September 23, 2020 

What’s next for the Dallas Wings: Who stays, who goes?

Decisions to make with a critical 2021 season looming

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 06: Katie Lou Samuelson #33, Bella Alarie #32 and Megan Gustafson #10 of the Dallas Wings celebrates during the game against the Washington Mystics on September 6, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

There are quite a few question marks surrounding the Dallas Wings heading into the offseason. IN the months ahead, Brian Agler and Greg Bibb need to navigate questions around the health of Moriah Jefferson, their three top 10 picks in the 2021 draft, the need for more veteran players, adding more defensive depth and determining which of their various young players are part of their long-term future.

Returners based on 2020 performance

When it comes down to who the Wings should bring back in 2021, some of those answers are quite clear compared to others.

Dallas likely plans to keep its rookies from this season in Satou Sabally, Tyasha Harris and Bella Alarie. Like Arike Ogunbowale, Sabally should be untouchable.

She was their No. 2 pick from 2020 and runner-up for Rookie of the Year, so she’s not going anywhere. Harris and Alarie, who played well as rookies, are good bets to return as well.

Expect Marina Mabrey to be staying in Dallas for multiple reasons. Her breakout year on the court, her potential defensively and her undeniable chemistry with her best friend and Wings superstar Ogunbowale all contribute to her likely return. Mabrey was a pest on the defensive end late in the year and even more trouble offensively since assuming the starting role.

Kayla Thornton, the unquestioned leader of the Wings defense, should remain for a simple reason: Dallas can’t expect to get better if they trade away or cut its best defender and one of their most prominent team leaders.

Allisha Gray, who had one of her best seasons, if not the best, in her WNBA career and should remain part of this team going forward. She didn’t just have an improved season offensively, but also on defense. She’s a player who prides herself on her defense and often when Thornton is not on the floor and depending on the matchup too, she is guarding the opposing teams best player.

Some players whose tenure could be at risk: Katie Lou Samuelson, Megan Gustafson and Astou Ndour. Samuelson provided some good minutes off the bench at times and even started a few games for Dallas, but she was a bit of a liability defensively.

As for Ndour, she went from a starter to begin the season to multiple DNPs throughout the season — and when she played, she was largely ineffective for Dallas on both ends of the floor and did not fit the current system.

As for Gustafson, she just didn’t see much playing time — the only time she saw worthwhile minutes was in the final game of the season when almost half the roster was unavailable. That doesn’t speak to her skills as a player, as much as whether she has the confidence of the Wings coaching staff.

The injury bug

Players like Isabelle Harrison and Jefferson were the two main players hit with the injury bug in 2020 for Dallas. Jefferson is the biggest injury to note. Her latest malady is not even the knee she had previously injured (her left) that caused her to miss the previous near two years. It’s extremely alarming if you’re the Wings. Though the encouraging part, is she is in good spirits.

What can Moriah Jefferson be going forward? Will she ever be anything close to what she once was as a player? Even before the injury occurred this season, she wasn’t playing with that confidence and aggressive play she usually brings to the table, though she said all year she was healthy. If you’re Dallas, you really can’t afford to take the chance. Especially with a pair of ‘ready now’ young point guards.

Harrison sustained an injury to her ankle, which was just a tweak early on in the season and something she was able to get 13 games this season on, but her season ended after further re-injuring her ankle on August 21. After her Comeback Player of the Year campaign 2019, she had her 2020 season derailed — though her injury, unlike Jefferson’s, is something that didn’t need surgery.

Keep or deal

The Wings have three top-10 picks in the WNBA draft once again, holding a to-be-determined lottery selection, along with picks five and seven. Unlike last year, they need to trade at least one, if not two of those picks in round one.

The window with the current coaching staff and front office is not a lengthy one, despite Dallas’ youth. The championship window is built around keeping Arike Ogunbowale happy and fully supported at both ends of the floor. The risk otherwise is another unhappy superstar leaving town.

Written by Drew Ivery

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