When Marina Mabrey pulled up from the logo with 11 seconds left on the shot clock in a tied game with just over three minutes to play in overtime against the reigning champion Seattle Storm to sink her sixth three-pointer of the night, we knew this year would be different for her. Now, more than three weeks into the 2021 WNBA season, Mabrey’s scoring at an All-Star level as the perfect complement to scoring champion Arike Ogunbowale in the backcourt.
Marina Mabrey from the logo‼️
That's her 6th made three for the night.
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) May 23, 2021
It’s hard to overstate how impressive Mabrey’s been. In her third year, she’s averaging a career-best 21.2 points per game on 52.8 percent shooting, including hitting 19-of-37 three-point attempts. The 5’11 guard is also grabbing 6.2 rebounds per night with 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and 3.2 turnovers, as she is giving a complete performance on a nightly basis.
Even the fancy stats appreciate what Mabrey’s accomplished so far. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton’s WARP (wins above replacement player) ranks Mabrey second at .269/game. That number means she’s more than twice as impactful to winning games than the average WNBA player, and she only ranks behind MVP frontrunner Jonquel Jones.
It’s early, but Mabrey’s leading the Most Improved Player of the Year conversation.
How has Mabrey improved her game so much?
Mabrey’s been known as a sharpshooter since her days at Notre Dame, but as a rookie, she struggled with the Los Angeles Sparks creating looks for herself. Shooting off-the-dribble didn’t come as naturally for her at the next level (she made just 7-of-33 attempts, per Synergy Sports), and she only ever attempted five shots in isolation. Fast-forward two seasons and she’s added tools to her bag that allow her to take defenders head-on, and her improved mobility shooting is taking her game to another dimension.
The Wings have only played five games, but Mabrey’s made 13-of-28 shots off-the-dribble this season, according to Synergy Sports, and she’s made 3-of-5 attempts in single-covered isolation situations. Rather than waiting for opportunities to come to her, Mabrey’s become a creator, working to find mismatches and advantages to get her own shot off.
Mabrey showed tremendous progress last season expanding her offensive game, but now she looks more comfortable using those skills. So much so that she’s taking 7.4 three-point shots per game, which is more than half the amount the entire Las Vegas Aces team tries on any given night. Only teammate Ogunbowale is attempting more per game.
Mabrey sure doesn’t look anything like the player who the Sparks dealt for a second-round pick before the 2020 season, and the Wings are reaping the benefits.
Where can Mabrey’s game go from here?
It’s unfair to expect Mabrey to continue shooting 53/51/92 splits for an entire season, but even as her efficiency numbers regress, she can maintain her status as an integral piece of Dallas’s offense. Teams will change their scouting reports on her and apply more pressure to the perimeter, and even if Mabrey plays nothing more than a decoy for spurts, the court could open for Ogunbowale, Satou Sabally, and whoever else emerges from the Wings’ young core.
Her passing ability will be important, too as she continues to serve more as an on-ball creator. Can she find cutters when the defense rotates to stop her from shooting? Will she utilize the screener in more pick-and-roll situations?
Having a second elite scorer, who is also a capable facilitator, in the backcourt could open everything up on the offensive end for Dallas.
What does Mabrey’s breakout mean for the Dallas Wings?
Wings fans have a lot to look forward to with four top-13 picks from this year’s draft on the roster including the top two overall choices in center Charli Collier and forward Awak Kuier. They also have three first-round picks from last season. The team is just 1-4 to start this year, but 2020 No. 2 pick Satou Sabally hasn’t played a game yet due to overseas obligations, and starter Allisha Gray has only played in one game after competing for Team USA in the 3×3 competition to qualify for the 2021 Olympics. Still, the Wings have the second-best offense in the league, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions.
New head coach Vickie Johnson has a lot of talent to work with, and once everyone returns, it’s reasonable to think Dallas can compete for a playoff spot. All four of the team’s losses have come by seven or less points including a three-point loss to the Storm, and that’s with Ogunbowale shooting below expectations. When she inevitably finds her shot again, Dallas will be a tough out.
And Mabrey will let any opponent hear about.