The Wings are making headlines around the WNBA, and a big reason why has been the play of Natasha Howard. Acquired in an offseason trade, Howard is a decorated 10-year veteran who knows a thing or two about winning. But she has meant much more than that to a franchise that is looking to take the next step.
“She’s just what the Wings needed,” first-year coach Latricia Trammell says. “The players respect her. They respect her voice. She takes the excuses away because she gives 100 percent every time she steps on the floor. She has that championship mentality, and she’s a great example for our younger team.”
Since bringing her talents to Dallas, Flash, as she is known around the league, has helped propel the Wings to the upper echelon of the WNBA with her prowess on both ends of the floor, her patience and most importantly her veteran leadership.
The results are showing. The Wings are riding a three-game winning streak and are fourth in the league standings, at 18-15. They have been among the biggest surprises in the league as they close in on clinching a playoff spot.
And they have been fun to watch. They lead the league in points, assists, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage, and are second in rebounding. They share a strong bond and chemistry, which can be seen in their crisp ball movement and the smiles and laughter that emanate from the players on and off the floor. And now they’re learning how to finish games, an aspect that plagued the team last year and early this season.
The steadying force has been Howard, who when it comes to the WNBA, has been there, done that.
WNBA champion? Check. Three times, in fact: with the Minnesota Lynx (2017) and Seattle Storm (2018, ’20).
Defensive Player of the Year? Check. 2019.
All-Star? Check. Twice. 2019. 2022.
Just as significantly, the 31-year-old Howard, the fifth pick in the 2014 draft, has embraced the role of being a mentor to her younger teammates.
“Using my voice, giving advice,” Howard says of how she leads. “I think I’ve been doing a really good job showing veteran leadership. I bring everything to the team, to be honest: offensive-wise, defensive-wise, using my voice and that championship mindset and mentality.”
Crystal Dangerfield, who came from the Liberty to the Wings along with Howard in a three-team trade, agrees.
“Tash is very versatile on the defensive end, but more than anything she does it all,” says Dangerfield. “You may not see her being too flashy, which is funny with her nickname, but she gets the job done.”
More than anything, the 6-foot-2 Howard brought to the Wings a defensive and physical intensity that had been missing. She also brings needed playoff experience to a team that has won only one playoff game in its history. In nine WNBA seasons, Howard has played in 48 postseason games.
Offensively, Howard does her best work in the paint. She is the team’s third-leading scorer at 16.8 points per game and the second leading rebounder, at 8.2 rebounds per game.
And as part of the Wings’ “Big 3,” which includes Arikie Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally, Howard helped make history this season.
In a 98-84 win over the Los Angeles Sparks, the big three combined for 79 points. They became the second trio of teammates in WNBA history to score at least 25 points in the same game. Howard led the way with 28, followed by Sabally (26) and Ogunbowale (25).
Also that night, Howard and Sabally each recorded a double-double, grabbing 11 boards each. The duo became the first pair of teammates in WNBA history to have at least 25 points and 11 rebounds in the same game.
Howard also recorded her first career triple-double this month when she finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a loss to the Chicago Sky. In early July, she was named the Western Conference Player of the Week.
What’s behind her continued success a decade into her career? For starters, she loves her new environment.
“It feels good being a part of Dallas,” she says “I feel the Wings organization has shown me really genuine love since I got here, the recognition that I deserve and been working hard for. So I really appreciate them. I feel comfortable. I’m not in a box, I’m just playing freely. Coach and my teammates know what I can do. I’m just in a better space and I’m happy.”
Last week, while the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty played in the Commissioner’s Cup, the Wings had three days off. Howard spent the mini-break “chilling” with her fiance, relaxing, and clearing her mind from basketball
“As a basketball player you always want your mental fine and stress-free,” she says. “This was a good opportunity with those three days off. We have been going nonstop.I feel recharged, and now we are ready to rock and roll with these 10 games we have left.”
Since she made those comments, the Wings won both games out of the break before dropping a close game to Minnesota on Tuesday. They don’t look like they’ll slow down anytime soon. And Howard is feeling right at home.
“I would love to finish my career here,” she says (she’s signed through the 2024 season). “Hands down, I would love to.”
First, however, there’s a regular season to complete, and the opportunity to make a deep playoff run. Rest assured that the seasoned Howard will be leading the charge. “She has been the calm in the storm,” Trammell says. And it’s a big reason why the Wings look ready to handle choppy waters.