WNBA preview: The Dallas Wings have a defensive mentality


By Jada Butts and Jasmine Baker

The Dallas Wings are back and ready to get year three rolling. The Wings finished 2017 with a 16-18 record and entered the playoffs as a No. 7 seed. With new additions to the team, head coach Fred Williams wants to improve on the defensive end of the floor. On the first day of training camp, Williams noted improvements to the team’s depth.  

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“Today was good for us to get to know each other defensively. I like the size that we have in the post,” said Williams. “We have a good combination of inside and outside players but having multiple players with good size helps us on the defensive end.”

The size Williams is referring to specifically is a 6’8” center, three-time Player of the Year and All-Chinese Player of the Year, Liz Cambage. She’ll be returning for her third stint with the organization after being drafted by the Tulsa Shock in 2011. She opted out of playing the 2012 season due to physical exhaustion but returned for her 2013 season. Cambage recently finished as the top scorer in the Women’s National Basketball League this season, averaging  a double double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Williams anticipates Cambage making an immediate impact this summer as she brings her talents back to the states.

“Liz is a triple-threat player who can shoot, pass and defend inside the paint extremely well,” said Williams. “She will provide a strong inside-out threat that I think will be very exciting for our fans and the league, but she’s also a great addition to the culture we’ve built the last few years in Dallas.”

In past seasons, the Wings have lacked a solid inside presence. However with Cambage in a Dallas uniform, it opens up the floor allowing the guards to organically execute a run-and-gun offense. Cambage entered the league at 19 years old, but with six years of overseas experience she should be a great teacher for the 6’6” rookie center, Azura Stevens.

Stevens joins Loryn Goodwin and Natalie Butler as the Wings rookies this season. As one of the deeper drafts in recent history, Dallas struck gold with a class ESPN rated an A. They bring much-needed depth to the Wings frontcourt. Stevens averaged 17.7 points and 7.4 rebounds her senior year at Connecticut. Butler lead the country in rebounds her senior year at George Mason with 16.6 per game to go along with an average of 19.2 points. Goodwin, equally a threat at either guard spot, was in the top 20 scoring in the country with 20.6 points per game leading the Big 12 in scoring. Coincidentally, Stevens and Butler played with Wings guard Saniya Chong at UConn last season.

This season the Wings return as the youngest team in the league. That certainly didn’t deter the young roster last season as they took Dallas to their first playoff appearance. The front office has invested in rookies with championship experience. Last season it paid off when the Wings drafted Kaela Davis and Rookie of the Year Allisha Gray from South Carolina, followed by UConn’s Chong. The three had a combined four national titles. 

Chong will have her work cut out for her this season as she tries to regain a roster spot. She was only able to muster 2.7 points in 11 minutes per game her rookie season. Expect Kayla Thornton to be a consistent spark off the bench for Dallas in her second season. The forward out of UT-El Paso flew under the radar her senior year but put teams on notice while just averaging 15 minutes a game her rookie year. It paid off, and the Wings re-signed her, Theresa Plaisance and Karima Christmas-Kelly in the offseason. Despite the Wings’ youth, they possess veterans capable of guiding the WNBA’s youngest roster through the competitive league. 

It all starts with the leadership of Coach Williams, who enters his 30th year of coaching and 5th year with the organization. He expects greatness from his team and has leaned on All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith and Christmas-Kelly to lead the way. Christmas-Kelly is the most experienced player on the roster entering her eighth season. Her location may have changed throughout the seasons, but her work ethic hasn’t.

“I try to lead by example,” said Christmas-Kelly. “As long as you show that you are willing to put in the work, you can achieve great things.”

Hard work is a true testament to Christmas-Kelly’s game, but you also see that ethos in her co-captain, Diggins-Smith.  The All-Star made it her mission to be the hardest-working guard in the league and the results paid off in the 2017 season. Diggins-Smith was named to the All-WNBA First Team for the second time in her career. She averaged 18.5 points (seventh in the WNBA) and a career-high 5.8 assists (fourth in the WNBA) per game while leading the league in minutes (34.2 mpg). Diggins-Smith recently joined Gray and the USA Women’s National Team at camp in Seattle. These two captains, in addition to others, have the organization headed in the right direction.

The Wings tip off their season in Phoenix on May 18, with the home opener scheduled for May 20 at 2 p.m., against the Atlanta Dream.