The Wings tipped off their 2023 season on Saturday with an 85-78 win over the Atlanta Dream, a victory that had to be termed a success even if it may have raised a red flag or two for new coach Latricia Trammell.
The defensive effort stood out; Dallas spent a lot of time playing an effective man defense. And after the Dream closed to within three points in the last minute, the Wings got a couple of stops. With more time and experience, the defense should only improve. Throughout the preseason, Trammell stressed the importance of effort, and in that regard, she got what she was looking for.
Arike Ogunbowale will be the headliner again on offense, and she was productive if not efficient against the Dream, scoring a game-high 27 points. She glided around the court, snapped off stepbacks in the face of multiple defenders, and made difficult shots. Her speed was also on display, which helped the Wings in their transition game.
A potentially bigger development was the play of Satou Sabally. A 6-foot-4 forward who appeared in only 44 games in her first three seasons combined, Sabally is being counted on for more. Her talent has never been questioned, but injuries and European obligations have made for a frustrating start to her WNBA career. Against Atlanta, she responded with 25 points (just three off her career high), including 3-of-5 shooting from deep, and seven rebounds. She drove the paint regularly, which led to her getting to the free-throw line nine times in her 35 minutes on the floor. This was the three-level scorer the Wings envisioned when they drafted Sabally second overall in 2020.
The strong play of Natasha Howard wasn’t a surprise. Acquired in an offseason trade, Howard finished with 20 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Dallas brought in the three-time All-Star to defend and fill up the basket. Her positioning and movement gave the visitors fits, as only one Dream frontcourt player scored in double figures.
But while Ogunbowale, Howard, and Sabally combined for 72 points, the other Wings contributed only 13. And Dallas got only five points from its bench. That might have been different if Teaira McCowan’s afternoon wasn’t cut short by a knee injury she suffered in the third quarter. She scored only four points but showed how valuable she can be on the boards, grabbing nine rebounds in just 16 minutes. Dallas was plus-20 when McCowan was on the floor and led by as many as 22 points in the second quarter.
McCowan’s injury depleted an already thin roster, as Dallas entered the opener with only 10 healthy bodies. Diamond DeShields, a prized trade acquisition, and rookie first-round draft pick Lou Lopez Senechal are expected to miss extended time with knee injuries of their own. It remains unclear if McCowan will miss any time—Dallas plays again on Friday night—but the Wings were already steeling themselves for when she leaves next month to play for Turkey in Eurobasket. She could miss anywhere from seven to 10 games, depending on how far the Turks advance. After the release of Charli Collier and Kalani Brown at the end of training camp, McCowan is the only true center on the roster. Rebounding will have to become a priority for other frontcourt players, notably Howard and Sabally (who grabbed seven boards on Saturday).
Then there’s the point-guard situation. Despite having three first-round picks, Dallas didn’t address the position in the draft, and the duo of Veronica Burton and Crystal Dangerfield combined for four points and four assists while missing all six of their shots from the field against the Dream. Dallas had 13 assists, while Atlanta notched 18, including a game-high seven from former Wing Allisha Gray, who was traded in the offseason for a couple of first-round draft choices.
Burton did play well defensively, nabbing three steals in 24 minutes. But when the point guards aren’t productive on the offensive end, it forces Ogunbowale into a role as a primary ball handler. As a result, the offense sometimes becomes one-dimensional. Against the Dream, Ogunbowale shot only 9-of-25 from the field, including 4-of-14 from beyond the arc.
In the end, however, the Wings got what they were looking for: a season-opening win and a victory for their new coach. Sure, there are things to fix, but no team ever complained about being 1-0.