Can Bella Alarie Make an Impact from Day One?
The first four picks of the 2020 WNBA Draft went off with no surprises: Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, Lauren Cox, Chennedy Carter.
But all mock drafts diverged from that point on. This had to do, in part, with the Dallas Wings’ large share of first-round picks. Going into the draft, Dallas held selections 2, 5, 7 and 9, equaling a third of the player slots.
If there was a prospect they wanted enough, they had enough draft capital to reach at any point in the opening round.
Still, when Bella Alarie’s name was called at 5, many were surprised. She had fallen to the Washington Mystics at 12 in our TBW mock draft. So let’s figure out Alarie’s fit down in Dallas and where the disparity in their evaluation and ours may have been.
— Dallas Wings (@DallasWings) April 18, 2020
JOINING THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Basketball is in the blood for Isabella Augustine “Bella” Alarie. Her father, Mark, played five years in the NBA after a hugely successful collegiate career at Duke. Growing up, Bella was an athlete, excelling at any sport she attempted to play.
“She could catch anything you throw at her,” her father told the Washington Post. “She can hit a golf ball 250 yards with minimal instruction. It’s a little bit of a hand-eye coordination thing, but no, going pro was not really on anyone’s mind.”
Her game initially reads “guard,” a byproduct of a late growth spurt. At the start of high school, Bella stood 5’7″. Then, she sprouted up another nine inches and now stands 6’4″. Her skill set aligns more with stretch forwards like MVP Elena Delle Donne than with back-down post players.
Though Alarie can do damage in the paint, her athleticism makes her just as dangerous in the open court. She runs the floor well and is capable of pulling up from deep as a trailer on the break. She’ll need to adjust to the speed of the pro game, but Bella is a shooter, and shooters can always find success in the W.
“I didn’t really learn how to be a back-to-the-basket post until my sophomore year in college when my coach wanted to use my length around the basket more,” she said.
Mark Alarie always had the upper hand in their backyard match-ups, but Bella has overtaken him in recent years:
“Women’s college basketball is physical. In one year, I went from being able to push her off balance and be physical with her to really not being able to get away with that.
And she can run circles around me.”
HER COLLEGE GAME
By the time she finished her collegiate career, Bella ranked as the Princeton Tigers’ all-time leading scorer.
Her accumulated accolades impress: the top selection in school history, two-time AP All-American, three-time Ivy League Player of the Year.
As Alarie became more comfortable playing inside, her percentages rose and she cut down considerably on her outside shooting. As a freshman, she attempted 103 shots from deep. But she took just 170 in her next three seasons combined.
Alarie’s strongest statistical production came in 2018-2019. Over the course of 23 games, she shot 51.5 percent from the floor while notching career highs in points (22.8 ppg), rebounds (10.6 rpg), assists (3.4 apg), and blocks (2.8 bpg). According to Her Hoop Stats, she ranked eighth in scoring nationally and seventh in swatted shots.
Only 24 players boasted a higher usage rate than her 33.2 percent, and only Iowa’s Megan Gustafson converted more baskets.
Alarie also helped to create a winning culture during her time in Princeton. After losing 14 games her freshman year, the Tigers would drop just 17 over the following three. During the abbreviated 2019–2020 season, the team finished 26-1—their only defeat a two-point overtime loss to Iowa.
Her regression as a senior was minimal. Alarie still compiled 17.5 ppg on 47.4 percent shooting while pulling down defensive rebounds 23.3 percent of her time on the floor, which is a top-100 rate. (With the exception of her freshman year, Alarie always finished in the top hundred for defensive rebounding rate.)
Her impressive presence as a shot-blocker and defensive rebounder will afford her meaningful minutes in Dallas from day one.
As I mentioned in the Sabally article, just the Atlanta Dream fared worse than the Dallas Wings in scoring and shooting proficiency. Dallas returns its top four scorers: Arike Ogunbowale (19.1 ppg), Allisha Gray (10.6 ppg), Kayla Thornton (10.4 ppg) and Isabelle Harrison (8.6 ppg).
That quartet accounted for 48.7—68 percent—of the team’s 71.6 points.
Aside from them, only the previously mentioned Gustafson returns—after a whirlwind of a rookie season that saw her fight back into the rotation after being a training camp casualty. Three incoming rookies—Alarie, Sabally, and seventh pick Tyasha Harris—plus four sophomores comprise more than half of Dallas’ roster.
As Kurtis Zimmerman broke down in his article for The Next, no team projects to be younger than the Wings. [Note: With the New York Liberty’s 6/26/20 signing of rookie Joyner Holmes, Dallas now owns the second-youngest roster in the league.]
Dallas bested only the Seattle Storm in defensive rebounding (23.4 per game), though their second-best offensive rebounding (10.5 per game) lifted them to ninth overall. (Missing lots of shots means more opportunities for offensive boards; Atlanta’s poor shooting landed them third in the category.)
Alarie and Sabally will both help to improve the team’s ability to clean the glass in a meaningful way while also hopefully converting at a higher rate.
Alarie’s shot-blocking prowess will also pay dividends immediately. Her capability to play as a wing and defend multiple positions will find rotation minutes. Last season, the bottom seven teams among in blocks were all bunched together, averaging between 3.7 and 3.9 per game. Dallas (3.8) finished in a tie for ninth.
She’s also had an advantage in preparation these past few months. She’s been home in Bethesda, Maryland, with a backyard court, a Dr. Dish shooting machine and, of course, her father.
“Having my family and that space has been special,” she told ESPN’s Michelle Voepel. “I’m just really glad when I was three years old, my dad decided to put a court in the backyard.”
Soon she’ll head to the Bradenton, Florida bubble where she’ll finally meet her teammates in person. She’s ready to start her professional career and believes she brings a lot to the franchise.
“I can play around this young exciting team that plays basketball at a really fast pace, and I’m excited to defend, to play great team basketball.”
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.