington and Seattle. If I was going to take a crazy long shot, Dallas would be it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The only Wings player we could trust consistently for fantasy in 2019 was Arike Ogunbowale, and there is a chance that is the case again this season. Arike's scoring should always make her a fantasy consideration, but she might not be a great value right away since she will be priced based on her 2019 production. Ogunbowale's usage will probably take a hit now that Dallas has more offensive weapons, and she will have to be a more efficient scorer to make up for that. I wouldn’t be shocked if she is more efficient in her second season, but I wouldn’t want to pay for it without seeing it first.
Outside of Arike, one of Dallas’s best fantasy plays figures to be Moriah Jefferson, especially if she begins the season in the starting lineup. Moriah Jefferson averaged 26.2 fppg as a rookie for San Antonio, and if she gets 30 minutes per game again, I think she can approach 30 fppg. The problem is, we likely won’t know she’s getting 30 minutes per game until it actually happens, at which point her price will go up. Even if she doesn’t start, I think Jefferson will be healthier, and in a better position to score fantasy points, than she was with Las Vegas in 2018. Jefferson should be a fantasy play right away but if she starts, she could approach must-play territory, especially if her price is as low as I anticipate.
Last season Dallas was so deep up front that no one thrived for fantasy. Isabelle Harrison led Dallas’s bigs with 25.6 mpg and 22.0 fppg. I am concerned the same thing will happen this season, especially if Dallas drafts another big. If anyone is going to separate herself from the pack, my guess is it will either be Astou Ndour or Kristine Anigwe. I’m not necessarily expecting a breakout for Anigwe, but she averaged 0.75 fantasy points per minute last season. If she gets a minutes bump and improves her play in her sophomore season, she could provide fantasy value.
I think Astou Ndour is a better bet for fantasy, if for no other reason than she offers a more diverse skill set than any of Brian Agler’s other options at the four or the five. Ndour averaged 22.9 fppg in 23.4 mpg in September after she won the starting job in Chicago, and anyone who can approach a fantasy point per minute needs to be on our radar. Ndour may not start right away, and even if she does, it may take an injury or two for her to top 25 minutes per game, but at the very least, she’s someone we should have our eye on for fantasy.
I probably need to at least mention Allisha Gray and Kayla Thornton here, especially since I expect them both to begin the season in the starting lineup. Gray and Thornton both averaged fewer than 23 fppg despite averaging more than 30 mpg last season. Both are capable of having big fantasy games once or twice a month, but it’s nearly impossible to predict when those games will be. If Thornton starts at the four or plays at the three alongside Ndour, she may have a higher ceiling than what she showed last season. Even then, it’s tough to picture her being anything more than a solid play in certain match-ups who we’re not necessarily excited to play on a daily basis.