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Restricted Free Agent Offseason Opportunities: Marina Mabrey
Discussing possible offseason scenarios for Marina Mabrey
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In the previous installment of Restricted Free Agent Offseason Opportunities, I discussed potential scenarios for Gabby Williams. This time, I will look into possibilities for Dallas’ Marina Mabrey.
Unlike Williams, Mabrey is coming off the fourth year of her rookie scale contract. To be eligible for a restricted qualifying offer: a player must be coming off the fourth year of their rookie scale contract or have exactly four years of service after their deal expires.
The 19th overall pick in 2019, Mabrey started her career as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks. After one season, she was traded to Dallas for a 2021 second-round draft pick. Since arriving in Dallas, Mabrey has continued to improve, seeing an uptick in minutes and points in every season she has played. It would be logical to think that Dallas should make a major push to bring her back, but they have an upcoming dilemma. This offseason, the Wings are slated to have two restricted free agents in Mabrey and Teaira McCowan and an unrestricted free agent in Isabelle Harrison. The Wings are projected to have $363,696 in cap space to sign at least one player, but they have enough roster space to sign two - $363,696 divided by two players comes out to an average of $181,848. If Dallas is looking to bring back only two members, $181,848 should be enough. However, it depends on which player the Wings want to bring back, what offer they would like, and what offers they receive.
In the Williams article, I mentioned that a team might be willing to extend a hefty offer sheet to Williams, putting Seattle in a tough spot. It’s plausible to consider this possibility for Mabrey and McCowan. In this situation, the Wings may prefer to retain McCowan over Mabrey. On March 8, 2022, Dallas traded away the fourth and sixth pick in 2022 along with a first-round pick in 2023. In return, they received McCowan, the seventh pick in 2022 (which would be Veronica Burton), and Chicago’s 2023 first-round pick. Some may look at this and argue that it wouldn’t make sense for Dallas to let McCowan walk after trading away valuable assets. Thus, if McCowan received an offer sheet at more than $181,848, the Wings might be quick to match it. Then, they would have to see what the market is for Mabrey. There is also the issue of whether Dallas can bring back Harrison. She has played for the Wings since 2019 but hinted at her displeasure with the coaching this past season. Though since Vickie Johnson is no longer in Dallas, the Wings may have a better chance to bring Harrison back.
If Mabrey and McCowan receive offer sheets that Dallas can match, then the Wings can bring back two core members of their 2022 campaign. Dallas has the ultimate power in determining whether Mabrey will be back. But, here are some teams that I believe should extend an offer sheet to her:
Mabrey has experience playing in Indiana, albeit in college. She was a part of the 2018 Notre Dame squad that won the program’s second-ever national championship.
In contrast, the Indiana Fever had an abysmal 2022 season. Their five wins and 13.9% winning percentage were the lowest in franchise history. Indiana tried to implement its 2022 draft picks alongside veterans Kelsey Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, Danielle Robinson and Tiffany Mitchell. But the Fever lacked the firepower to compete, finishing last in points scored and points allowed.
I previously spoke about the direction of the Fever and how the franchise wanted to put a focus on young talent. Mabrey would actually make some sense here. She will be entering her fifth season in 2023 and will be 26 for most of it. From a positional standpoint, the Fever can look to experiment with having another shooter in the lineup, preferably at the small forward spot. Vivians, who started at small forward in 2022, was second on the team in 3-pointers attempted with 157 but converted on just 28% of them. Mabrey attempted 174 and made 35% of those shots. Her 61 makes ranked 13th in the W for 2022. Perhaps Indiana would look to replace Vivians with Mabrey. With Mitchell, NaLyssa Smith, and Mabrey in the starting lineup, Indiana would have three players that shot 35% or better on 3-pointers.
For this proposed lineup experiment, some may bring up the fact that Vivians started at the small forward position whereas Mabrey was at shooting guard. But, both players are listed by the W as guards. Also thanks to the Las Vegas Aces, WNBA fans have recently seen how a lineup that can effectively space the floor can pay dividends. Spacing could be most beneficial for their power forward Smith and Queen Egbo, the Fever’s 10th overall pick in 2022 and starting center. Although Smith has shown an ability to stretch the floor, 57% of her points came from within the arc this season. However, she only shot 43.2% on 2-pointers, which ranked 86th. 2-pointers made up roughly 80% of Egbo’s points, but she only shot 44.2% on twos. Having Mabrey and Mitchell on the perimeter could create enough spacing to give Smith and Egbo better looks and possibly boost their production.
Where Mabrey’s restricted free agency comes into play is the fact that Indiana has money to spend. The Fever are projected to have $527,552 in cap space (starting at $402,982 with cap holds to sign at least three players). With a team like Indiana, recruiting free agents may be tough due to its location. There might not be as much going on in Indianapolis compared to New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas. Sometimes that leaves a great deal of cap space on the table. I am a proponent of spending the cap space if you have it, instead of letting it go unused. In this case, Indiana could look to put Dallas in a bind, by offering more than the previously mentioned $181,848. If Indiana extended Mabrey an offer sheet at her applicable maximum ($202,154), and the deal was matched, that leaves $263,113 in cap space for a minimum of two players (factoring in the cap hold removed for signing Mabrey).
Indiana would have immense flexibility here. Not only would Indiana have the cap space to offer another max slot, but the team also has two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and a third-round pick in 2023. In fact, one of Indiana’s first-round picks could become the first overall pick for 2023. Thus, the Fever could directly sign another player to support the youthful picks, use the remaining cap space on their draft picks, package their draft picks in a trade, or (in the event their lottery pick is first) bring in a complementary player and sign their first overall pick. Thus, if the Fever are able to acquire Mabrey, they could add another building block for the long haul.
Like Indiana, the Mercury also had a tumultuous 2022. Between Brittney Griner’s wrongful detainment, the departure of Tina Charles, a myriad of injuries, and the revelations involving owner Robert Sarver’s actions (and his decision later to look for bidders for the Mercury), Phoenix has been through the wringer.
The Mercury may not have a great amount of draft capital for 2023, but they do have cap space to spend. Phoenix is projected to have $881,650 in cap space (starting at $445,655 with cap holds to sign at least eight players).
In this scenario, I am assuming that Griner will not be available in 2023. I hope that she will be released and in the United States by then, but even if so, it will be important for her to take as much time as necessary to recover and heal from a harrowing and unjust ordeal.
The Mercury are projected to have three unrestricted free agents (Reshanda Gray, Kia Nurse, and Diana Taurasi), three restricted free agents (Sophie Cunningham, Megan Gustafson, Shey Peddy), and a reserved free agent in Sam Thomas. The Mercury would most likely look to prioritize bringing back Peddy and Cunningham. Taurasi should be a priority as well; however, at this juncture it is unclear what the future may hold for her. Peddy was able to register career highs across the board for Phoenix this year. Knowing what she can do, the Mercury should look to retain her. At the bare minimum, they can extend the restricted qualifying offer. Cunningham also registered career highs across the board, and Phoenix would look to retain her as a long-term piece, given her age (Cunningham will be 26 for most of next year, whereas Peddy will be 34).
This season, the Mercury elected for small-ball rotations, with their most popular lineup (based on minutes played) being:
Taurasi - Peddy - Diggins-Smith - Cunningham - Turner
That particular lineup was used in 16 games, averaged 16.1 minutes, 35.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4.4 threes made, 12.6 threes attempted, and a +/- of 3.3 (their highest +/- for any lineup that played in more than five games). If you look at the schematics of that lineup, it has four guards and one big. Mabrey could be a comparable fit for Taurasi’s spot, especially if Taurasi were to retire or take on a reduced role due to age. Here are Mabrey and Taurasi’s per game numbers for this past season:
Immediately one thing that is evident is the difference between Mabrey and Taurasi in 3 pointers made and attempted. But, Mabrey’s teammates Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray averaged 7.9 and 4.8 attempted threes this season. This means that Mabrey wasn’t the primary taker of three point shots, and her teammates also had a high volume of attempts. One goal in Phoenix would be for Mabrey to attempt more 3-pointers in the small-ball system. This could help boost Mabrey’s 3-point attempts to a level closer to Taurasi’s 2022 output.
The end goal would be for Phoenix to experiment with rotations featuring: Diggins-Smith, DeShields, Mabrey, Cunningham, Peddy, and Turner, with Taurasi (if available) in a complementary role. The Mercury could look to spend the cap space needed to acquire/retain Mabrey, Cunningham and Peddy. Then, they could try to negotiate with Taurasi in taking a team-friendly deal if she wants to come back. There’s also the Notre Dame reunion to consider with Mabrey and Turner. But, with the inclusion of Mabrey, the Mercury have another offensive threat.
The Mystics make another appearance in this installment of Restricted Free Agent Offseason Opportunities. In the Gabby Williams article, I discussed the defensive potential for Washington if they acquired her. With Mabrey, the Mystics could look to add a player capable of hitting perimeter shots to support Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin. The Mystics are projected to have $572,466 in cap space (starting at $261,041 with cap holds to sign at least six players) and have the opportunity to swap their 2023 first-round pick with the pick currently held by Atlanta.
Keeping with the previous discussion regarding Alysha Clark, Washington could look to replace her starting spot with Mabrey. Mabrey’s 13.6 points per game was roughly six more points than Clark averaged, and it would have made her the Mystics’ third-best scorer behind Delle Donne and Atkins. When it came to setting up teammates in positions to score, Mabrey averaged 3.7 assists per game, which was almost two more than Clark. If she averaged that in Washington, Mabrey would have been second on the team behind Cloud. In acquiring Mabrey, the Mystics would get a player who could score and make plays for others. Additionally, she could make a good core piece for the long term. Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen turn 27 next year, Mabrey will be 26 for most of next year, and Austin will turn 23. Plus, with a sure-fire lottery pick possibly on the way, Washington could get even younger. This would be important as Clark will turn 36 next year, and Delle Donne will be 34 at the end of her current deal.
Now, one argument against acquiring Mabrey revolves around defense. Clark and Mabrey totaled the same amount of steals this season, but Mabrey played more games and minutes. But, can Clark maintain her defensive output at her age? When it comes to Washington’s defense, Atkins and Cloud were members of the 2022 All-Defensive Team, and Austin was top five in defensive win shares and defensive rating. So, if the Mystics were able to acquire Mabrey, she would have a slew of talented defenders around her to support her defensive shortcomings. Plus, the goal isn’t to acquire Mabrey for her defense.
Not having someone who could consistently produce offensively outside of Delle Donne, Cloud, and Atkins was an issue for Washington in the playoffs. In the two games the Mystics played in the opening round, the rest of the roster made up about 37% of the scoring. Mabrey could be the key to alleviating that issue. With her, Washington can also boast a starting lineup in which their shooting guard, small forward, and power forward shot over the league 3-point average, 34.6%.
Indiana, Phoenix, and Washington are teams that I believe should extend an offer sheet to Marina Mabrey. Not only do they have the cap space for it, but if they are able to acquire her, the teams can improve upon their offensive firepower. But, these scenarios are incumbent upon teams looking to extend an offer sheet that Dallas is not willing to match. Whereas in Williams’ case, Seattle had the cap space to match all offers (even ones unfavorable to the team), the Wings may not have that. Earlier, I brought up the scenario of McCowan receiving a big offer sheet. But, what if Mabrey receives it instead? Then the Wings face an issue of whether to match the offer and risk not having enough money to match a McCowan offer sheet, or go all-in on McCowan. Time will tell what Dallas’ fate is. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what awaits Mabrey in 2023.