WNBA midseason check-in: Dallas Wings

The Dallas Wings faced some unique challenges from day one of the 2017 season. Guard Aerial Powers was back in practice recently after rehabbing a hip injury. Earlier this month, she sprained her ankle. Courtney Paris missed 14 games with a knee injury. Fred Williams was away from the team for a short time with some health complications but thankfully is now back on the sideline. 

All that said, Coach Williams and his young squad find themselves in a position to grab a playoff spot. The Wings make and take more free throws than anybody. Dallas also ranks in the top three in offensive rebounding and steals. Fred Williams has publicly shared on many occasions that the focus with his team is on defense. As of Friday, the Wings are only ahead of the Fever in defensive efficiency.

In the short team, just a few more friendly rolls could really propel them to find a groove down the stretch. Dallas is one of just three teams taking more than 20 threes per game. The hiccup: They’re shooting just 29.2% on them. Some perhaps have seen enough from out there at such a high volume; others may believe that it is more likely than not for that number to perk up. I’ll take the latter.  

The Wings are a young team. Allisha Gray, Kaela Davis and Saniya Chong are rookies. President Greg Bibb and his staff ought to be patting themselves on the back by now, because they picked good ones. He took our own Howard Megdal inside the process of choosing Evelyn Akhator on the LockedOnWBB podcast. Akhator and Breanna Lewis round out a group of five Dallas rookies—nearly half of their roster!

Theresa Plaisance and Kayla Thornton are also seeing serious minutes for the first time in their careers. The Paris injury did force some early rotation changes, but the young players soaking up all these minutes are performing for Williams.

The Wings get to the line, shoot threes and try to speed opponents up with extended pressure. Starter Glory Johnson and Thornton, her backup, are perfect fits for all those things. Johnson, a 2-time All-Star, and Thornton are still feeling things out from beyond the arc:

Both are still very effective because they shoot them often enough to put it at the front of your mind as you close out to them, and are quick and confident in their handles to get all the way to the rim. Both are overqualified for the title of stretch four—these are big time fast-twitch athletes that can get by people with or without the threat of a three-point shot.

Plaisance has been an ideal fit. She made the most of the opportunity to start once Paris went down and has held onto that spot since. Plaisance is a pick-and-pop forward that can hit more than the standard catch and shoot three. All shots, even the open ones, have context. Plaisance has impressed hitting some threes when the ball is already headed toward her—backpedaling or shuffling into a three is not always the easiest thing to do.

Karima Christmas-Kelly is another player that does a lot of the unsung work for Dallas. She’s quick and decisive from a triple threat position and just as dangerous on the low block. Christmas-Kelly no doubt has earned tenure among the group of WNBA wings with a sneaky good post game.

You may see Christmas-Kelly use a screen to set up shop on the block without thinking twice. But then it keeps happening. She gets to the line a ton, where she shoots 86%. Christmas-Kelly can go on a solo run or get a bucket if Dallas stagnates for a few possessions in a row. The one Wings player I have not mentioned here yet can do a little bit of that, too.

We recently took a closer look at the fine season Diggins-Smith is having. She’s back to All-Star form and that play was recognized by the league’s coaches in making her an All-Star reserve. Diggins-Smith is the catalyst for all the things Dallas does well.

She lives in the paint. Most bigs stand little chance against her on a switch. Diggins-Smith is shooting threes off the bounce and is always looking to push ahead to create an easy look.

There’s little reason to doubt the Wings as a contender for a playoff spot. What are you watching for with them that could really set them apart from the other teams looking to sneak in?