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Found 12 results

  1. Extreme Makeover: WNBA Edition! The twists and turns of WNBA life are unyielding, even as the league enters its 24th season of existence, and as the Dream lurches into its 13th season in The ATL… oh, wait… in Bradenton, Florida? No, this team hasn’t been poached out of town, not just yet. After toiling for a couple years in Midtown Atlanta, the Dream were granted just a year back in downtown’s renovated State Farm Arena, only to find out via Hawks management that they’ve overstayed their welcome. The intention was to get the Dream to sell seats down at the Hawks’ new G-League home, the tinier venue in College Park. But the players and staff headed down to South Fulton only to grab tickets at Hartsfield-Jackson for a hopefully round trip to the west coast of Florida. They’re joined there by the eleven other WNBA clubs, as part of their league’s hastened efforts to seek secure shelter, now commonly called the “Wubble” for obvious reasons, from the ravages of The Rona, at Bradenton’s sprawling IMG Academy sports campus. First, before players tip off the reconstructed season that begins on July 25, let’s run down the list of Atlanta’s players down on the Gulf Coast that will actually be returning from last season. Because that list is way smaller. 2017 WNBA All-Star Elizabeth Williams. Third-year pro forward Monique Billings. That’s it. That’s the whole list. The face of this franchise, who missed all but a token moment of the 2019 season to rehab from her 2018 injury, Angel McCoughtry has moved on in free agency. She’ll be suiting up for the Las Vegas Aces, who need her return to all-league form as swiftly as possible to assure themselves of a worthy championship run. Without an untimely injured McCoughtry, then-new head coach Nicki Collen’s Dream made a daring late run into the 2018 Playoffs, missing the Finals by a hair. Sadly, the instability from Angel’s extended absence took its toll on a club that finished with a basement-dwelling 8-26 record last summer. Last year’s leading scorer, Tiffany Hayes, and the team’s leading dime-dropper and saving grace in the three-point-shooting department, Renee Montgomery, are both veterans that elected to opt out of playing in the Wubble this season. Last year’s leading rebounder? That was Jessica Breland. She and Nia Coffey were sent packing to Phoenix in February, as part of a deal that we’ll mention later. Similarly, Dream President and GM Chris Sienko dealt Atlanta’s second-leading scorer, Brittney Sykes, and Marie Gulich to Los Angeles. No Alex Bentley, the inefficient guard who the team permitted to walk in free agency. No Maite Cazorla, who wisely estimated that, amid a raging pandemic, she’d be safer back home in Spain. That’s at least nine spots the Dream have had to fill, and that’s not even counting Star, the Dream’s inaugural mascot that was ushered to the Mothball Retirement Home, coincidental to a logo and uniform makeover. What did Sienko and company do with all that roster space? There are some intriguing additions. Courtney Williams was the breakout star of the 2019 Playoffs, the guard averaging about 18 PPG and shooting over 40 percent on threes for the Connecticut Sun while leading all WNBA guards with 5.8 RPG despite weighing in at 135 pounds. Her assertive play and infectious fan-dad on the sidelines were frequent draws on SportsCenter highlight reels. The Sun, who charged to the #2 seed and swept the L.A. Sparks to reach The Finals, desperately wanted her back for a shot to return to the title series. But the free agent, a South Georgian from Charlton County, found the opportunity to play closer to home too good to pass up. In February, Sienko swung a three-team deal with the Sun and the Mercury, with Breland and Coffey headed to Phoenix. C-Will likely won’t have her father in tow for this season’s games, but the former University of South Florida star may be the one competitor in Bradenton that’s even closer to home than she would be in Atlanta. Six summers ago, Angel was instrumental in arranging a surprise engagement party, at a nightclub here in The ATL, in which Glory Johnson fatefully said yes to Brittney Griner. McCoughtry is no longer around town, but GloJo, now with twins in tow, returned to Atlanta during this past offseason, acquiescing to a courtship of a different feather from the Dream. Glory is well removed from her fine years as a Tennessee Vol star and a two-time WNBA All-Star, the last trip coming in 2014. Injuries during her last two seasons with the Dallas Wings has sapped her scoring efficiency, with shooting splits of 41.7/31.5/78.0 and 36.4/34.0/58.3 (FG/3FG/FT) in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But the 6-foot-3 forward strives to hone her skillset as an ever-evolving stretch-four. Glory remains a solid rebounder and a poacher on the defensive end (4.2 Defensive RPG and 1.4 SPG in 24.1 minutes/game). Relying less on having to make plays with the ball in her hands, she limited her turnovers to 1.0 per contest last season. 2018’s strong close worked against 2019’s lead-balloon edition of the Dream, as the reformulated draft lottery takes each non-playoff team’s past two seasons into account. The fourth-place lottery position yielded unfortunate results, as Atlanta was unable to quench their longstanding thirst for a sure-shot star point guard (Orgeon’s Sabrina Ionescu, bound to play for the New York Liberty). But the next best guard available in 2019’s Draft, and perhaps the one with the most sizable upside, did fall to the Dream, in the form of Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter. The absence of Hayes and Montgomery will offer more ball-handling opportunities for the 5-foot-7 rookie than Collen likely planned, prior to the wraths of the ongoing pandemic. That’s great news for Chennedy (pronounced, “Kennedy”), who was a certified bucket at the collegiate level. 2018’s unanimous National Freshman of the Year award-winner averaged comfortably above 20 PPG during three seasons with the Aggies. Thanks to COVID-19, Carter wasn’t granted a chance to build on her sterling 31.0 PPG in NCAA tournament play, behind only Elena Delle Donne and Sheryl Swoopes (five WNBA MVP awards between that duo) as collegians for the highest March Madness scoring average. Her shooting efficiency, especially from the perimeter, waned in recent seasons as opponents zeroed in on her, but she remains a crafty interior finisher and, as Coach Nicki asserts, an “underrated passer.” How effectively she creates for her teammates, defends, and passes will guide how closely she tracks Ionescu in the race for Rookie of the Year. “I get y’all tryna be cute with some inches, but (tie) that cheap $&*^ up!” The fur won’t be flying with Liz Cambage this season, as the titanic Aces center elected to sit this season out. But Kalani Brown, with her hair flowing, made waves in spurts for the Sparks last season, most notably when she found herself in an entanglement with Liz last June and held her own (12 points off the bench, a season-high she’d tie a couple weeks later in Atlanta). Despite losing a few locks in the process, she was imposing enough to help her team win the game. The inches that matter for Kalani's sophomore campaign won’t involve follicle measurements. Clocking in last season at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, Brown appears to have added significant girth during the downtime. Acquired by Atlanta in exchange for Sykes and Gulich, much will be expected of the space-eating Brown to help Atlanta (last-place in D-Reb% in 2019) secure boards across the floor. Whether the 2019 NCAA championship pivot from Baylor (and daughter of longtime NBA veteran P.J. Brown) will have the mobility to contribute fully at both ends remains to be seen. But if she can finish around the rim and keep up her solid free throw shooting from her rookie season, Kalani can limit her liabilities as a sixth-woman backup to the much leaner (yet hopefully meaner) Elizabeth Williams. If conditioning becomes an issue for Brown, another Texas collegiate star, rookie Brittany Brewer of Texas Tech, offers rim-challenging support as a reserve, and recent pickup Erica McCall can crash the glass efficiently, if not much more. With neither Hayes nor Montgomery making the trip, there are no 80’s babies on the roster; Johnson, who turns 30 next week, exceeds her former fellow Lady Vol, swing player Shekinna Stricklen in seniority by just three calendar days. Ranked fourth among active (2020 season) WNBA veterans for three-point swishes, Stricklen won the 2019 Three-Point Shooting Contest, and looks to be the one Dream player that can be counted on to sink money balls by the rack. Sizable for a shooter at 6-foot-2, Strick (38+ percent on threes in past three regular seasons) would have offered a wondrous opportunity for Collen to spread the floor alongside Montgomery to the benefit of an array of driving 2-guards, and would certainly have helped turn around Atlanta’s historically woeful shooting efficiency as a franchise (league-low 41.7 eFG% and 46.2 TS%; only WNBA squad hitting below 30.0 3FG% in 2019). Even so, the full-time starter at the wing for Connecticut last season can serve as the fulcrum, chemistry-wise, for Johnson and Courtney Williams, and a trusty release valve whenever Carter gets bottled up. A backup to Montgomery as a rookie during the Minnesota Lynx’s last championship run in 2017, Alexis Jones was granted a bit more daylight under Derek Fisher’s watch last season in L.A. Entering her fourth season out of Duke, Jones will be relied upon as never before to help run plays, and she can make an impact if she cuts down on her turnovers and especially her propensity for fouling. Returning to Atlanta one season after a stint in Seattle, guard Blake Dietrick was quite useful on occasions when she could hit an open three, not-so-much when her shots came up short. The third-year pro out of Princeton (5-for-17 on 2FGs in 46 appearances; 3rd lowest Player Impact Estimate value in 2019 2/ min. 15 appearances) must show she can be a threat on the drive if she intends to boost her reserve minutes in competition with recent arrivals Betnijah Laney (27 starts with depleted Indiana last year; 2nd on the Fever in MPG, 1.4 SPG) and Jaylyn Agnew (2020 second-rounder picked up off waivers from the Mystics). No matter the 2020 record, this campaign down in the Wubble shouldn’t be the final referendum for Nicki Collen at the helm. 2018’s WNBA Coach of the Year elevated expectations for the franchise, but she could never get the Dream’s spirited train to leave the station in 2019, as her players found themselves waiting for Angel like Vladimir and Estragon did for Godot. Coach Nicki gets to finally build a team from the bottom-up, without bearing much of the weights of decisions from organizational leaders past. She has some new veterans to turn to, including a pair with a recent Finals pedigree, that aren’t caught up in the old ways of doing things around these parts. Even better, she has a young starlet to mold and hitch onto for a long-anticipated rebuild. But the chemistry needed to compete in the rough-and-tumble WNBA will be lacking, especially with reliance upon a rookie scorer cutting her teeth and a series of inexperienced youngsters providing some semblance of depth but requiring tutelage on the fly. On paper, this looks to be a team that should turn some frowns upside down, particularly when it comes to seizing the rebounding edge. With C-Will and Carter pushing the pace, there could be tantalizing opportunities to thrive in transition on offense, something past Dream teams struggled to do without McCoughtry leading the way. Whether this team has the energy to sustain a cohesive defensive approach, in transition or in the halfcourt over the course of 40 minutes, remains to be seen. This could have been a fascinating post-Angel transition period, with Hayes and Montgomery on-board. Further, with many key stars sitting out (Jonquel Jones, Cambage, Tina Charles, Kristi Tolliver, Chiney Ogwumike, Asia Durr, Maya Moore, and possibly Elena Delle Donne and Odyssey Sims among them), this abbreviated season could have been a prime opportunity for Atlanta to build its way back into postseason prowess. Ultimately, that may have to wait until the curtains come up on the WNBA's next season, whenever that comes to pass. No matter how many wins this collective picks up, the ultimate challenge facing Collen and the coaching staff, as Atlanta treads through this 22-game schedule, is to shift the longstanding local narrative of What Could Have Been, into What Could Be. Let’s Go Dream! ~lw3
  2. Say, is anyone feeling a draft? The window hasn’t quite closed on the prospects for a WNBA season this year. The new-look Atlanta Dream will try to turn 2019’s season-long frown upside down with the 4th pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft tonight (7 PM Eastern, ESPN). The Dream’s long half-baked history is tied to the many snakebites they have suffered in seeking out a transcendent basketball talent and surefire fan draw through the Draft. 2014’s gamble for Shoni Schimmel, much like the player herself, eventually blew up. The opportunity to nab a future star, like ATL-native and 2019 All-Star Diamond DeShields, through the 2018 Draft was squandered away via trade by Michael Cooper, in a failed ploy for a late 2017 playoff run. Ron Terwilliger, the Atlanta-based real estate mogul and inaugural franchise owner, wanted in on the WNBA game, but only under the assumption that the league was going to hand his new team first dibs in the draft, clearing the way for Tennessee superstar and NCAA champ Candace Parker to head south. This was not to be, as the league rewarded a Los Angeles Sparks team that was absent Lisa Leslie (pregnancy) the top pick in 2008. Atlanta, instead, wound up 4th, and traded down to pick #8. The Dream’s comically bad opening season was attached with a top pick the following year, but Terwilliger, miffed by the lost opportunity to showcase Parker, was seeking out the exits already by then. For reasons both good and bad, Atlanta did obtain a franchise-defining player in Angel McCoughtry. But Angel never quite reached Parker’s lofty tier, and the organization failed to find the teammate chemistry and reliable coaching to help the 3-time WNBA Finalist achieve championship glories during her peak athletic years in A-Town. If there is to be a 2020 season, McCoughtry will spend it with the Las Vegas Aces, as the decade-long franchise face was permitted to lickety-split in free agency. Atlanta checked out of 2019 with an 8-26 mark, the worst record in The W. But a rule instituted by former Atlanta councilperson and ex-league commissioner Lisa Borders combined the prior two seasons for each team to calculate lottery odds, precisely to avoid the gains made by teams like L.A., who won Parker due to Leslie’s absence, and Phoenix, who nabbed top-pick Brittney Griner after Diana Taurasi took a year-long sabbatical from WNBA play. Once Angel and her team made it clear she was unlikely to play last season, it would have been sweet to just play like mowed-down fescue for Sabrina Ionescu, the record-shattering Oregon guard who is all but certain to be a star in the pros. Alas, 2018’s campaign that had the Dream nearly reaching the WNBA Finals came with the penalty of the 4th-worst lottery odds for 2020. Sabrina is instead bound for New York, the Liberty this week rolling out the red carpet for her while shipping their hometown star Tina Charles to Washington. There remains ample potential for a bounce-back season by the Dream, even with Angel gone for good. An active offseason by Dream GM Chris Sienko brought former Brittney bride Glory Johnson (coincidentally, Angel arranged her fateful “surprise” 2014 engagement party with Griner here in Atlanta), still a steady rebounder and post scorer, into the fold. Further addressing the team’s historic wayward-shooting droughts, swing player and 2019 3-Point Contest winner Shekinna Stricklen also arrived as a free agent. The biggest offseason coup came when Atlanta pried the face of the 2019 WNBA Playoffs (if you maybe discount her superfan dad), South Georgia native Courtney Williams, away from Connecticut via trade. The energetic mid-range scorer hit enough big shots in the playoffs to nearly carry the Sun to a surprise 2019 WNBA title. Taking Williams together with her former Sun teammate, Stricklen, and Johnson, and that’s enough versatility, energy and experience to offset the departures of McCoughtry and Brittney Sykes, who was dealt to the Sparks in a deal for young pivot Kalani Brown. Johnson, with Dream holdovers Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery and Elizabeth Williams, ought to bring enough leadership for Atlanta, behind head coach Nicki Collen, to hop back into low-level playoff contention in the near-term. But the challenge for this draft is to find, without Ionescu available, a player who can mesh well with the current roster but also be molded into a franchise-carrying star in the seasons to come. If that player is a guard, then a couple SEC stars come immediately to mind. Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter is a certified bucket. A 5-foot-7 supernova scorer, she will have time to round out her game as a floor leader while granting fans plenty of highlight plays along the way. Scoring over 20 PPG every season with the Aggies, Carter’s perimeter accuracy regressed in 2019-20, but prior seasons suggest she could shine in this area with an adequate supporting cast to pry defenders away. 2020 Dawn Staley Award winner Tyasha Harris spent her collegiate career under Dawn Staley’s watch at South Carolina, feeding eventual WNBA Rookies of the Year Allisha Gray and A’ja Wilson with the rock before their successful springboards to the next level. That was all before going 32-1 with the SEC Tournament champion Gamecocks in her senior season. Harris is the ultimate pass-first point guard prototype as a steady ball-handler and play-caller, but her quality jump-shooting and dogged defense give off the air of a slightly taller Briann January. Oregon’s Satou Sabally and Baylor’s Lauren Cox are expected to follow Ionescu’s name being called with the next two picks in this Draft, by Indiana and Dallas, respectively. In the event either forward falls to #4 due to Carter going higher, and given Glory’s reported one-year deal with Atlanta, Sabally or Cox would be painfully hard to pass up. An early-entry candidate like Carter, the 6-foot-4 Sabally has great size for the small forward position, and the Cheryl Miller Award winner has quality shooting range to boot. A 2019 NCAA champion, Cox is a solid shot-blocker, as well as passer, in the post. Type-1 since her childhood and playing with a blood sugar monitor, she is the ultimate answer to the question about the last time you’ve seen a funky diabetic. The biggest name out of 2017’s five-star high school crop, Megan Walker struggled under the glare of Geno Auriemma at UConn, particularly outside of weak-conference play, but she won’t be the last to do so along the way becoming a steeled star talent at the pro level. For a team that can afford to wait a year or two for her emergence, Walker carries a strong “Star Potential” banner with her athletic upside as a forward. At the moment, the Dream have the fifth pick of the second round (17th overall), and the first and third picks of the third and final round (picks #25 and 27). Those selections rarely make it onto the slim WNBA rosters maxed out at 12 players. But there are plenty of prospects that could give the back end of Atlanta’s depth chart a literal run for their money. Texas Tech’s Brittany Brewer may drop into the second round despite being the top prototypical center on most draft boards. Do-it-all Oregon State guard Mikayla Pivec, a consistent triple-double threat in the collegiate ranks, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, the SEC tourney MVP at small forward for the Gamecocks, or Tynice Martin, an Atlanta native and SACA graduate who starred at West Virginia, are among the many options that could fall to Atlanta’s picks in the second or even top-of-third rounds. Even before the current health crisis hit, nearly everything around the Atlanta Dream seemed to be in flux, from the focus of team ownership, to Angel’s playing status, to where the team would even play (they relocate to College Park’s Skyhawks venue with the next WNBA tipoff). Even without making an instant splash, a great first-round draft selection tonight could eventually, and finally, help the Dream work their way toward a steady footing as a competitive franchise in this league. After so many years of being snakebit, it is time for Atlanta to begin snapping back. Let’s Go Dream! ~lw3
  3. Atlanta Dream 2018: So crazy, this just might work! Another WNBA season at the Thillerdome is about to unfold, and this edition of the Atlanta Dream is certain to have a better “look” than the crew that entered 2017. But will a better “look” equal better end-of-season results? What’s different? Well, literally for starters, thanks to their efforts to take last season seriously, Layshia Clarendon, Tiffany Hayes and Elizabeth Williams each have a shiny new All-Star credential in their quivers. Not that she often really looked the part, but Brittney Sykes is no longer a rookie. There’s also a new Dream management and coaching team, one taking much more than the semi-serious approach to the WNBA offseason we’ve grown accustomed to around these parts. Oh, and there’s this: Angel McCoughtry is finally back! The march to May 2018 began in January of 2017, when Atlanta’s franchise star announced a WNBA sabbatical to grant her body, and her focus, a well-deserved respite. That decision set the team’s clock ticking, first for coach Michael Cooper and now for his replacements, to provide the building blocks for a team ready to contend not only after McCoughtry returns to WNBA action, but in time for the team to return to a renovated Highlight Factory in the spring of 2019. If new GM Chris Sienko and the new coaching staff, led by first-timer Nicki Collen, can get this team to gel quickly, contention might not have to wait until next year. After issuing Cooper his walking papers, team owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler essentially knew what they were looking for in a head coach – and, more specifically, who. They got plenty of intel from Sienko, the consultant they would later hire to be the new GM. So, by the time Collen arrived for an interview from Sienko’s former employer, the Connecticut Sun, the Dream owners were already planning to hand over the head coach job. Don’t expect a vast departure from the high-paced “Run With The Dream” philosophy of seasons past. Collen has repeatedly noted a desire to get her new team to “play fast.” Yet, she wishes to depart from her predecessors by demanding quick decisions and efficient ball movement to extend to the halfcourt offense, where Atlanta historically bogs down. Swift decisions with the rock, when Angel gets double-teamed, when Layshia attacks inside off pick-and-roll action, when Brittney beats her assignment, when Tip drives, when Libby snags an offensive rebound… Collen wants the Dream offensive players to know how to execute, precisely, and find open scoring opportunities for teammates when opposing defenses find themselves imbalanced. With Sienko in charge, Atlanta made potentially the most momentous veteran free agent signings in franchise history, at least the biggest early-offseason additions since acquiring Sancho Lyttle via the 2008 Comets dispersal draft. Guard depth was immensely advanced with the acquisition of Renee Montgomery, a former All-Star and Sixth Woman of the Year who is now a two-time WNBA champion, after going all the way with the Minnesota Lynx last season. Those individual accolades for Montgomery, who was already living in Atlanta during her offseasons, came while she was playing with Sienko’s Sun from 2010-2014. Back with the Lynx for the past two-and-a-half seasons, Renee shot a career-best 42.4 percent from the field in 2017, and also spelled future Hall of Fame guard Lindsay Whalen, the player Montgomery was traded for following her 2009 rookie season in Minnesota. Montgomery filled in capably for Whalen in 12 starts last season, while the latter was sidelined with a hand injury. She averaged a 2.0 assist/TO ratio last season, dishing out the most per-36 assists since her 2011 All-Star season in Connecticut. Renee provides the Dream not only steady ballhandling but a legitimate perimeter shooting threat (8th all-time in 3FGs made), especially when the stakes increase. In Minnesota, Montgomery shot 39.3 3FG% (11-for-28) in the 2017 playoffs, boosting her career postseason accuracy to 38.2 3FG%. That included sinking half of her 14 attempts along the way to the WNBA Finals. Her being a decent free throw shooter (83.7 career FT%) is an additional plus for Atlanta. Even so much as a modest regression from her recent play with the reigning champs would still be a welcome development for a Dream team that has struggled with quality guard depth for years. Sienko and the Dream were not done, bolstering the frontcourt by wooing another former All-Star honoree, Jessica Breland of the Chicago Sky. The power forward also played with Mongtomery, briefly, with the 2011 Sun, and provides an experienced yet younger alternative to longtime Dream star Sancho Lyttle, who signed as a free agent with Phoenix. Returning full-time to a starter role in 2017, Jessica compiled her best numbers since her 2014 All-Star season with the Sky. She has ranked top-five in block percentage in four of her past five seasons, and she matched her career-best with 12 rebounds (11 defensive) during an early-season win in Atlanta last year. Her overall on-court efficiency took a dive in recent seasons, as it would for anyone no longer paired alongside Sylvia Fowles and/or Elena Delle Donne. But Breland should have no problems blending into frontcourt lineups featuring McCoughtry and Williams. In search of a frontcourt player who could serve as a stretch-four, Atlanta brought free agent Damiris Dantas back into the fold. In addition to the likelihood of more pick-and-pop action for Williams, Collen has expressed further excitement over the possibility of using Breland more in this specific role. Jessica flashed some of that perimeter potential at the outset of 2017 (7-for-17 3FGs in first ten games). But Chicago started out 2-8 and shied away from her outside shooting as the season wore on (just 1-for-4 3FGs in her final 24 Sky appearances). Potentially boosting the team depth would be rookie second-rounder Monique Billings, a 6-foot-4 forward who is hoping to expand on her newfound mid-range jumpshot. This team is not stacked with 1-through-12 depth, but Collen’s club is endowed with a positional versatility that is unprecedented for this particular franchise. While I would prefer to start Montgomery for the sake of spreading the floor, she can relieve either of Clarendon or Hayes at the guard spots. Sykes may become a sixth-woman award contender, too, filling in at either wing position and, as demonstrated late last season, as a third option at the point. Atlanta’s biggest wild card is their trade-deadline acquisition from 2017. Imani McGee-Stafford has only scratched the surface of her potential. The 6-foot-7, third-season center has averaged a double-double per-36 in each of her first two WNBA campaigns, plus she established a playoff rookie record with six blocks in her 2016 postseason debut. Yet, Imani found herself underutilized in 2017, first by Sky coach Amber Stocks and then by Cooper during Atlanta’s failed playoff push. Getting McGee-Stafford active in the frontcourt rotation, ideally as a starter that allows Williams to shift to power forward, is a critical measure for the Dream’s on-court growth over the next two seasons. The Dream demonstrated their commitment to Williams by extending her contract for a couple more seasons. An improved McGee-Stafford and Breland would help the Dream better contend in a league loaded with extraordinary talents at center. With McGee-Stafford, Williams, and Breland (all top-30 WNBA in per-game blocks) teaming up with McCoughtry (3rd all-time in per-game steals), Atlanta should prove capable of getting plenty of stops when opponents shift their offensive attack to the interior. Hayes, Clarendon and Sykes were instrumental, meanwhile, in Dream opponents shooting just 31.4 3FG% last season (3rd-best in WNBA, virtually tied for best with Minnesota and Phoenix). If that development holds this season, and if Atlanta keeps opponents off the free throw line (4th-most personal fouls, 2nd-most opponent FTAs in 2017) while limiting live-ball turnovers themselves (16.2 opponent TO% in 2017, 3rd-best in WNBA), they will satisfactorily suppress foes with their defense while giving themselves ample room to sort out their own offensive flow. The final X-Factor is the re-enmeshing of McCoughtry into the team gameplans. Angel has already played with Clarendon, Dantas, and Williams in prior seasons, and Hayes for much longer. Just last week, she got an opportunity to bond further with Layshia, Brittney, Tip, and Elizabeth during Team USA training camp, where Collen serves as an assistant. The likelihood that a rested McCoughtry returns to All-WNBA prominence isn’t in question. But how much more hardware she can collect will depend on her ability to guide the execution of Collen’s offense, not merely her own. Collen, in turn, will also have to entrust the league’s premier two-way non-center to help orchestrate the team defense whenever her star is on the floor. The blend of talent, experience and potential is as sound as it has been in any of Angel’s prior eight WNBA seasons in Atlanta. But when the team runs into adversity, which is coming for every competitive team at some points this season, McCoughtry cannot turn a tin ear toward her teammates and staff and just party like it’s 2013. This is a squad loaded with players with huge off-court aspirations, from sports media to advocacy to modeling to retail and even medicine. A Finals-competitive squad only enhances those individual endeavors further, and McCoughtry is just the tide that, when she rises rather than capsizes, can lift all boats. If this team finishes strong, and Angel’s play makes several teammates better at both ends of the court, her MVP candidacy can’t be obscured. Vying for final spots on the Dream roster include: Maggie Lucas, a veteran jumpshooting wing eager to make a comeback after tearing two ACLs since May 2016 (supported throughout by Kyle Korver’s off-season strength and conditioning coach); Adaora Elonu, a 2011 college-champ swing player with Texas A&M who has played in EuroLeague and was in camp with the Sun last season; Blake Dietrick, a star collegiate guard who led Princeton to an undefeated regular season in 2015, and; 2018 third-round pick Mackenzie Engram, who shined at forward for Georgia under coach Joni Taylor (spouse of new Dream assistant coach Darius Taylor). If they can impress in camp, there is enough room for at least one, if not two, of them to outlast the final roster cuts. Cooper made the cardinal error of touting his 2017 Angel-free unit as championship-contender material. Collen and Sienko won’t make the same mistake, but they also know they'll have no time to get acclimated, not in this rough-and-ready WNBA, and not in Atlanta’s once-sleepy but now superheated summertime sports market. Whether they’re longtime diehards or on-the-fence wannabes, Dream fans deserve a team that’s worthy of a grand return to Philips Arena in 2019, not one relegable to whatever rink the Hawks construct down in College Park. In the meantime, this is shaping up to be one crew that can bring the Thrill back to the Thrillerdome. ~lw3
  4. With their WNBA season tipping off this Saturday, the Atlanta Dream hope to spread their wings in 2017. But how far can they truly fly without Angel McCoughtry around? Entering its tenth season, the WNBA franchise was dealt two blows affecting their appeal to sports fans this year. One was inevitable, as forthcoming summertime renovations to Philips Arena meant the Dream needed a new home for the next two WNBA seasons. Fortunately, Georgia Tech has long been accommodating to the Dream (and the Hawks, back in the day). Last year’s playoff home of McCamish Pavilion, the since-renovated “Thrillerdome” on 10th Street, will be the site of Dream games through at least 2018. Atlantans have an affinity for driving right up to the doors of desirable establishments, and the limited campus-area parking even during the summer sessions tend to be a drag on attendance. The Tech Trolleys will likely be re-routed to accommodate gameday traffic, while the newly extended schedule for Atlanta United at nearby Bobby Dodd Stadium will require even more campus coordination, shuttling pro sports fans around from MARTA and Atlantic Station. But while soccer fans don’t question whether it will be worth the trouble, current and prospective basketball fans will. And that’s where the other blow landed. Fans become more attuned to the WNBA game if there is the likelihood a star talent suits up for the team they root for. The one billboard-worthy talent the Dream has had, almost since their inception, has been perennial All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Angel McCoughtry. Unfortunately, she has been wearing down from year-round globetrotting and basket weaving. It’s the same deal for many WNBA players, regardless of starpower. The salaries they command here pale in comparison to the dollars and rubles and drachmae they pull overseas, their reputations here serving mostly to fuel their international demand. This plus the routine demands of national team commitments take its toll, and it becomes tough for young women to keep up hooping obligations and other life interests, like schooling, running a business, or planning a family. (Side note: Angel’s new venture, “McCoughtry’s Ice Cream”, should be opening in June, around the corner from Philips Arena in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.) Angel is among the few players fortunate enough to be constantly in demand for her basketball talent, and she keeps herself in peak athletic condition. But, at age 30, she has also joined the elder stateswomen in the W, and deserves some serious respite after having carried a WNBA franchise on her back for eight seasons. Angel Mac is nowhere near broken down, as she most recently displayed in April by guiding Dynamo Kursk to the Euroleague Women’s championship and Russian League finals (the latter won by Sancho Lyttle’s UMMC Ekaterinburg team). With her WNBA suspension in ink, McCoughtry plans to spend this month playing for a team in suburban Beirut for the Lebanese League playoffs, before returning to the ATL for the start of her new dessert shop. But she’s not going to wait until her body cannot go for 30 minutes per night before taking personally productive time away from the league. McCoughtry’s season-long absence, announced back in January, scuttled any serious hopes of contending for a WNBA title this year. But this Angel-free season can serve as a prime opportunity for new talents to step into the limelight. The Dream, already among the lowest-attended WNBA outfits, truly needs this to transpire. But who might that rising player, or those players, be? One could look in any number of directions. McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes’ late-season suspensions for excessive technical fouls in 2016 opened the door for the emergence of rookie Bria Holmes. Her scoring and activity helped salvage a 17-17 season for a Dream team that wasn’t projected as a playoff team at the outset. Teaming with Angel in the playoffs, the rookie shined as an offensive option during the few times the opponent managed to contain McCoughtry. No one person should be expected to completely compensate for Angel’s lost production, but Holmes can certainly fill the bill to an extent. If she has used her time overseas (in Israel) to expand her range and hone her defensive chops, Bria could become Atlanta’s go-to performer at least in the interim, until McCoughtry returns. One could also look to the interior, where the reigning WNBA Most Improved Player award winner resides. Head coach Michael Cooper entrusted Elizabeth Williams with a WNBA-high 34.7 minutes per game, and the second-year center delivered in spades. Williams finished 2016 second in the league in per-game blocks, and fifth in rebounds, including first on the offensive end. Demonstrative of her fullcourt capacities, only Williams and Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles finished in the top-five of the WNBA in O-Rebs and blocked shots, while reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike was the only other player to finish the season among the top ten in both categories. Williams struggled to finish attempts around the rim with the ball in her hands, but if Williams can stay healthy and round out her offensive game while cutting down on fouls, the former Duke star (jersey retired in the offseason, first Blue Devil men’s or women’s number retired since 2008) could turn even more heads in 2017. A wildcard for a breakout could be arriving off the bench. Damiris Dantas stayed home for her native Olympic host Brazil in 2016, but is back in training camp. It has been over a year-and-a-half since she last suited up for Atlanta, starting 16 games in 2015 after the Erika DeSouza trade. In the interim, Dantas has spent a lot of time in Brazil creating mismatches at the forward spots, expanding her range to the three-point line so she could apply her 6-foot-3 frame advantageously. As a notoriously poor jump-shooting team, Atlanta has never had a legitimate stretch-four (or-stretch-five), so Dantas could become a tool Cooper employs liberally in his rotations. If things work out well, Dantas’ return could be just in time for a gradual transition from defensively savvy starter Sancho Lyttle. Atlanta’s struggles to limit opponents’ paint points and force turnovers in 2016 could be tied to its continued in-and-out relationship with Lyttle. Sancho departed from the team in June to help Spain with its Olympic bid. Then, the Dream lost her for the season in mid-July with a broken bone in her foot. For as long as she’s here (she is likely to take another trip in June, to participate in the Eurobasket Women Olympic qualifying tournament), Sancho serves as the predominant veteran voice on and off the floor, in Angel’s stead. She’s not outspoken, but she won’t rail on her teammates in displeasure when mistakes get made. Her Millsap-style ability to get steals and deflections while also securing rebounds could keep Atlanta in the running to lead the league in fastbreak points once again, even without McCoughtry around to finish those plays. Of course, we cannot forget about Hayes, Atlanta’s top returning scorer (15.0 PPG) who returned from a playoff-game suspension to lead the way with 30 points in the Dream’s 2016 postseason denouement. Tip enjoyed career-best marks in minutes, scoring, and steals last season, and her hard-charging attitude makes her the prevailing option to score or get fouled on drives to the hoop. But the shooting guard has not been a steady perimeter shooter during her career, and improvement in this area will be crucial for the Dream to contend for a playoff spot in 2017. Another area of improvement for Hayes needs to come in the composure department. Opponents know Tiffany’s temper can get the best of her, either through overzealous fouling or griping to the referees. McCoughtry’s absence only increases the likelihood of physical opponents putting the screws to Hayes in anticipation that she’ll react detrimentally. If she can curb her emotions, or at least channel them toward productive team-oriented basketball, Hayes might not only lead the Dream to victories, but earn herself a mid-season trip to Seattle for the All-Star Game. Angel was the league’s highest-usage player, so that ball will now reside in the hands of lots of other players, no one more than point guard Layshia Clarendon. She returns on a new multi-year contract after a successful first year as a WNBA starter (career-high 10.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG). While her 34.6 3FG% was a regression for her, it was easily the best on the team that ranked last (as usual) in the league in three-pointers made and three-point percentage, McCoughtry the only other Dreammate shooting (barely) above 30 percent on the year. There is no significant depth behind Clarendon on the roster. Hoping she can remain healthy, Cooper will rely on his outspoken floor leader to transition his team out of the iso-heavy and oft-sloppy offense that relied on McCoughtry for nearly a decade. Despite finally cutting down on turnovers in 2016, Atlanta ranked last in the WNBA for assists produced (15.0 team APG), their failures to hit threes contributing greatly to that ranking. Cooper and the Dream management elected to improve on backcourt depth through the draft, reaching a bit to select shooting guard Brittney Sykes out of Syracuse. “She reminds me of me,” Coach Coop said to Syracuse.com after the draft. I’m sure we have heard that before. “It’s a match made in heaven… I do think we got the steal of the draft.” We shall see. After suffering two season-ending ACL injuries in college, Sykes bounced back to help lead the Orange to the 2016 national championship game. She continued to team with point guard Alexis Peterson through 2017 to form college basketball’s highest-scoring backcourt tandem. Cooper estimates that the first-round pick’s perimeter shooting (a low-volume but team-high 39.3 3FG% as a redshirt senior) and defense will translate well to the WNBA level. The elevated pace and frequency of games and the limited time for acclimation and off-court development are always tough on WNBA rookies, to say nothing of the adjustment to opposing pro talent. Sykes rounds out the seven surefire guarantees for spots on Atlanta’s 11-player minimum (12-player maximum) roster. Considering the limited depth, the most likely addition among the remaining women in training camp is point guard Brianna Kiesel, an unrestricted free agent signee previously with the Dallas Wings. Kiesel’s 2016 campaign in Dallas proved to be a washout, waived midway through the year after 48 appearances with the Wings/Shock franchise over the past two seasons. But she filled in admirably as a replacement starter for the 2015 Shock, first filling in the gap formed by Odyssey Sims’ injury as Tulsa raced to an 8-1 season start, then again with an injury to Skylar Diggins. Kiesel’s career game came during that summer in Atlanta, where her career-best 16 points helped visiting Tulsa upend the Dream. Competitors for the remaining roster spots include several Dream returnees. Second-year pivot Rachel Hollivay will vie for a backup role behind Williams. Atlanta also re-acquired longtime reserve Aneika Morello via trade, after a lackluster season in Connecticut. Meighan Simmons showed flashes on occasion during her delayed rookie season in 2016, but will be challenged to reveal new facets to her game and better consistency if she intends to stick with this roster. Veteran Matee Ajavon, who regressed after a surprising 2015, journeywoman point guard Darxia Morris, and former Georgia Tech star Ty Marshall round out the hopefuls. Although the Dream played without several key frontcourt players, last Friday’s 113-67 washout loss in Minnesota confirmed that this team has plenty of work cut out for it, a rotation that is likely struggling to gel at the outset of this WNBA season. More than ever before, this team will have the undivided attention of Michael Cooper and his coaching staff, which includes Michael’s son, Miles, as the player development director. The 2018 Draft will be deep with future WNBA stars, but Atlanta sports fans are not keeping track in any case, and will not be rewarding attempts to tank by purchasing gameday tickets at Georgia Tech. The Dream are competing for attention in a heightened local summertime sports market with a wildly popular MLS outfit, a reigning NFC champion, and a team in a shiny new MLB baseball park. It will be Coach Coop’s challenge to hold this team together through this season, without Angel, and through next season in their temporary home. Regardless of their record or their playoff prospects, Cooper must make the 2017 Atlanta Dream competitive enough to keep hoop fans entertained through the summer. Let's Go Dream! ~lw3
  5. Say, does somebody feel a Draft? The WNBA Draft is right around the corner (April 13 at 7:00 PM Eastern, first-round on ESPN2, latter rounds on ESPN U). With a few early-entry candidates exploring the lay of the land and electing to stick around for their senior seasons, 2017 is not going to be a terribly deep draft, talent-wise (set your calendar, though, because 2018 will be bonkers). But there are plenty of players that can contribute off the bench in the near-term, and the Atlanta Dream have an opportunity to strategically improve their depth in at least one position on the floor, if not more. Waiting in the Angel Wings? – As we know, there will likely be no Angel McCoughtry suiting up in the baby-blue-and-red this season. Following in the footsteps of standout players like Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker, the WNBA superstar plans to take off a full year, getting some well-deserved rest and recuperating from the wear-and-tear of year-round high-level hoops (she’s finishing up her play in Russia this month). Bria Holmes, who emerged late last season as a reliable rookie during Atlanta’s playoff run, is most likely to get the lion’s share of Angel’s minutes. Additionally, Damiris Dantas should be primed to make major contributions, after being suspended for all of 2016 so she could play exclusively in Brazil. If veteran Matee Ajavon makes the opening-day roster, the small forward spot is fairly set. If not, then a second- or third-round selection might be able to fill out the final spot, at least on a short-term basis. Late-round forward options where Atlanta picks (19th overall in the second round, 31st in the third round) include Norcross’ Shayla Cooper (Ohio State), along with Drake power forward Lizzy Wendell and Jessica Jackson of Arkansas. Each can stretch the floor with midrange shots, although Shayla’s emotional flameouts when times get tough could remind many fans of McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes at their worst. If the Dream goes this route, this should be a selection that helps fill scoring and rebounding gaps this year, and gets developed to become a key sixth-woman for 2018, when McCoughtry returns. A Lyttle heir apparent? – As far as we can tell, Sancho Lyttle will return from Europe and serve as a defensive anchor for a Dream team that sorely needs to create stops inside, especially without all-world defender Angel in the picture. However, Lyttle is in her 30s and hasn’t played a full WNBA season, due to injuries and/or international commitments, in some time. Unsatisfied with Reshanda Gray at power forward, the Dream parted ways in the offseason and brought back Aneika Morello (née Henry). But the latter struggled mightily last season with the Connecticut Sun. Dantas can play the stretch-four role, but another backup at either the 3- or 4-spot would be helpful. To acquire a future star that waits in the wings until Lyttle is either traded or her contract runs out, means using the first-round pick (7th) on a blue-chip prospect. Northwestern’s Nia Coffey is probably the top player for the 4-spot coming into the draft. Super-sized pick-and-popper Chantel Osahor, also by far the NCAA’s leading rebounder, helped all-time NCAA scorer Kelsey Plum (probable #1 overall pick, by San Antonio) carry Washington deep into the past two NCAA tourneys, and is rising up draft boards. But neither would likely be the “best player available” where the Dream sit, so a trade-down deal may be possible to acquire their services. Shoot… we need Shooters! – You’ve tired of the Dream being among the league’s worst perimeter-shooting teams, pretty much since their inception. Hayes brings a lot of fire to the floor, but not much firepower for a 2-guard along the three-point arc. The sometimes-hot, often-cold Meighan Simmons was brought back in free agency, but there remains a sense that the solution to Atlanta’s longstanding woes will have to come from, um, outside. Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has the range to boost Atlanta’s jumpshot game, and the build to avoid being a defensive liability on the floor, unlike many hot-shooting collegiate wings. Oregon State’s Sydney Wiese might be a reach as a middle-first-rounder, but is unlikely to fall to Atlanta at #19. If the Dream have any interest in SWK or Wiese, they’ll want to swing a trade-up deal to get them. Gawd save Queen Elizabeth! – Reigning Most Improved Player awardee Elizabeth Williams won’t be a repeat winner, not unless coach Michael Cooper can figure out a way to double her already league-high floortime. Re-signed on a training camp contract, Markeisha Gatling served well as a stopgap in the back half of last season, but her size can make it tough on Atlanta to live up to their “Run With The Dream” motto. Gatling will compete for a spot on the 12-woman roster with Morello and second-year pivot Rachel Hollivay. But if Atlanta can have a top-notch young center fall to them at #7, they may leap at the chance to upgrade behind Williams, or even supplant her over time as the team’s steady starter at the 5-spot. The qualifiers for such an upgrade would include Maryland’s Brionna Jones and South Carolina’s Alaina Coates, the latter missing the Gamecocks’ NCAA championship run due to an ankle injury sustained during the SEC tourney. What’s the Point? – There are only 12 starting point guard spots, and of those, Layshia Clarendon has the least-flashy resume among the group. Still, she established herself well enough to earn the starting nod at least for this upcoming season. But what about beyond 2017? The sole external free agent brought in with a guaranteed deal was Brianna Kiesel. But the third-year guard couldn’t stand out in Tulsa/Dallas, and was waived in mid-season last year. Any opportunities to use a late-round flier on a guard that could compete with Kiesel for the backup position would be helpful. Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen lugged the Irish into the Elite Eight and should be available where the Dream pick in the second round. Allen finished second in the NCAA with a sterling 3.57 assist/turnover ratio. If they wish to use a first-round pick on a short-term apprentice, either of Alexis Jones (Baylor) or Alexis Peterson (Syracuse) is likely to fall to them. Despite being a bit diminutive at 5-foot-7, Peterson finished top-12 in Division I for both scoring and assists. WNBA First Round Draft Order (as of 4/4/2017, subject to change): 1. San Antonio Stars 2. Chicago Sky (from Washington) 3. Dallas Wings 4. Dallas (from Los Angeles, via Connecticut) 5. San Antonio (from Phoenix) 6. Washington Mystics (from Seattle) 7. ATLANTA DREAM 8. Connecticut Sun (from Indiana) 9. Chicago Sky 10. Dallas (from New York) 11. Los Angeles Sparks (returned back from Dallas) 12. Minnesota Lynx Top Players Available: (** edited to include Early-Entry Players) PG: Kelsey Plum (5'8", Washington), Alexis Jones (5'9", Baylor), Alexis Peterson (5'7", Syracuse), Lindsay Allen (5'8", Notre Dame), Leticia Romero (5'8", Florida State) SG: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (5'11", Maryland), **Allisha Gray (6'0", South Carolina, Washington County GA HS), ** Kaela Davis (6'2", South Carolina, Georgia Tech transfer, Buford HS, Antonio's daughter), Sydney Wiese (6'1", Oregon State), Alexis Prince (6'2", Baylor), Makayla Epps (5'10", Kentucky), Tori Jankoska (5'8", Michigan State), Adrienne Motley (5'9", Miami), Brittney Sykes (5'9", Syracuse), Saniya Chong (5'8", Connecticut) SF: Nina Davis (5'11", Baylor), Ronni Williams (6'0", Florida), Lizzy Wendell (6'0", Drake), Jennie Simms (6'0", Old Dominion) PF: Nia Coffey (6'1", Northwestern), Chantel Osahor (6'2", Washington), Jessica Jackson (6'3", Arkansas), Shayla Cooper (6'2", Ohio State, Norcross HS), Hannah Little (6'1", Oakland) C: Alaina Coates (6'4", South Carolina), Brionna Jones (6'3", Maryland), Erica McCall (6'3", Stanford), Evelyn Akhator (6'3", Kentucky), Breanna Lewis (6'5", Kansas State), Tearra Banks (6'2", Austin Peay) ~lw3
  6. ATLANTA DREAM PREVIEW The Atlanta Dream season is right around the corner, finally! When July rolls around, if you find yourself missing your favorite WNBA players, you can Blame It On Rio! The WNBA is used to the drill by now, that when the Summer Olympics come around, teams will lose a bunch of key roster players to international obligations. The regular season itself will bifurcate around the Games in Brazil (about 20 or so before, 10 or so after). Fortunately for the Dream, they won’t be as hard hit as some teams will be by in-season evacuations. As it stands, both franchise pillars are likely Going for the Gold. Swing player Angel McCoughtry (2015 All-WNBA 1st Team, 20.1 PPG, 3rd in WNBA in 2015) will join with a whole other Dream Team, representing the reigning gold-medalist U.S., and forward Sancho Lyttle will represent Spain. Lyttle plans to leave the Dream in June, at least in time for the FIBA Women’s Qualifying Tournament in mid-month. Still a dynamo in international play, Lyttle just wrapped up her fourth Euroleague Women’s title, this time with Russian side UMMC Ekaterinburg. With Team USA already qualified, Angel should be able to stick around until the WNBA break. Just completing her run with the Brazilian League women’s finalists, center Damiris Dantas was not among the group of Brazilians (including ex-Dreamers Iziane Castro Marques and Nadia Gomes Colhado) scheduled to play in the South American Championships later this month, but she is likely to be added to the Olympic host’s official roster thereafter. That’s enough about summertime planning; it’s time to spring into action! For the moment, just about every key player is back for the Dream squad that fell short of the WNBA Playoffs in 2015 (15-19) for the first time since Atlanta’s inaugural 2008 year. Head coach Michael Cooper returns for his third season at the helm. Serving as the de facto general manager as well, Coop brought back free agent guards Tiffany Hayes, Matee Ajavon and Carla Cortijo to the fold. He also re-signed guard Ariel Massengale and forwards Cierra Burdick and DeLisha Milton-Jones, at least to stock the training camp roster. Not everybody is returning, though. Forward/center Aneika Henry-Morello departed via free agency to Connecticut. Shoni Schimmel ranked sixth in the league in three-pointers made in 2015, and ninth in assist percentage. Yet she struggled with defense and turnovers, and reneged on her vow to arrive at training camp in proper condition for fullcourt basketball, forcing a patient Cooper’s hand to part ways with her. For the price of a 2017 second-round pick, Schimmel is now under the auspices of Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas in New York. Despite the failed promise of Schimmel, Cooper continues to search for youth that will help the Dream transition from the salad days of 2010-2013, prior to his arrival, when Atlanta reached the WNBA Finals three times. Last season featured the departure of franchise mainstay Erika de Souza, who struggled to keep up with Cooper’s desired pace and adequately handle opponent pick-and-rolls. Dantas arrived as a result of that deal, and greater consistency will be expected of her [in 2017] while she’s here. Cooper also traded out of the upper half of the 2016 Draft, in hopes another big will form a future foundation with Dantas. Elizabeth Williams was the National Defensive Player of the Year for Duke in 2015, and while there, her assist average led all ACC centers. She was the 4th pick in the 2015 Draft, and appeared in 21 games for Connecticut in an injury-shortened rookie season. The British-born player out of Virginia Beach is central to Cooper’s plans to replenish the frontcourt with youth, while re-establishing a defensive imprint than began with the help of All-WNBA Defensive 2nd Teamer Lyttle (7th in D-Rebs per gamein 2015) and All-WNBA Defensive 1st Teamer McCoughtry. Lyttle turns 33, while Angel turns 30, both in September. That rejuvenation is likely to include second-year forward Reshanda Gray, an L.A. native like Cooper who stands to see a boost in playing time with Henry-Morello’s departure. Cooper literally recruited center Rachel Hollivay out of Rutgers before making her a second-round selection. Hollivay will serve the Dream with depth at the five-spot during Dantas’ absences [season-long suspension]. With Lyttle, McCoughtry (1st and 2nd in WNBA in SPG), and an improved Ajavon (9th in SPG) leading the way, last year’s Dream roster led the WNBA in steals (almost nine per game). Yet the team allowed a league-high 79.8 PPG (D-Rating 4th-worst in WNBA), a combination of Cooper’s heightened pace, weary players, and subpar defense in transition and on halfcourt pick-and-roll plays. Overcompensating with hacking to stop the ball, opponents got to the free throw line on at least 2.7 more occasions per game than against any other team. Cooper hopes that steadier on-ball defensive effort will help resolve this issue, and while Schimmel is addition-by-subtraction in this regard, Atlanta’s backcourt must demonstrate greater proficiency in getting back on defense. Offensively, nothing is likely to change with respect to McCoughtry dominating the ball on possessions, perhaps even more so with Schimmel formally out of the picture. In 2015, Angel led the league in field goals attempted, free throws attempted, usage, and turnovers, the last category by a mile as she tries to will her teams to victory. With or without Schimmel, the need for a take-charge point guard capable of defending while taking the load off of Angel remains glaring. Cooper is great at the art of the oversell if nothing else, but remains enamored with his options at point guard. Puerto Rican star Cortijo has the inside track to start after ending 2015 on a high note, although Cooper may be tempted to begin the season with the more seasoned Ajavon bringing up the ball. Cooper did swap out the second-round pick he received from New York to acquire Layshia Clarendon, a serviceable veteran combo guard who made 40.6% of her three-pointers in 2015, from Indiana. Meanwhile, Ariel Massengale was a 2015 draft-and-stash out of Tennessee that sat out to recuperate from knee surgery. To make this 12-player roster, they’ll likely have to beat out rookie third-rounder Niya Johnson, this past season’s NCAA leader in assists who, more importantly, ranked second in the nation in assist/turnover ratio. Clarendon and Massengale will also have to outperform rookie Jordan Jones, picked up this past week off waivers after being selected in the third round by Chicago. Schimmel’s exit will be a setback in the specific category of 3-point accuracy, an issue that, like turnovers, has been around seemingly forever for Atlanta. McCoughtry’s perimeter shooting vastly improved, and fellow vet Roneeka Hodges is still around, both players making 36 percent of three-point attempts in 2015. But any incremental improvements in 2016 for the Dream can be tracked to Hayes, the starting shooting guard. Hayes floundered on both ends of the court last year after phenomenal improvements in 2014, when she ranked 1st in the league in O-Rating. Her 3-point shot dropping from 35.7% in 2014 to 27.4% in 2015, Hayes tried to overcompensate by drawing more contact. While she got to the line (10th in free throws made), Hayes usually gave up more than she got (4th in personal fouls). Hayes’ per-game scoring (12.9 PPG) was the same as 2014, but the efficiencies had fallen through the floor. Hayes must rediscover her comfort zone in the offense and re-establish her perimeter defensive role for the Dream to have measurable success this season. If Hayes continues to regress, Cooper believes he has a ready-made scorer in the wings, literally. Cooper went with swing player Bria Holmes out of West Virginia (by way of Connecticut in high school) in the first round. While she is certainly a scorer (16.8 PPG for the Mountaineers), Holmes believes she fits her new coach’s playing style. “(Cooper) asked if I was ready to play defense,” Holmes responded, when asked about the first thing Cooper said in his first phone call after she was drafted. “Of course I am,” she said, insisting that defense is all her collegiate coach promotes there. If the 6-foot-1 Holmes doesn’t usurp Hayes in the starting lineup, she can work to become the replacement in the wings whenever it’s time to part ways with McCoughtry. Bria joined Niya on the All-Big 12 First Team, and Johnson was also selected for the conference’s All-Defensive Team. Also given a shot to make the team will be second-round guard Courtney Walker out of Texas A&M. Walker will get a shot if she can show expanded range. It has long been a fairly simple bar to clear – be better than at least two of your Eastern Conference rivals, and you’re in the playoffs. Then, win four games, and you’re in The Finals. Now the league, under longtime Dream proponent and current WNBA Commissioner Lisa Borders, has changed the qualifying rules. Only the league’s top 8 records make it into the WNBA Playoffs, and the first two rounds involve one-game, winner-take-all contests. Does Atlanta have what it takes to not only rise higher in the East, particularly with an upwardly mobile Connecticut team on their heels, but also to outperform four of the other 12 WNBA squads regardless of conference? While there are certainly promising developments for the Dream as they head into 2016, familiarity may be an anchor for the team’s sails through the regular season. Only Hayes, McCoughtry and Lyttle have played meaningful minutes together, and even most of the returnees (Dantas, Cortijo, Massengale, Gray, Williams, maybe Burdick) have had limited time to gel amongst one another. The WNBA teams that perform best out of the blocks, prior to the Olympic break, are the ones most likely to be in contention by season’s end. With all of McCoughtry’s star power, and what should be an enhanced team defense, the primary goal for the Dream is to build upwards from last year’s 15-win total. Secondarily, Atlanta can see if they can be a contender to make it into the reformulated WNBA postseason. Let’s Go Dream! ~lw3
  7. I'm dropping the Schimmel references for now, and just going with "Shoni Basketball" until further reference. Replace weed with fattening food, and assaulting girlfriends (allegedly) with accosting officials at high school games, keep a coddling parent in the mix, and you've got Johnny Football's level of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ going on in the WNBA. http://www.ajc.com/news/sports/basketball/dreams-cooper-disappointed-in-schimmel/nrCFb/ If she's gonna suit up for us, can we at least make some money selling ads off of her? How 'bout Goodyear? MetLife? Okay, Shoni Basketball, what do you have to say for yourself? Here comes the predictable deflection, in 3, 2, 1... Big Baby Shoni loves basketball, indeed. Alas, she would be just as thrilled part-timing with the BallUp Tour crew or the Globetrotters as she is about playing 30-40 times a year in America's biggest women's basketball league. I assume this AJC article is not just another missive by the Dream organization, but a setup for the probability the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game MVP will be waived soon; she's eaten away just about any trade value she had. Of course, once she hits a 30-footer and makes a behind-the-back pass in preseason, Cooper will be back to treating her as though she's indispensable. I cannot imagine Cooper can be terribly surprised about how his pet-project player showed up to camp, as all the troubling signs were there. But the WNBA has virtually no off-season contractual obligations for its players. In the past two seasons, Shoni Basketball has taken all of the ropes Coach Coop has tossed her way and made fettucine alfredo out of them. If she does pull it together in another WNBA locale, all the best to her. But cutting her loose soon may have to be the best option in consideration for her long-term health. In the meantime, the newsworthy part of this is that Coop finally sounds exasperated enough to give up on his longtime Dream, if you will, of Shoni as his starting full-time point guard. She'll be relegated to a backup 2-guard role for the time being, but she'll be less Microwave and more Dutch Oven until she's in legit condition to compete at both ends of the floor. The PG race will likely be between returnees Carla Cortijo and Ariel Massengale, and rookie 3rd-rounder Niya Johnson. On the, er, lighter side of things, Swish Appeal is back doing WNBA stuff again, and here's a nice report (and pic, above... we see you Shoni!) from them about Dream training camp, which runs through the 29th. http://www.swishappeal.com/2016/4/27/11515204/williams-holmes-atlanta-dream-training-camp ~lw3
  8. ‘Tis just about time for another WNBA season to get started – the 20th, already? I’m getting old – and the Draft is scheduled for Wednesday evening (April 14, 7 PM, ESPN2). There haven’t been many earth-shaking moves since last we left the Atlanta Dream, out of the playoffs last fall for the first time since 2008 after tying with Connecticut at 15-19 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But that doesn’t mean a lot of other things haven’t been happening around the league! Where to start… How about, right at the top? Lisa Borders was the primary figure responsible for enticing a WNBA franchise to Atlanta. Now, she runs the whole show – not the team, the entire league! The WNBA picked Borders, the former Atlanta vice mayor and city council president and Coca-Cola Foundation exec, to replace Laurel Richie. She was drawn to consider to position at the behest of NBA Commish Adam Silver, who shares a spot with Borders on the Duke University Board of Trustees. There has never been any mistaking Borders’ pant-suited presence along the sidelines at Philips Arena. She’s a self-admitted “raving fan” of the Dream: “I’m the No. 1 fan,” she told the New York Times. How that impairs, or at best colors, her impartiality and decision-making in the Commissioner role remains to be seen. But if nothing else, her presence alone will prolong the existence of a WNBA franchise in the ATL. And there is arguably no one more capable of conceiving ways to promote the WNBA game and its players in the face of declining league-wide attendance (the Dream finished 9th among 12 teams) and TV viewership. The Dream canned general manager Angela Taylor near the close of 2015’s disappointing season. Months later, head coach Michael Cooper’s new boss is… I dunno, himself? Longtime Georgia Tech Associate Athletic Director Theresa Wenzel was hired to be the Team President last month, but she appears by my eye to be more of an office head than a player personnel manager. Until we see differently, I’d say it’s safe to assume that as far as the players are concerned, Coach Coop is calling the shots. USC Trojan alums Karleen Thompson and Miles Cooper (Michael’s son) return as his trusty assistants. The Dream didn’t get lucky in last autumn’s WNBA Draft Lottery, and instead of picking 4th in this year’s Draft they decided to take a chance on last year’s #4 selection. Elizabeth Williams played 21 games in her rookie season with the Sun (11.7 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG) before being shelved for the year with a bruised knee. The move results in the rival Sun having back-to-back picks in the Draft (3rd and 4th). Out of Duke, Williams was the only four-time AP All-American in ACC history, and was college basketball’s 2015 National Defensive Player of the Year. It’s that rim-protecting potential, particularly after the departures of Erika DeSouza (mid-season trade) and Aneika Henry (free agency, to Connecticut) that attracts Cooper. “We feel Elizabeth Williams will give us a defensive-minded center to handle all the big posts that we face,” noted Cooper, “and additional toughness that I think we were lacking last season.” Williams headlines a rebuilding frontcourt rotation that includes Brazilian big Damiris Dantas, plus second-year players Reshanda Gray and Cierra Burdick (all likely returnees from last season) behind Sancho Lyttle. It’s the dreaded Olympic year, which every four years has teams scrambling to keep rosters stocked as players go for the proverbial gold. Rio 2016 lasts from August 5-21, and the FIBA Olympic Qualifier in France runs from June 13-19. The WNBA breaks from play during Rio, but several teams will have players drawn away for either preparation or playing in the June qualifier. Team USA already qualified in 2014, and Brazil hosts, so that may work to the benefit of franchise face Angel McCoughtry and Dantas. The 32-year-old Lyttle’s status with Team Spain this June always seems up in the air, but it’s likely this is why Cooper has been stacking the frontcourt with fresh talent. The WNBA is shaking up the postseason format, adding a little more variability while rewarding top teams with a little more rest along the path to the Finals. Instead of the top 4 teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences, now it’s the top 8 teams overall qualifying. By comparison, last year’s Dream team would have been an 8-seed in 2016, assuming they won a tiebreaker with the Sun. Rounds 1 and 2 will be single-elimination, with the third and fourth seeds getting a bye in the opening round and the top two seeds sitting out both winner-take-all rounds. There will be reseeding after each round concludes, and the semifinals copy the WNBA Finals’ 2-2-1 format instead of a best-of-3. It’s crazy enough that it just might work. What wouldn’t work would be what reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne has been advocating. Building from commentary by UConn don Geno Auriemma, EDD is pushing the league to consider lowering the rim heights, enough to allow for the more hops-challenged among them to add dunking like Brittney Griner to their skill arsenals. Such a drastic proposal would do more harm than good to the game, in my opinion, and Delle Donne’s ardent stance, under the banner of promoting “equality,” has created a small philosophical schism among her fellow WNBA players, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi loudest among her opposing viewpoints on this issue. Alas, squabbling is de rigueur during a way-too-protracted offseason, players and officials always at-the-ready to react in horrified keystrokes to every predictable slight by male celebs and bigwigs with boorish opinions. It’s pretty odd that a non-playoff team would make next-to-no changes to the lineup heading into next season, but with Cooper sticking around and sticking to his guns, that’s essentially what we have here. Aside from Williams replacing Henry’s position, Atlanta has essentially the same starting five they drew up when the season concluded: First-Team All-WNBA star McCoughtry and Lyttle at forward, Shoni Schimmel and Tiffany Hayes at guard, and Dantas competing with Williams at the five-spot. There’s even continuity among the reserves. Puerto Rican star Carla Cortijo will compete with Sydney Carter at the point, Matee Ajavon returns after a surprisingly improved campaign in 2015, and swing player Roneeka Hodges isn’t going anywhere. Things might change another with a Draft deal or two. But barring a star turn from Williams, it should be more of the same from 2015, with hope for organic growth across the board. Last year’s 3-way DeSouza-Dantas-Gray deal also netted the Dream the 11th pick in the Draft, via reigning champ Minnesota, while the trading of last year’s first-rounder (Samantha Logic) to San Antonio granted them the 13th pick. Throw in the 16th pick, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one or more could be dealt, either to leapfrog a rival like Chicago or Indiana in the lower end of the first round, or to add more veteran support to an increasingly youthful roster. In any case, there’s only so much room at the inn, given a 12-player limit. Backcourt defense and perimeter shooting ought to be the Dream’s top priorities to address heading into the Draft. Atlanta shot 41.1 FG% as a team in 2015 (10th out of 12 teams), and thanks in part to Cooper’s headless-chicken pace, committed 15.3 turnovers per game, well above anybody else, while conceding a league-high 79.8 PPG on the other end of the floor. Opponents were able to waltz to the free throw line (23.4 attempts per game) on the strength of 20.8 personal fouls per game committed by Atlanta, both WNBA-highs, both well-above the teams behind them. Key to the Dream’s decline last season was the steep offensive drop-off of Hayes (39.2 FG% and 27.4 3FG%, down from 46.4 FG% and 35.7 3FG% in 2014), who re-upped with Atlanta in February on a new multi-year contract. Schimmel may or may not be playing for Team Five Guys, but her offseason conditioning has long been a sore spot for WNBA fans, and there are few signs that things improved in the past few months. Cooper quickly lost confidence in his rookie Logic last year, but needs to find someone that could transform Schimmel and Hayes into steady sixth-women, sooner than later. A secondary need is depth at the five-spot. A third center could help in the event the Dream lose Dantas for an extended period due to Olympic obligations, and if Williams isn’t quite primed for a heavy workload. UConn supernova Breanna Stewart is a lock to head to Seattle and replace retiring legend Lauren Jackson, while lights-out shooter Rachel Banham of Minnesota (28.6 PPG) shot up the draft boards with blistering performances and is out of reach. There are not one, but two “Courtney Williams”-es in the Draft, and I’m a fan of both of them. But the South Florida shooting guard Courtney Williams (by way of Charlton County, Georgia, 22.4 PPG, 38.2 3FG%) fills a better long-term need than the rebounding swing player out of Texas A&M. The Aggie Williams received a late-season suspension for unspecified reasons. So, if you absolutely have to get a Courtney from College Station, go instead with their all-time leading scorer, Courtney Walker (touted by her coach as “the best mid-range shooter in America”). Or, go with their lead playmaker, Jordan Jones (6.1 APG). Staying in the Longhorn State, Baylor guard Niya Johnson can push the rock and dish it well, among the NCAA leaders with 8.7 APG and a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Other guards potentially available for Atlanta at No. 11 include Rutgers’ Kahleah Copper (3rd all-time in scoring for C. Vivian Stringer’s program), Bria Holmes of West Virginia, Ameryst Alston of Ohio State (directed the NCAA’s 3rd-highest scoring offense), Jamie Weisner of Oregon State (44.3 3FG%), and Brittney Martin of Oklahoma State (20.4 PPG, 2.7 SPG, 20 double-doubles). As a surprise pick, the Dream might take a flyer on Hawaiian guard Lia Galdeira, who elected to forego her senior year at Washington State and play overseas in preparation for the WNBA. There should be several pivot players available at the bottom end of the first round. Top talents include the rangy 6-foot-7 Imani Boyette out of Texas, Oregon State’s Ruth Hamblin (3.5 BPG), and Florida State’s Adut Bulgak, a Sudanese-Canadian who has a bit of shooting touch to go along with her post defense. Jillian Alleyne of Oregon (13.6 RPG) is stashable but unable to play this season after an ACL tear short-circuited her season. Cooper never met a USC Trojan he didn’t like, so don’t rule out Temi Fagbenle (“fuhg-BEEN-lay”) with a lower-round pick. Among the smaller schools, there’s Florida Gulf Coast’s Whitney Knight (no, I don’t know if she can dunk), a shot-blocking 2-guard who is moving up the charts after a solid season. I’m a huge fan of Albany’s Shereesha Richards (23.4 PPG), who joins Stewie and Alleyne as just three college players with 2,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds. But I’d rather not draft the Jamaican range-expanding wing scorer, unless Atlanta’s drafting a player to groom as a star-in-waiting for Angel, who turns 30 in September. ~lw3
  9. (Before the theses that follow, a "tl;dr" version... WNBA season's around the corner... The Dream are contenders to win the East once again, but may shake things up next year if they regress in the playoffs... Chicago's the favorite, but what happens with Sky center Sylvia Fowles could shift the balance of power back to Atlanta... WNBA veterans resting from, or due, to other obligations have implications on the race out West.) ~lw3
  10. Another Atlanta pro team’s season is right around the corner! The WNBA Draft is on Thursday night (7 PM Eastern, first-round coverage on ESPN2, later rounds online via ESPN3), and the Atlanta Dream will likely have two more quality players to choose from when they pick at #10 in the first round. If you haven’t heard much Dream news, that’s because, well, there hasn’t been much to write home about. Former Tulsa wing Roneeka Hodges started every game for the Shock last season. Signed as a free agent, the veteran in her 11th season will ably fill in behind Dream star Angel McCoughtry. Otherwise, just about every key player from last season’s Eastern Conference regular season winner returns for another campaign, which begins June 5. Swedish-born Minnesota sophomore center Amanda Zahui B. and Notre Dame junior point guard Jewell “Slide That L Over” Loyd surprised many this week by declaring for early entry. Their inclusion pushes the middle of the first-round draft board down to the Dream at #10. Atlanta is not necessarily looking for an immediate starter, but will search for a rookie reserve that could bring similar potential impact (on the floor) to what Shoni Schimmel (8th overall) brought to the Dream in 2014. If there is anyone with 2015 Starter potential at #10, she would fill in a point guard slot. Jasmine Thomas was brought back into the fold on a multi-year deal, but her talents as a passer and shooter leave much to be desired. Celine Dumerc is believed to be under contract, but there have been no indications the French national star will return to America. She may stay in France to help prepare Les Bleus for another run at the Eurobasket championship, which finishes up in late June. A third point guard in the fold would shield against the probability that Dumerc does not return, or arrives late again, while offering Atlanta a longer-term solution. Such a player could also limit the usage of Schimmel as a reserve PG, leaving Shoni to play to her strengths as a small 2-guard.The recent movement of the draft board likely means that one of the top two point guards in the draft will drop to #10. Samantha Logic (5’9”, Iowa) is as pure a floor general as you’ll find (8.1 APG, 3rd in NCAA), and has demonstrated an ability to extend herself defensively at multiple positions, leading her Hawkeyes in rebounding. She’s not a strong long-range shooter. Still, if there’s any rookie who might become a double-double, or triple-double, threat while sharing the floor with Angel, Samantha would be a Logic-al choice. Brittany Boyd (5’9”, California) could emulate Fred Hoiberg, and become “The Mayor” of Berkeley, California, the place where she starred as a high school senior. Cal’s first WBCA All-American would be quite happy imitating Jason Kidd. Boyd (6.8 APG, 6th in NCAA) does many things similar to Logic (leading her Golden Bears in rebounding, too) and is a more effective defender at her prime position, but she (like Kidd used to be) is far from a polished shooter. Her passing numbers may be a bit inflated, having fed likely first-round power forward Reshanda Gray (6’3”) in the post. Either Logic’s or Boyd’s tenacity would look good with Tiffany Hayes and McCoughtry at the wings. But Boyd’s transition offensive skills are most reminiscent of what Angel brings every night. Dream GM Angela Taylor may let her alumni strings get the best of her and pass up Boyd for Amber Orrange (5’7”, Stanford). She is a much stronger shooter than the other two guards, but her size may make it tough for her to adjust to a more physical game. She is also more of a quiet leader, in the mold of a Jeff Teague, who finds ways to shine whenever the spotlight is thrust upon her. Orrange’s addition may drum up offers for Schimmel, who would not be an ideal complement in a reserve backcourt duo scenario. Brazilians Erika DeSouza and Nadia Gomes Colhado were both re-signed this offseason, stabilizing Atlanta’s center position. But DeSouza’s now 33 years of age, her frontcourt mate Sancho Lyttle 31, and their ability to hold up at the ends of games (and seasons) showed signs of fraying as the curtains came down prematurely on 2014. The Dream may go after bigs willing to develop and wait-in-the-wings for a starting spot to open up down the road, in the interim taking pressure off of Aneika Henry (reserved but not yet re-signed) and Colhado. Kiah Stokes (6’3”, UConn) would be a surefire defensive stopgap at the pivot, but is as big an offensive black hole (aside from her rebounding) as any prospect you’ll find. Isabelle Harrison (6’3”, Tennessee) is the top all-around talent among players capable of playing the 5-spot. But multiple knee injuries raise valid questions about her long-term durability. You can’t teach size, and when it comes to that, Vicky McIntyre (6’7”, Old Dominion Oral Roberts via Oklahoma State and Florida) is about as good as it gets. Agility (a la Phoenix’s Brittney Griner) is not her strong suit, but rebounding (NCAA-high 15.8 RPG) and shot-blocking (4.7 BPG, 2nd in NCAA) sure as heck is. She also has a little range with her jumpshot, unlike most bigs coming out of college. She’d need conditioning work to adjust to the elevated pace of the WNBA game. Atlanta doesn’t have a second-round pick this year. Thanks to their calamitous Swin Cash deal from last season, that pick goes to Chicago, who swapped their third-rounder as part of that trade. The Dream don’t have a need to reach in the first round, but if they do, it will likely be for a PF/C prospect like Stokes or McIntyre. “We need a physical, physical big down low,” Dream coach Michael Cooper told FoxSports last September, a week after Chicago ousted the Dream from the playoffs. “We need that beast in the post in that four spot or five spot and we’ll definitely be looking to shore up there.” As usual, I’m a sucker for local talent. Although it’s tough to imagine her falling too far down the board, it would be impossible to pass up on Dearica Hamby (6’3”, Marietta High, Norcross High, Wake Forest), who will likely get taken not long after her ACC competitor, National Defensive Player of the Year Elizabeth Williams (6’3”, Duke). A late-bloomer, Hamby averaged 20-and-10 for a Demon Deacon team that had little else to offer. Her defensive agility, wingspan, and shot range would allow her to fit right in as a replacement for Lyttle, who is likely to leave in June to help defending champion Spain in Eurobasket competition. Sancho was the Eurobasket 2013 MVP, defeating Dumerc and host France in the final. Elem Ibiam (6’4”, Fayette County High, South Carolina) was a low-first-round prospect at the start of the NCAA season. But her hype has ebbed, as her minutes and those of fellow prospect Aleighsa Welch (6’0”) were gobbled up by A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates on Dawn Staley’s stacked Gamecocks roster. A solid rim protector, Ibiam may become available with the higher of Atlanta’s two third-round picks (29th from Chicago, 34th). Cooper, who left USC to come to Atlanta last season, took a Woman of Troy in last year’s draft (Cassie Harberts). The Dream’s head coach may coax the brain trust into doing the same in 2015 with forward Alexyz Vaioletama (6’1”, USC). Coop continued to recruit Vaioletama after she suffered stress fractures in both legs while in high school. Coincidentally, one of her high school teammates was Kelena Mosqueda-Lewis (5’11, UConn), the deadeye-shooting guard (NCAA all-time three-point shooter) who is certain to get taken in the top-five of the first round. Long-range shooting has long been a bugaboo for Atlanta (last in WNBA with 30.3 3FG% in 2014). Without trades, the draft is unlikely to help much in this regard. Diminutive guard Damika Martinez (5’7”, Iona: Twitter handle is “Dream_Chaser_14”) may a later-round option but her role would be duplicative with Schimmel’s. Laurin Mincy (6’0”, Maryland) can fill it up but has a history of ACL injuries, and will likely be gone anyway before the Dream pick again in the third-round. If the Dream don’t take a point guard with the first-rounder, the early third-round prospects may include Nikki Moody (5’8”, Iowa State, 8th in NCAA for APG), Brittany Hrynko (5’8”, DePaul), Natasha Cloud (6’0”, St. Joseph’s) and and the zippy Bria Smith (5’10”, Louisville). A longshot to get drafted is Smith’s fellow teammate and Shoni’s younger sibling Jude Schimmel (5’6”, Louisville). ~lw3
  11. Dream Preview Rise and shine! Summertime, and the WNBA season, are right around the corner! The defending Eastern Conference champion Atlanta Dream spent the offseason doing some major re-tooling. But in a weaker Eastern Conference, the forecasts for an impressive regular season record (20-plus wins, anyone?), a division title, a return to the WNBA Finals, and a competitive effort if they get there, are all looking pretty darn good on paper. After losing forward Sancho Lyttle just as she was coming into her own as an All-Star caliber player, the Dream collapsed in the second-half to the 2013 season, negating a torrid 12-1 start to finish just 17-17. Making their seemingly annual crawl into the postseason, Atlanta scrambled to return to the WNBA Finals for the third time in four seasons, only to get dusted once again, for the second time at the hands of the three-time champion Minnesota Lynx. On the heels of their latest Finals ouster, Atlanta made major moves in the front-office, on the sidelines, and on the court. Yet, this is far from a tear-down rebuilding effort. Rather, the Dream appears to have enhanced a cohesive core that, when they play with focus and stay healthy, can be hard to stop. Not long after the Finals, Coach Fred Williams stepped aside, planning to quietly settle into a (capital-D) Dream consultant gig. But a new head coaching job leading some of the best young up-and-coming talents in the league was simply too good for Williams to pass up, so he moved on to Tulsa. For the first time in franchise history, Atlanta’s player personnel/general manager position was split away from the coaching job, and Angela Taylor swooped in. Taylor has considerable experience in leaguewide scouting, and served as GM during the Washington Mystics’ peak season in 2009. Demonstrating the seriousness with which Atlanta intends to elevate above perennial-bridesmaid status, the Dream owners’ first big get was Los Angeles Lakers legend Michael Cooper. The 2000 WNBA Coach of the Year carries two WNBA championship rings from his seasons coaching the Sparks, to go along with his five NBA rings from his Showtime years in the 1980s. Bridging two separate stints with the Sparks, Coop brought Lisa Leslie into prominence and helped kickstart Candace Parker’s pro career as Leslie moved into retirement. Over the course of both coaching tenures in L.A., Cooper’s teams reached the conference finals in six of eight seasons. An eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Coop won’t have a hard time stressing defensive intensity on one of the league’s best shutdown squads (95.7 opponent points per 100 possessions, best in 2013), although his style will be markedly different from what Williams and Marynell Meadors preached in seasons past. While Cooper says he aims to push Atlanta’s breakneck pace (league-leading 93.9 possessions per-40) even more, he will seek to greatly improve Atlanta’s halfcourt execution to boost the nightly offensive output. Cooper added some pure Georgia flavor to his staff by bringing in another legend, four-time Olympic gold medalist and Naismith Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards, as an assistant coach. Edwards has some WNBA coaching experience, as she was left holding Nolan Richardson’s bag with a shell-shocked Tulsa team in 2011. Her fellow assistant Karleen Thompson, who played with Leslie at USC, was the final head coach and GM for the Houston Comets before the league’s signature franchise folded in 2008, and took over for Cooper when he left the Sparks for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets in 2004. Altogether, there is a lot of heft and experience for Atlanta’s players to draw from, particularly for all-everything Angel McCoughtry, who ranks third all-time in WNBA per-game scoring and steals. It will be interesting to see how the notoriously moody McCoughtry will meld with the new staff as they revise Atlanta’s style of play and go through their growing pains together. Will the franchise player be patient, soaking up as much as she can to improve her already All-WNBA caliber game and lead on the floor? Or, when the going gets tough, will alter-ego “Lori Ann” emerge, overconfident that she knows more than her coaches do about what it takes to win it all in the “modern” WNBA era? Thanks to a pair of shrewd moves from Taylor, Atlanta just might have the two non-Team-USA players with the best performances from the 2012 Olympic Games. The Dream re-signed Erika DeSouza, the All-Defensive second-teamer (should have been All-WNBA Third Team) who shattered many of her own team records in 2013 and, now at age 32, has shown no real signs of slowing down. With Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles out of action for at least the start of the year, DeSouza should have an inside track for Defensive Player of the Year honors, with McCoughtry and Lyttle also in the running. DeSouza played her rookie year under Cooper in L.A., way back in 2002. In case the passionate post player does decelerate a little bit, she’s brought along 25-year-old Nadia Gomes Colhado from Brazil. The 6-foot-4 rebounder stands a decent chance of making the team if Cooper goes, as planned, with the 12-player maximum roster allowed under the new WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. The other Olympian standout was French star point guard Celine Dumerc, who carried Les Bleus on her back to the silver medal at the London Games. Dumerc will reach 32 years of age this summer, but remains arguably the most accomplished lead guard in international hoops. She is a remarkable left-handed shooter, has ideal court vision and remains a heady defensive player. While she can be quite candid with her comments, Dumerc is expected to bring a serious professional attitude to the court, and may be just the X-Factor Atlanta needs to contend with the Lindsay Whalens of the world at the point. Dumerc will arrive late to the roster, after the French League championships are completed later this month. When she arrives, she will probably serve as an apt mentor for Jasmine Thomas. Thomas’ 2013 season was not significantly improved from her final year with the Mystics, before the Dream acquired her. Jasz struggled mightily as a shooter all season, and averaged just 2.0 assists (and 2.5 turnovers) per game in the playoffs as a starter. Cooper is a strong player-development proponent and isn’t likely to give up on Thomas so easily, hoping a season of tutelage ahead or behind Dumerc might do the trick. However, Cooper is also enamored with a purer point guard, free agent Samantha Prahalis, possibly making Thomas a waiver casualty before opening day. Alex Bentley made the WNBA All-Rookie Team largely on the strength of her first-half of 2013, where she broke the WNBA record with 10 consecutive three-pointers made, and an uncanny string of shots made at the end-of-quarter buzzers. She was moved to Connecticut, in a three-team deal that brought swing player Matee Ajavon to Atlanta. (Trivia: Matee’s boyfriend at Rutgers was running back Ray Rice. Breaking up may have been a smart move). As the Mystics’ GM, Taylor selected Ajavon in the 2009 dispersal draft after the Comets folded. As a reserve, she averaged 18 points in the top-seeded Mystics’ 2010 playoffs, where Washington fell to Atlanta in both opening-round games. Starting at shooting guard in 2013, she struggled with her shot in Washington’s 2-1 playoff loss to Atlanta, but did contribute five assists in the concluding game of the series. Matee brings decent on-ball defense to the table. Her shot range isn’t ideal, but on the wing, she can draw attention on drives and dish the ball out to more capable shooters. Speaking of which, you may not find a more capable perimeter gunner coming out of college than Shoni Schimmel. Taylor nabbed the Louisville All-American with the 8th pick in last month’s draft, and Cooper absolutely cannot stop raving about her. Atlanta’s three-point shooting has been downright atrocious for many seasons (just 27.5 3FG% in 2013, last in the league by a mile), and Schimmel could serve as an elixir for the Dream’s woes. She sunk 3.1 triples per game for the Cardinals as a senior. 2013 third-round pick Inga Orekhova has an outside shot at making the roster, but the USF guard must wow people in training camp with her shooting stroke. If you don't know already, Shoni’s kind of a big deal, and rightfully so. Honing her game on an Indian reservation in Oregon, her path to D-I basketball was chronicled by “30 for 30” filmmaker Jonathan Hock in a documentary called “Off the Rez”. Felling mighty Baylor in the 2013 Elite Eight on a wild and-1, over-the-shoulder layup past the outstretched arm of giant Brittney Griner, before screaming upwards into Griner’s Adam’s apple, the tales of her tenacious exploits are many. Schimmel bedeviled Baylor in a different way last month, taking the women’s Three-Point Shooting Contest championship and then topping that by besting the men’s champion, Baylor’s Brady Heslip, in a head-to-head for the overall title. It doesn’t hurt chemistry at all that Schimmel arrives from the same collegiate program that put McCoughtry on the path to stardom. If there’s any doubt she can draw a crowd by herself, this year’s WNBA Draft was the most watched in history, surpassing the “3 To See” Draft of 2013. Atlanta’s road games against the Seattle Storm (in August) and Tulsa Shock (in July), reportedly, are already sold out, as was Schimmel’s #23 WNBA jersey online, out of stock in just seven days, according to Shoni’s sister. NDN Sports reports the Dream’s social media accounts suddenly added thousands of new “friends” in the week following Schimmel’s selection. Cooper and Taylor’s commitment to player development will be exemplified, and roundly critiqued, on the quality of Schimmel’s on-floor growth. Cooper has already praised her passing abilities hyperbolically (“We see her like Magic Johnson”), and her eagerness to learn on the fly. He will be challenged to find the right balance of floor time and shot usage for his prized rookie. Schimmel will need to upgrade her conditioning, in anticipation of the rigors of her future role as a WNBA starter. Atlanta will be missing the defensive spark brought by guard Armintie Herrington. Herrington sure could hurry, the 29-year-old remaining one of the speediest players in the game. She signed on with the Sparks to join her former assistant coach, Carol Ross, and former backcourt mate Lindsey Harding. Atlanta will take a considerable step back defending point guard drives and perimeter shots in Herrington’s absence, although Ajavon will help compensate a bit. To minimize the impact, expect a lot more time at the two-guard spot for the Human Floor Burn, Tiffany Hayes. Tip, who spent her offseason playing in Brazil alongside DeSouza and Colhado, was the only true perimeter threat Atlanta gad during the playoffs, where she finished second behing Angel in scoring. Lyttle’s return is the most impactful for Atlanta’s title-contention hopes. Lyttle significantly cut back on her long-range shooting last season and it paid great dividends amid much of Atlanta’s 12-1 run. Through six WNBA games, interrupted by a stint winning the Eurobasket title for Spain and joining Dumerc on the all-tournament team, Lyttle was on pace for a career-high in scoring, rebounding and blocks while shooting a five-year-high field goal percentage before going down for the year. If Sancho picks up where she left off, she will make Atlanta as formidable as any WNBA team from the 3-through-5 spots. And she seems quite healthy. For her Eurobasket performance, Lyttle was named the 2013 FIBA Europe Women’s Player of the Year. Just in the past month, her Galatasaray team defeated McCoughtry’s vaunted Fenerbahce squad to win both the Turkish league title (ending Fener’s 8-year streak) and the Euroleague Women’s championship (stopping Fener’s 18-game winning streak). Filling in for Lyttle and DeSouza, Aneika Henry made great strides in the latter half of 2013, and may be one of the league’s strongest frontcourt reserves coming into 2014. After a trade with Chicago, Atlanta has bolstered their depth by acquiring the Sky's starting power forward from last season, Swin Cash. A longtime veteran and three-time WNBA championship team member, Cash will instantly provide leadership on and off the floor, and flexibility for Cooper's frontcourt rotations.The always-cosmetic LeCoe Willingham returns at least for training camp, but is likely competing for Spot #12 with Rookie Cassie Harberts (who played for Cooper at USC) will have a hard time earning a spot now that Cash is on board. and longtime veteran Ruth Riley, who snapped Cooper’s string of Sparks championships when she earned the MVP award for the Detroit Shock in the 2003 Finals. Although perhaps a bit spoiled by three Finals appearances in four years of this franchise’s short history, Atlanta Dream fans have tired of half-baked seasons with uncompetitive endings. There will be fits and starts while the new coaches and players gel and establish a new chemistry around their playoff-hardened core. The Dream must find ways to be more competitive on the road than they were last year (4-13, tied for next to last in the league; no road wins from June 25 until September 6). They also must improve their efficiency at the free throw line (74.1 FT%, also next to last). Still, this is likely to be Atlanta’s most entertaining run toward the WNBA championship yet. Go Dream! ~lw3
  12. (EDIT: Put the first one in the wrong forum, so I'm pasting it here...) Just a reminder for the WNBA fans that the Dream will play the Indiana Fever this afternoon at Philips. Folks that get SportSouth can catch it at 3 PM, otherwise you'd need WNBA LiveAccess to peep it from your computer. The Dream were mildly shorthanded without Yelena Leuchanka (concussion) last week, when the Dream dropped the season opener to the Fever, but Atlanta never gained traction in the game, down by 17 before shrinking the final lead to 8. Led by league MVP Tamika Catchings (long overdue for that award), The Fever are the odds-on favorite to get over the hump and make the Finals from the East. Catchings' injury against the Dream in the playoffs was a speedbump on that path to the title last year. The Fever travel to Atlanta after an impressive road victory over the improved Chicago Sky on Friday. Starting in the absence of Erika DeSouza (Brazil Olympics), Leuchanka was fantastic in the Dream's last game, a drubbing of the New York Liberty on Friday night, shooting 5-for-5 while making some great passes. She has to avoid the temptation to pass on open shots in the paint. Atlanta will need to squeeze all the production they can get out of Sancho Lyttle, who leaves the team in June to join the Spanish Olympic team. Keeping her out of foul trouble will be crucial to winning today's contest. It'll get much tougher without Sancho and Erika going forward. They'll need to reproduce the defensive effort that stymied Cappie Pondexter and the Libs on Friday, not only to slow Catchings but Katie Douglas, Shavonte Zellous (a longtime Dream killer) and Briann January on the perimeter. Last Saturday, the Fever lofted ten more threes than the Dream and shot 57%. Sancho was the only player who took 3 three-point shots in that game, which is almost like asking Smoove to do it, so the Dream need to rely on their long-range bombers Cathrine Kraayeveld and Laurie Koehn to step up. Go Dream! ~lw3