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Basketball

Wings Draftee Veronica Burton Brings the Defensive Grit Dallas Needs

The point guard and seventh overall pick in Monday's draft has different profile than the Wings' current guards.
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Veronica Burton makes plays with the ball in her hands. She gradually improved her offensive game over her four years at Northwestern, too. But the reason the Wings made her the seventh overall pick in Monday’s WNBA draft says a lot about the team they want to be: defense. 

The 5-foot-9 point guard comes to the WNBA as one of the most accomplished defensive prospects of her era, becoming only the second player in Big Ten history to be named the conference’s defensive player of the year in three consecutive seasons. She wins by being ferocious at the point of attack, most notably through averaging a whopping four steals a game, which led women’s college basketball. Head coach Vickie Johnson continues to mold her team into a defense-first group, and as Wings president Greg Bibb notes, “I think coming into this year, if we could improve defensively, that was at the top of our list.” Burton is the sort of perimeter defender who can spearhead that improvement. 

“I think she is going to come in, and she is going to be a defensive presence from Day 1,” Bibb says. “Coach VJ preaches defense, and we have been talking about defense for what feels like a long time here. We were better defensively last year, but we weren’t good enough.”

With Burton, they think they will be—and she believes her presence as a stopper will help the team.

“I think that defense is something that I do bring that is something that is a separator for me,” Burton says. “So just the effort and the heart that I have on that end of the floor is definitely something I’m going to look to bring day in and day out, just being consistent on that end.” 

But Burton is far more than a defensive specialist. Her scoring output increased each season, from 8.6 points per game as a freshman up to 17.8 as a senior, and she was also one of just four NCAAW players to average at least 17 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game last season. Bibb describes her style of play using phrases like “consummate teammate,” “floor general,” and “what a point guard is all about”—clichés, but ones that give a window into Burton’s strengths. While Burton can score, her strength is in playmaking and setting up others. At a media event, she was asked about playing with Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey. Burton said, “I am about to go study their games tonight and see where they want the ball.” (Unsurprisingly, both Ogunbowale and Mabrey approved of that idea.) 

Which is good because that group, like the rest of Dallas’ team, is crowded. 

The entire 2021 Wings roster is back with the exception of Bella Alarie, who has opted out this season to focus on personal matters. The team will retain her rights until she returns. The team traded for 25-year-old center Teaira McCowan, who was just named the EuroLeague’s Player of the Year, Center of the Year, and Foreign Player of the Year playing for OGM Ormanspor in Turkey’s Women’s Basketball Super League. 

Burton wasn’t the only draft-night add. Dallas had back-to-back third-round picks and used them on Delaware guard Jasmine Dickey (30th overall) and North Florida forward Jazz Bond (31st). In addition, the Wings inked forward Morgan Bertsch (whom they drafted with the 29th pick overall in 2019) and Unique Thompson (19th in 2021) to contracts for training camp, which begins Sunday.

“Listen, we are going to have an ultra-competitive training camp,” Bibb says. “That is a good thing. When you have more good players than you have [roster] spots, that is what training camp should be. It creates competition. It results in the best version of your team coming out of camp. Burton will come in, and she will have to earn her spot, just like everyone else on the roster. I would rather have too many good players than not enough.”

That seems like a safe bet, especially among the guards, where Burton joins Ogunbowale and Mabrey, veterans Allisha Gray and Moriah Jefferson, third-year guard Ty Harris, and last year’s fifth overall pick, Chelsea Dungee, battling it out for roster spots. Burton will be the least experienced, and her shooting will be a major growth area; last year’s career-high scoring average came on just 41.5 percent shooting from the field and 22.6 percent from three. 

But the Wings have plenty of guards who can fill it up. Burton’s strengths are stand out, which puts her in a good position to avoid the fate of Dana Evans, last year’s 13th overall pick, who got traded to the Sky as part of a roster crunch only to then become a key reserve on a championship team in Chicago. 

The Wings have great depth at the guard position, and some tough choices will need to be made moving forward. Untouchable is Ogunbowale, who just signed a multi-year extension and is the face of the franchise at shooting guard. Mabrey came into her own last year alongside Ogunbowale, cementing her role as the Wings’ second scoring option. Gray, a gold medalist in last summer’s Olympics as part of Team USA’s 3×3 team, is a strong veteran who was the Wings’ third-leading scorer at 11.9 points per game. Jefferson, the team’s most experienced guard, has been the starter at point guard but has battled injuries off and on. She seems like the most vulnerable at this point. 

Then there are the young players. Harris has shown flashes as a lead guard but has been unable to earn consistent minutes. The same could be said for Dungee, a premier collegiate scorer who averaged only 4.6 minutes per game as a rookie. 

Burton’s skill set is versatile enough that she can come in and serve as a sufficient cover for any of the above. But stylistically she’s a different type of player from the first-round picks the Wings have made in recent years. And on a team in transition, with a coach emphasizing defensive dirty work, that’s exactly why she might fit in. 

“Coach Johnson had talked about just kind of wanting another defender that can really stop ball handlers, keep people out of the paint,” Burton says. “So if that’s what she needs, that’s what I’m going to give her,” 

Author

Dorothy J. Gentry

Dorothy J. Gentry

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Dorothy J. Gentry covers the Wings for StrongSide. A native Dallasite, she is a journalist and educator who covers the…

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