South Carolina players could provide much-needed help for Wings

South Carolina center Alaina Coates appears a good WNBA draft choice for Dallas. At 6-foot-4, she has rebounding ability and shot 67 percent this season from the floor. Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

The Women's Final Four ended in Dallas last Sunday. Now might one (or more) of the players from national champion South Carolina wind up in Dallas starting her professional career?

It seems to be a good possibility. The WNBA draft is Thursday, and the San Antonio Stars and Chicago Sky have the first two selections. The Dallas Wings have three first-round picks: No. 3, 4 and 10. Washington guard Kelsey Plum is projected at No. 1, but there are several plausible scenarios after that.

Three Gamecocks could go in the first round. South Carolina senior center Alaina Coates was injured and didn't play in the NCAA tournament. Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis, redshirt juniors who opted to declare for the draft, helped the Gamecocks win the title.

"It's fair to say we're definitely evaluating all of them," Wings coach Fred Williams said of the South Carolina prospects. "Everybody knows we need a stretch 5 player who can be mobile, rebound and run the floor. That is something we're going to look for strongly."

That's why Coates appears a good choice for Dallas. At 6-foot-4, with a big body and rebounding ability, she shot 67 percent this season from the floor, and 62 percent for her college career. It's unknown when Coates, who averaged 12.9 points and 10.7 rebounds in 28 games as a senior, will be ready to play. But that likely won't affect her draft status that much.

As for the 6-foot Gray and 6-foot-2 Davis, both are versatile guards with good size, but Gray was the more consistent threat. Winning the NCAA title made their decisions to forego their final year of eligibility easier, as does the fact that next year's draft appears so strong.

There was a chance that other draft-eligible juniors might have declared this year and really boosted the 2017 draft. As it is, Dallas still should get help. Or to be more blunt, the Wings better hope that's the case.

"We're looking at players who are really pro-ready to come in and really help us right away," Williams said.

The organization is, perhaps, due some good fortune. The former Detroit Shock won three WNBA titles, but then relocated to Tulsa and made the playoffs just once in six seasons (2015). Then the Shock moved to Dallas and changed nicknames.

In their first season in Texas last summer, the Wings went 11-23 and at one point lost 11 in row, a skid that started before the Olympic break and continued after it. Only San Antonio at 7-27 had a worse record.

The Wings got the No. 3 pick in the draft lottery. In February, Dallas traded its leading scorer, guard Odyssey Sims, and the No. 11 pick to reigning WNBA champion Los Angeles in exchange for the Nos. 4 and 23 picks. It's a gamble to give up Sims for the uncertainty of what Dallas may get at No. 4, but Wings general manager Greg Bibb said there was a need to "change the dynamic with our roster."

However, the draft has been a mixed bag for the franchise in the past several years. Tulsa took Australian center Liz Cambage at No. 2 in 2011; she has played in just 53 WNBA games and none since 2013. The organization still holds her WNBA rights, and Williams said he believes someday she will play in the league again. But nobody is holding their breath.

Tulsa's No. 2 pick in 2015, center Amanda Zahui B., played one season there and was traded last May to New York for what became the Wings' upcoming No. 10 pick. And now another No. 2 selection, Sims, is gone from the organization.

Last year, the Wings' first-round choice was Michigan State forward Aerial Powers at No. 5, and she had a good rookie season (10.4 points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game). Powers underwent hip surgery in November, though, and is still getting back to full strength and mobility.

The organization's top picks in 2013 (guard Skylar Diggins at No. 3) and 2012 (forward Glory Johnson at No. 4) both have performed well, but have missed time. Johnson was out all of 2015 after having twins, while Diggins played just nine games that season because of a knee injury.

Diggins appeared in 27 games last season, while Johnson played in 18. Williams is hopeful both of them will be back at or close to 100 percent this season.

To make a run at the 2017 playoffs, Dallas must improve defensively. Last season, the Wings were last in the league in defensive rating (108.4). If the Wings get Coates, she should be able to strengthen their interior defense.

If Dallas goes for a guard with its other high pick, Gray could be in the mix, along with the likes of Syracuse's Alexis Peterson and Baylor's Alexis Jones, who is from greater Dallas and played at the same high school (MacArthur in Irving) as Sims.

Ultimately, the Wings are looking to better establish exactly what type of team they are this season, and the draftees will need to contribute to that.

"I think the identity we want is being relentless," Williams said. "The defensive side of things is going to have to kick in this year. There's good chemistry with the players we have right now, and I think that will continue to help us grow."