Efficiency and a bet on the top pick for Dallas Wings — Geno Auriemma talks UConn — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Jan. 25, 2023

Happy Basketball Wednesday. During the entirety of the Dallas portion of Wings history — the post-Tulsa, post-Detroit years — one thing that’s been difficult for outsiders to navigate is precisely what the timeline looks like to contend.

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There are good reasons for this, both self-inflicted and beyond the power of Greg Bibb to navigate — frequent coaching changes, trade requests from franchise cornerstones being the two biggest — but the result has been moves that often make sense in a vacuum, but are difficult to parse within the larger picture of franchise building.

Accordingly, two vital components from Bibb’s vision came into focus over the course of a long, interesting conversation Bibb and head coach Latricia Trammell held with the media on Monday.

The first is a fairly simple one: with the acquisitions of Crystal Dangerfield and Natasha Howard, along with the trades of Kayla Thornton and Ty Harris in that deal and Allisha Gray later in the week for the number three pick in the 2023 draft and a first rounder in 2025, the Wings have two players on guaranteed deals for 2024: Howard and Arike Ogunbowale.

Accordingly, the plan is pretty obviously to win now with that pair. But dealing Gray for future capital flies in the face of this, right? Not so, Bibb said. He thinks there’s an impact player at the third overall pick who can help Dallas immediately.

“We wouldn’t have made the deal we made if we didn’t believe we could get an impact player with that pick,” Bibb said. “…we would not have made the deal to get number three if we didn’t think we could get a player who could help us immediately. I think this is a pretty good draft, particularly top half of the first round. And I’m confident that that player will make an impact for us immediately.”

So that’s a benchmark we can use to evaluate this Dallas offseason. It’s fascinating, also, to consider who that player could be. A WNBA talent evaluator told me Dallas has been focused on Jordan Horston, Rickea Jackson and Charisma Osborne, and the problem with the latter two is fairly obvious — Jackson overlaps with much of what Howard and Teaira McCowan bring to the table, while Osborne is in many ways a player with an Arike ceiling. Horston makes a lot of sense positionally — think younger, cheaper Kayla Thornton — but is she capable of being, say, the third-most important player on a contender immediately?

Note also that Haley Jones is not in that mix. There’s a lot of concern around the league about her development at this point.

The biggest concern I have with Horston at the next level is her three-pointer, which still hasn’t made the leap to even average at the collegiate level, with Horston hitting less than 30 percent from deep once again. And that returns us to the other issue: efficiency.

McCowan is going to miss a lot of time with overseas commitments a year after hitting 60 percent of her shots in Dallas. Both Howard and Ogunbowale are talented offensive players, but not efficient ones. Dallas’ next two best players in eFG%? Thornton and Gray, now playing elsewhere. Then comes Marina Mabrey, a restricted free agent with at least four suitors, multiple league sources tell me.

The Wings were fourth in offensive rating last year. Have they given up some of that advantage in their early moves, and how do they find the shooting around Howard and Ogunbowale to bring it back?

“I think it certainly factors in,” Bibb said. “I would tell you though, that we do have high efficiency players on our roster. I think Teaira in particular provides a little bit of that. I think scheme and style play factors greatly into or influences greatly on the efficiency of players.

“So efficiency is something I look at a lot. It’s definitely something that we’re giving back a little bit of in terms of the players that are moving on, like Allisha, one of the better efficiency players in the league, something we’re going to have to look at address. But I’m not really concerned about the efficiency that we have. Because I also think there are players that maybe haven’t gotten as much time or opportunity as they will moving forward.”

He specifically cited Awak Kuier, who to be fair is only 21 and played limited minutes her first two seasons in the league (maybe that shouldn’t have been the case for a second overall pick! But I digress). It also must be noted: to date, her career field goal percentage in the WNBA is 36.8 percent.

So as Trammell incorporates this roster into her system and plans — and let’s be clear, she is an elite basketball mind who is going to maximize this roster — it all comes back to the build. And it’s no secret where Greg Bibb is placing his bets. The third overall pick needs to pay off immediately. And the replacements for Gray and Thornton, perhaps even Mabrey, need to score the basketball without requiring volume to do so.

The plan is clear. The results will tell us if it was a good one.

This week in women’s basketball

Get to know future Gamecock Milaysia Fulwiley, via the great Emily Adams.

Of course Mike Jensen wrote about it when the top two scorers in the nation play in Philly.

This is an easy win, Delta State. Take the win.

One-On-One with Debbie Antonelli featuring Indiana State head coach Chad Killinger.

David Tannenwald profiles Harvard coach Carrie Moore.

Don’t miss this short film on Kennedy Brown.

Brian Hamilton goes in-depth on Ohio State.

Haley Jones, podcaster.

Emily Caron talks to Cathy Engelbert about charter flights.

Annie Costabile chats with Val Ackerman.

Mitchell Northam checks in on midyear NCAA storylines.

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Five at The IX: Geno Auriemma

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By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.