2016 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews


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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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].

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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

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WNBA PREVIEW

Part of last season’s shocker was that, while the Dream waffled, several of their Eastern Conference rivals (including conference champ New York and Washington) began to not only find their sea legs, but started toppling Western Conference opponents as well. Two years before, Atlanta was the sole Eastern team with an above-.500 record. Now the Dream are competing with four conference rivals (not including upstart Connecticut) that had winning records in 2015 and head into 2016 with mostly upward trajectories.

No Eastern Conference top-seeds have reached the WNBA Finals since 2009. The new playoff format hopes to change those odds in their favor, allowing top-seeded teams to rest while lesser seeds wrangle through a pair of elimination games. The scheduling process revised by the WNBA, now entering its 20th season, also diminishes the relevance of dominating a lesser conference.

It is likely that teams whose shows can go on the road successfully will have a leg up in the new league-wide competition for a playoff spot. Atlanta’s 6-11 away-game mark ranked last in the East in 2015, so there’s definite room for improvement if they can beat these WNBA rivals more frequently in their house.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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Twin Towers revival! The New York Liberty soared to the top of the East in 2015, thanks to a stifling frontcourt defense led by Tina Charles and Kiah Stokes. Fellow all-WNBA Defensive 2nd Teamer Tanisha Wright cannot be overlooked at the wing, either. Losing scoring guard Epiphanny Prince (recovering from off-season ACL surgery) for much of the season hurts, but reigning WNBA Coach of the Year Bill Laimbeer helped make up for the momentary loss.

“Trade Her” Bill acquired Shoni Schimmel from Atlanta, and wooed Shavonte Zellous from Indiana, to fill the void. For a team that had poor offensive efficiency in 2015, the wild card for the Libs involves what Laimbeer might do if he’s unconvinced Brittany Boyd should be his starting point guard.

 

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While everything rightfully revolves around league MVP Elena Delle Donne for the Chicago Sky, she’ll need vast improvement by her frontcourt mates to contend in 2016 for a title. Courtney Vandersloot, Cappie Pondexter and Sixth Woman of the Year Allie Quigley make for quite an offensive punch from the backcourt.

But longtime stalwart Sylvia Fowles is gone, and head coach Pokey Chatman is hoping one of her young bigs, Cheyenne Parker, Clarissa dos Santos or rookie Imani Boyette, will emerge quickly to alleviate the aging Erika DeSouza. Chatman will want to have Delle Donne settled in at one of the two forward spots by season’s end.

 

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We can’t forget last year’s WNBA Finalists, the Indiana Fever, coached by the sensational Stephanie White and featuring legendary Tamika Catchings in her final WNBA go-round. It’s too early to assess how the torch-passing will go-about, but All-WNBA Defensive 1st Teamer (and league 3FG% leader in 2015) Briann January, guard Shenise Johnson, and rookie Tiffany Mitchell should make for a good start.

Concerns for the Fever include depth at small forward beyond Marissa Coleman. By the back half of the season, Natalie Achonwa needs to finally establish herself as a starter at center, allowing Erlana Larkins to serve a more appropriate super-sub role. They gave up on the development of Natasha Howard, but trading her for Devereaux Peters provides Indiana with a stronger presence upfront.

 

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The Washington Mystics don’t have a whole lot of issues, but they do have one Latta issue, as Ivory Latta (2015 league-leader in three-pointers) will miss the start of the year following knee surgery. That’s a significant setback for the offense, although point guard Natasha Cloud started late in her rookie year so Latta could boost the bench. Bria Hartley and Tayler Hill will step up in Latta’s absence, as will Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and rookie Kahleah Copper, but head coach Mike Thibault will lean heavily on his talented bigs from the outset.

Highlighting the frontcourt again is All-Star forward Emma Meesseman, but the returning Stefanie Dolson, LaToya Sanders, Tianna Hawkins, and Kia Vaughn provide a variety of options in and around the paint for Washington. Defending the rim and minimizing second-chance opportunities for opponents will be the Mystics’ biggest need for improvement.

 

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Kelsey Bone was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2015. Is there someone on the Connecticut Sun who the center can hand the trophy to this season? The affable Chiney Ogwumike should be returning soon, after having missed out on her second season due to microfracture knee surgery. Chiney is looking to pair up with Bone and bring some harmony to the Sun frontcourt. New head coach Curt Miller hopes to promote less static play and will turn to Chiney to roll to the basket for buckets often.

The challenge for Miller comes in figuring out who is getting her the ball. Jasmine Thomas piled up plenty of assists last season for the Sun, but there aren’t many options for Miller aside from Thomas’ fellow ex-Dreamer Alex Bentley and rookie scorer Rachel Banham. With Banham joining Shekinna Stricklen and fellow rookie Morgan Tuck, whoever handles the point should have many more options. Connecticut’s biggest challenges will be defending perimeter shooters and improving terrible free throw shooting.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

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The champs are back! Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx are on the hunt for their fourth WNBA championship in the past six seasons, and their first repeat title. After a year off, center Janel McCarville returns, this time to back up Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles. The starting unit with Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, and Fowles, led by head coach Cheryl Reeves, has no peer. And the backup spots with McCarville back aren’t too shabby, either.

The Lynx traded to acquire Jia Perkins from San Antonio, and she’ll form a productive reserve backcourt unit with Renee Montgomery. Minnesota is thin at the forward positions, however, and Reeves hopes Indiana trade acquisition Natasha Howard will mature enough to earn a steadier role in the rotation.

 

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If there’s any resistance for the Lynx at all, it’s likely to come from the Phoenix Mercury. Diana Taurasi is back from taking a year off from WNBA action. The team re-signed Penny Taylor and DeWanna Bonner, forming a starting unit anchored by Brittney Griner (runaway leader in blocks once again in 2015) that remains quite formidable.

Depth for coach Sandy Brondello’s squad isn’t as strong as Minnesota’s, so while health for the starting lineup is crucial, continued improvement will be expected from the likes of frontcourt contributors Mistie Bass, Alex Harden and Isabelle Harrison. With Griner swatting everything she can get her hands on, the Merc need defensive rebounders to secure the few shots she doesn’t get.

 

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A full season of Skylar Diggins alongside fellow guard Odyssey Sims should be enough to keep the Dallas Wings above the playoff bubble in their new WNBA home. Head coach Freddie Williams is hoping rookie Aerial Powers will be a quick study at small forward, and that center Amanda Zahui B. grows by leaps and bounds at center, behind [depth is sufficient behind] space-eating Courtney Paris (2015 leader in rebounds).

Star forward Glory Johnson ought to be returning after completing her suspension from 2015, and the veteran presence of trade acquisition Erin Phillips shouldn’t hurt chemistry at all. Defense was never the Wings’ strong suit during their tenure in Tulsa (last in D-Rating in 2015). Williams’ challenge in Dallas will be to corral opponents and avoid giving up more points than his team can pile up.

 

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Not much riles up Candace Parker, the league-leader in minutes per game and assists per game despite playing just the latter half of 2015 for the Los Angeles Sparks. But the two-time former MVP (and active leader in Player Efficiency Rating) getting left off Team USA ahead of the 2016 Olympics might be quite a Spark, if you will, for elevated WNBA play in 2016.

Head coach Brian Agler has pushed the Sparks to play with better ball movement and player motion, as exemplified by Parker’s refined point-forward role. It remains to be seen how much more Nneka Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver, iron-woman Jantel Lavender and Alana Beard will mesh with Agler’s desired style. In any case, L.A. will miss the instant-offense that would have been provided by Riquna Williams, a trade acquisition from Dallas that’s now out for the season with a ruptured ACL. Defensively, the team could afford to find a better way to get stops and create transition plays, given they were dead-last in steals and turnovers-created in 2015.

 

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Lauren Jackson made her retirement from the WNBA official, so it’s perfect timing for collegiate superstar Breanna Stewart to take over for the Seattle Storm legend. Speaking of legends, Sue Bird is not quite done yet, and she’ll likely be around to help reigning Rookie of the Year Jewell Loyd to transition fully to the lead guard spot.

The swiftness with which Stewart and Loyd establish themselves, as the new Bird and Jackson, will go a ways toward finding out if the Storm can challenge for a playoff spot, after Seattle missed the past two postseasons. Head coach Jenny Boucek will push for more consistent contributions from her team’s bench, including Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Monica Wright and Ramu Tokashiki.

 

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Longtime head coach Dan Hughes is on the outs for the San Antonio Stars, and while he’ll give it his all from the sideline one last time, it is hard to see where the leadership on the floor will be coming from. Becky Hammon and Sophia Young-Malcolm are retired, Jia Perkins has been traded, Danielle Adams waived.

With just Jayne Appel-Marinelli representing any semblance of multi-season continuity, it’s safe to say this is Kayla McBride’s opportunity to lead until Danielle Robinson (torn Achilles) returns late in the year, or at least until fellow guard Moriah Jefferson emerges in her rookie season.

 

~lw3

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Season Predictions

 

 

 

  1. Minnesota Lynx
  2. Phoenix Mercury
  3. Chicago Sky
  4. New York Liberty
  5. Dallas Wings
  6. Los Angeles Sparks
  7. Indiana Fever
  8. Seattle Storm
  9. Connecticut Sun
  10. ATLANTA DREAM
  11. Washington Mystics
  12. San Antonio Stars

 

WNBA Semifinals – Minnesota over Dallas (3-0), Phoenix over Los Angeles (3-1)

 

WNBA Finals – Minnesota over Phoenix (3-2)

 

MVP – Maya Moore, Minnesota

 

Rookie of the Year – Breanna Stewart, Seattle

 

Most Improved Player – Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles

 

Sixth Woman of the Year – Allie Quigley, Chicago

 

Defensive Player of the Year – Brittney Griner, Phoenix

 

Peak Performers – Elena Delle Donne, Chicago (Scoring); Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota (Rebounding); Courtney Vandersloot (Assists); Brittney Griner, Phoenix (Blocks); Angel McCoughtry, ATLANTA (Steals)

 

Coach of the Year – Pokey Chatman, Chicago

 

~lw3

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Atlanta Dream Schedule

I can guarantee that Angel McCoughtry will not make the All-Star Game this year. That’s because there is no All-Star Game – the WNBA will not hold a mid-season classic, in deference to the Rio Olympics.

Of the 34 games on the Atlanta Dream’s schedule, just nine will take place after the Games conclude in late August. So it behooves the Dream to get in good position for the playoffs before the WNBA break, rather than hoping for some late-season scramble.

Atlanta’s schedule is fairly friendly in terms of road games, as there are just two 3-game trips. There’s one June 25-30 trip out West (San Antonio, Seattle, Los Angeles), and one July 10-15 trek that’s all East Coast (Connecticut, New York, Indiana).

On the other hand, there is just one home game among Atlanta’s first five official contests. After the season-opening games in San Antonio and Indiana, the Dream hosts Elena Delle Donne and Chicago in the May 22 home opener, before heading back out to visit New York and Dallas. While that can seem tough on the surface, Atlanta could use this initial slate of games to work out the kinks and build camaraderie away from home.

The Dream has one 4-game homestand from June 5-17 (Washington, Minnesota, Connecticut, Chicago). There are two 3-game homestands, one from July 5-10 (Phoenix, Seattle, Dallas), and the other runs from August 28-September 6 (Connecticut, Seattle, Phoenix). If you’re interested in seeing the Mercury at the Highlight Factory, the revised WNBA schedule gives you a double-dip this season, and the September 6 game is currently the one national broadcast (ESPN2) on the Dream’s schedule.

Given the month-long layoff, the league did a nice job minimizing the number of back-to-backs for WNBA teams. Atlanta has just one, leaving that 4-game homestand finale against the Sky to fly to D.C. and face the Mystics the next night, on June 18.

Just five of Atlanta’s 17 home games are on non-weekend dates, three of those coming after the Olympic break. The remaining 12 home games are on either a Sunday or a Friday. All home games are at Philips Arena, excepting the final game before the Olympic break, where Skylar Diggins and the Wings visit Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion on July 22. Like the Mercury, Dallas comes to Atlanta twice in this new schedule, both times in July (at Philips on July 8).

Bob Rathbun, color analyst LaChina Robinson, and sideline reporter Angel Gray all return for Dream home-game broadcasts. Fox Sports Southeast (or Fox Sports South, if the Bravos are on simultaneously) will cover 18 of the Dream’s 34 contests, including 15 of 17 home games. Road games in Indiana (May 20) and at Phoenix (September 11) and Minnesota (September 17) will be covered by Fox Sports’ local affiliates.

For the diehard WNBA fans, the league announced WNBA League Pass has been unveiled, in celebration of their 20th season, allowing fans to watch any non-nationally-televised, out-of-market games, live. It will be available through WNBA.com and the WNBA app on iOS and Android, along with Apple TV and Chromecast via the app. WNBA League Pass will have a free trial from May 14 through 17.

We’ll update this later with the NBATV schedule for road games once they’re posted.

 

**All times Eastern**

**All Home Games at Philips Arena, unless noted in brackets**

 

REGULAR SEASON (34 Games)

Saturday, May 14 – @ San Antonio, 8:00 pm (no local TV, online via ESPN3)

Friday, May 20 – @ Indiana, 7:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast simulcast)

Sunday, May 22 – vs. Chicago, 3:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast; NBATV outside of ATL)

Tuesday, May 24 – @ New York, 11:00 am (NBATV)

Friday, May 27 – @ Dallas, 8:30 pm (NBATV)

Sunday, May 29 – vs. Indiana, 3:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast; NBATV outside of ATL)

Friday, June 3 – @ Connecticut, 7:00 pm (no local TV)

Sunday, June 5 – vs. Washington, 3:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast)

Friday, June 10 – vs. Minnesota, 7:30 pm (Fox Sports Southeast)

Sunday, June 12 – vs. Connecticut, 3:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast)

Friday, June 17 – vs. Chicago, 7:30 pm (Fox Sports Southeast)

Saturday, June 18 – @ Washington, 7:00 pm (NBATV)

Wednesday, June 22 – vs. New York, 12:00 pm (Fox Sports South; NBATV outside of ATL)

Saturday, June 25 – @ San Antonio, 8:00 pm (no local TV)

Tuesday, June 28 – @ Seattle, 10:00 pm (no local TV, online via ESPN3)

Thursday, June 30 – @ Los Angeles, 3:30 pm (NBATV)

Sunday, July 3 – vs. Phoenix, 6:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast)

Tuesday, July 5 – vs. Seattle, 7:00 pm (Fox Sports South, online via ESPN3)

Friday, July 8 – vs. Dallas, 7:30 pm (Fox Sports Southeast)

Sunday, July 10 – @ Connecticut, 1:00 pm (no local TV)

Wednesday, July 13 – @ New York, 11:00 am (no local TV, online via ESPN3)

Friday, July 15 – @ Indiana, 7:00 pm (no local TV)

Sunday, July 17 – vs. Los Angeles, 3:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast; NBATV outside of ATL)

Wednesday, July 20 – @ Minnesota, 1:00 pm (no local TV)

Friday, July 22 – vs. Dallas, 7:30 pm [Georgia Tech – McCamish Pavilion] (no local TV)

{{OLYMPIC BREAK}}

Friday, August 26 – @ Chicago, 8:30 pm (no local TV)

Sunday, August 28 – vs. Connecticut, 3:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast; NBATV outside of ATL)

Sunday, September 4 – vs. Seattle, 6:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast; NBATV outside of ATL)

Tuesday, September 6 – vs. Phoenix, 8:00 pm (ESPN 2)

Thursday, September 8 – @ Los Angeles, 10:30 pm (no local TV)

Sunday, September 11 – @ Phoenix, 6:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast simulcast)

Tuesday, September 13 – vs. San Antonio, 7:00 pm (Fox Sports South)

Thursday, September 15 – vs. Washington, 7:00 pm (Fox Sports Southeast; NBATV outside of ATL)

Saturday, September 17 – @ Minnesota, 8:00 pm (NBATV; Fox Sports Southeast simulcast, 11 pm delay)  

 

~lw3

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I've been trying to like the WNBA since 96.... I can't do it. I watched one game in the inaugural season, 96 or 97 and I just couldn't do it. It's kind of like somebody recording my friends playing at the Y, then making me watch it. Kudos to all the talented ladies in the league but I'm out.

Ps I gotta lil thing for Skylar Diggins tho...she's kinda cute in some way.

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I like watching.   I think it's pretty high level and it really shows what having a pro league does.   The level of play in the wnba is light years ahead of what it was the first couple seasons.    It's like the MLS though.   If you don't have a full team of elite players it degrades the overall play even though the top players are amazing.  

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The Dream press release claims it's Olympic obligations that's keeping Dantas from showing up for training camp, although other Brazilians (e.g., DeSouza) seemed to have no problem showing up. So maybe it's the Team Brazil's concerns about her playing health that have her bubble-wrapped for Rio.

Also released yesterday were rookies Jordan Jones, Courtney Walker, and veteran wing Roneeka Hodges. The league's all-time leading game appearer, DeLisha Milton-Jones, will have to wait for Game #500, now that she's been released by the Dream. Hopefully, DMJ will work her way into coaching or the booth soon.

Atlanta announced today that the season-opener in San Antonio (8:00 pm Eastern) will be available online via ESPN3.

~lw3

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A few notes ahead of tonight's clash with the Stars in San Antonio, a town that's suddenly surprised to have just one team playing hoops right now.

Among the final roster cuts for the Stars was Samantha Logic, Atlanta's 2015 1st-round draft choice. After a month dealing with injury and getting acclimated to the pace of the game, Atlanta traded Logic to San Antonio last June. Outgoing Stars head coach Dan Hughes is going instead with the slightly more seasoned Sydney Colson at point guard, to back up rookie star Moriah Jefferson.

San Antonio's first-round draftee from 2015 was Dearica Hamby, formerly of Marietta and later Norcross High. She'll likely be their starting power forward.

After the final cuts by Atlanta, surviving to make the roster was Meighan Simmons. A 2014 3rd-round draft pick by the Liberty, Simmons was cut during the preseason by New York in 2014 and Seattle in 2015.  Now the former 2-time SEC Player of the Year hopes to stick for the season here in Atlanta, joining her fellow Vol alumna, forward Cierra Burdick, on the Dream's opening-day roster.

 

~lw3

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I was sure it was gonna be "First to 60!" but the Dreamgirls wouldn't cooperate. The Stars clawed back from deficits in every single quarter to either tie or take over the lead, the last time in the fourth when the Dream fumbled away a 5-point lead with under 40 seconds to go. (Jayne Appel-Marinelli, who may or may not have swallowed Danielle Adams whole, laid in the tying bucket off a nice feed at the regulation buzzer). Thankfully, the Stars finally wilted in OT (Atlanta 12, San An 2) as the Dream prevailed 73-63. 1-0, somehow!

Sancho (2-for-10 FGs, but 3 steals and a pair of blocks), like Brittney vs. Minnesota, looked like she just flew into Texas from wherever Ekaterinburg is. While she and Angel (5-for-14 FGs, 2 assists, 5 TOs) struggled, the guards carried the day offensively, notably Tip Hayes (6-for-9 FGs), Layshia Clarendon (4-for-9 FGs), Bria Holmes and Meighan Simmons. The quartet shot a collective 4-for-8 on  threes.

Shooting guard Kayla McBride scored 24 of the Stars 63 (regulation plus overtime!) points on 10-for-17 FGs, but struggled with defense and 4 TOs. During the Lynx-Merc game, ESPN showed all highlights of the Stars, because Moriah Jefferson (UConn), who finished the game making just 2 of 10 shots but had 6 assists and no TOs.

On to the next one!

~lw3

 

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The oddball opening to the WNBA season has a number of teams moving in fits and starts. The Dream got to rest and prep for nearly a week before heading to Indiana for tonight's match with the Fever (7:00 PM Eastern, FoxSports Indiana, simulcasted by FoxSports Southeast), with Atlanta aiming for its second-straight road victory. The Fever squeezed in a run with the Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday, and following up that impressive 97-93 win (franchise-record 7 players scoring in double figures), they're hoping for a successful close to their 3-game homestand tonight at the Fieldhouse.

Waiting in the wings will be the Chicago Sky, who also played their last game on Wednesday, a 97-80 home loss to Minnesota. They'll be the guests for Atlanta's home opener on Sunday afternoon (3:00 PM Eastern, FoxSports Southeast).

Atlanta is hoping their defensive effort in their overtime win at punchless San Antonio carries forward into today's game in Indy. The Fever (1-1) led the East with 88.0 PPG but have also given up 91.5 PPG at the other end. That included a 90-79 season-opening loss at home to the Skylar Diggins-less (and Glory Johnson-less) Dallas Wings.

Indiana is missing lead guard Briann January (WNBA-best 43.1 3FG%in 2015), who had microfracture surgery after the WNBA Finals concluded and is being brought back into the fold carefully by Fever head coach Stephanie White. In her place, Erica Wheeler scored a career-high 13 points in the season-opener, then topped that with 16 points on Wednesday versus Phoenix. Wheeler, who played as a rookie for Atlanta in 2015 before getting waived late in the season, is for the moment Indiana's leading scorer. She won't be the only player eager to go at her former team.

@Randy is undergoing a similar crisis as I went through in 2015, when the Dream acquired Matee Ajavon. I've had to go find a new least-favorite player, and recent arrival Layshia Clarendon isn't making things easy on Randy after her Dream debut. Clarendon's and-one basket plus the free throw, giving her 12 points for the day, got the overtime session in San Antonio off on the right foot. Indiana traded her to Atlanta just a few days before as they chose to rely on Wheeler and rookie Brene Moseley. So any head-to-head action that transpires between Clarendon and Wheeler should be fun to watch.

The Fever have given up three-pointers at a WNBA-high 41.7% clip at this early stage of the season. With Erlana Larkins and Deveraux Peters available, plus Natalie Achonwa and Lynetta Kizer, White has all the defensive rebounders (Brittney Griner had zero O-Rebs in 30 minutes on Wednesday) that she needs, so look for more of the legendary Tamika Catchings roving the perimeter to make outside jumpers tough on Atlanta. Tiffany Hayes (6-for-9 FGs vs. SAS) was the sole Dream starter to hit nylon from the outside, but rookies Bria Holmes and Meighan Simmons (combined 3-for-5 3FGs) came through in short stints off the bench to help beat the Stars 73-63 last Saturday.

2015 All-Star swing player Marissa Coleman missed the Fever debut due to extended playing time in Turkey, and while she was offensively rusty on Wednesday (3-for-11 FGs), she hopes to combine with Shenise Johnson (and the impressive rookie Tiffany Mitchell) at the wing to provide the kind of scoring spark that takes some of the load off Catchings and helped Indiana push Minnesota to 5 games in last year's WNBA Finals. That won't be easy if Angel McCoughtry has a say. Catchings' pending retirement should help McCoughtry eventually establish herself as the pre-eminent on-ball defensive forward in the league.

Angel had 15 points (5-for-6 FTs) in the win over San Antonio but also committed 5 turnovers. The week of rest and preparation will hopefully result in sharpened games for McCoughtry, along with Sancho Lyttle (3 steals, 2-for-10 FGs), this weekend.

92.9 FM (who I'm not sure is airing a broadcast) is having issues pushing their radio-station gameday promo ahead of Sunday's game. Their radio ad suggests fans should come out to see the Dream take on "ELENA DELLE DONNAY" (pronounced like Zhane!) She's from Delaware, guys, no need for the accent! Thankfully, the ads have only aired in the middle of the night, so nobody's around to see me facepalming.

Delle Donne missed her season-opener due to illness, but scored 28 points in 30 minutes on Wednesday, including the Sky's only 3-pointer on the day versus the Lynx (1-for-13 team 3FGs through 2 games). The Dream will be challenged to minimize the connections from assist-queen Courtney Vandersloot (18 assists and 4 TOs thru 2 games) to not only Delle Donne but guard Cappie Pondexter (31 points so far in just 21 minutes of play).

Sky coach Pokey Chatman still leans on former Dream center Erika DeSouza to start. But there are signs Erika's already being eclipsed by Cheyenne Parker and rookie Imani Boyette, both of whom have played decently in short stints off the bench. In any case, current Dream center Elizabeth Williams will have her hands full, especially if she's needed to provide help in keeping Chicago's Big 3 from scoring off paint penetration. Williams logged 36 minutes (10 rebounds) in the OT win at San Antonio and will hopefully be re-energized for this weekend's contests.

~lw3

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Thanks for the wake up call @lw3.  I've been so busy I have missed a lot of squawking.  Great analysis.  I think tonight's game comes down to Clarendon v. Wheeler as you suggested. Both will likely be out to make their former teams sorry for ever letting them go.  Both (or either) may end up making their new team being regretful.  Clarendon may fill the role of a Jasmine Thomas type PG - play tough D, bring up the ball and then pass it off the Angel and get out of the way.  Substitute Catchings for Angel and I think that was her role as backup PG in Indy.  Angel will probably reign her in if she starts running amuck.  (As she often did against the Dream.)  However, after getting yelled at by Linn Dunn for 2 years Angel will probably not be too hard to take.  Well,  I've lost a least favorite player, but there are plenty of candidates to choose from.  Hopefully none will end up in a Dream uniform. 

     

Edited by Randy
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Atlanta at Indiana this late in the season?  Ain't this the NBA eastern finals?

Oh, wait.  The Hawks are done and the Dream are here!!

In their first game, the Dream missed too many lay ups and free throws.  They left points

at the free throw line.  Turnovers?  You bet.  Plenty of them, even if Shimmi is in New York now.

She is such an exciting player, but she is a turn over waiting to happen.  Too bad she can't

stay in game shape.

As in the NBA, the three point is becoming more and more important in the WNBA.  Making them

or allowing them can turn a game around in a hurry.

GO DREAM !!

Edited by Gray Mule
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Big IF !!  If the  Dream could hang on to the ball, stop turning it over and hit all

their foul shots, they would be good.  Right now, they are not very good.

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That's better.    Home game.  A win!  Hit some 3's.  Played defense.

Turned the ball over less.  Lyttls a little better.  Angel played defense and didn't foul out.

 

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    • By lethalweapon3
      All New Everything! All New Everything! All New Everything! I’m not so sure they’re about to kill ‘em this summer, but the Atlanta Dream are doin’ All New Everything!

      When the curtain closed on the Dream in 2020’s hermetically sealed Wubble, the greatest question of uncertainty was whether the rebuilding roster would finally get to open up the 25th WNBA season in their promised, still minty-fresh venue by the Airport in College Park. The next biggest questions involved who is going to be around to make sure the arena doors get unlocked, and who will be paying the bills and signing the checks.
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      All the other answers are nuanced, at best, and murky, at worst.

      The Dream and their WNBA colleagues notched their biggest win of 2021 when they nudged their longtime ownership out the paint. The New Gang comes from Massachusetts-based investment firm Northland Group, CEO Larry Gottesdiener and COO Suzanne Abair, the latter of whom appears to be most enmeshed in the team’s daily affairs.

      Tagging along as a minority owner and team vice president is the collective’s public face: two-time WNBA champ and Hawks/Skyhawks gameday analyst Renee Montgomery. Renee held out from playing in 2020’s Wubble for the Dream to better indulge in her many pursuits, and she officially retired from the league mere weeks before the announcement of the ownership change.
      Holding the fort for Atlanta throughout the turbulent 2020 Atlanta season, and most of this off-season, were President and General Manager Chris Sienko and Head Coach Nicki Collen. Emphasis on, “were.”

      Sienko continued the post-Angel McCoughtry-era roster reconstruction by exercising the team option on center Kalani Brown, reeling in forwards Cheyenne Parker and Tianna Hawkins and guard Odyssey Sims in free agency, and drafting the next great A-Mac, March Madness breakout star and newest Arizona grad Aari McDonald, with the 3rd pick in last month’s WNBA Draft.
      Just days after the ink dried on McDonald’s rookie deal, Sienko was packing boxes and vacating his Marietta Street office after getting fired. Did anyone mention, the WNBA season would begin in a few weeks? Me? I’m not lovin’ it.
      Anyone, especially the people keeping the lights on, is within their rights to review Sienko’s tenure critically. Atlanta surprised the league with a 23-11 season, with Angel, and a Conference Finals appearance that went the full five games, without an injured Angel, in 2018. That earned Sienko and Collen leaguewide executive and coaching honors. But the Dream slumped to 8-26, without Angel until the final game, in 2019, then 7-15 in the pandemic-truncated 2020 season, allowing for some Lottery-level rebuilding of the team’s backcourt.
      Sienko was hamstrung in the early going by the management errors made by an independently operating coach in Michael Cooper, Collen’s predecessor, and salary cap obligations tied to McCoughtry’s 2017 voluntary suspension and 2018 season-ending injury. The teardown after 2019 and the elective sit-outs of Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes meant last season carried over just two Dream players.
      The cold reality of 2021 is the reformulating club, no matter how improved, would be standing in the shadows of WNBA Finals contenders Las Vegas and Seattle, as will many others. Further, unlike in the years before 2016, a third-place finish in the WNBA Eastern Conference is not necessarily enough to be rewarded with a Playoff game, particularly not a home game as part of a series. All told, any near-term success the Dream could enjoy on the floor should not be, nor should have been, laden with outsized, 2018-level expectations of overachievement.

      I don’t know if Coach Nicki is an avid coffee drinker, but she was certainly able to read the tea leaves after her working partner Sienko was axed. There will come a time, before the league celebrates its silver anniversary, where a lead job coaching up paid professional athletes is more valuable than one at a major college program. The horizon has not arrived just yet.
      Collen saw the opening created when new LSU coach Kim Mulkey abandoned her post at Baylor. On a Monday last week, she was preparing her players for today’s season-opener. On a Wednesday, Coach Nicki was announced as the new head coach in Waco, diving into the apparatus of a program that just reached the Final Four last month. Not even former Baylor star Kalani Brown, the burly backup center Collen sought to acquire last season from Los Angeles, nor ex-Bears star Sims were clued in before the announcement dropped.
      Again, has it been mentioned, the WNBA season begins, in College Park, today? Gulp!

      Fortunately, Collen didn’t have designs to bring any of her trusted assistants with her. “When the winds of change blow,” philosopher and interim head coach Mike Petersen shared during the team’s first practice following Collen’s departure, “and they are blowing right now… some people build walls, for protection. Other people build windmills, to create power.”
      “(Assistant coach Darius Taylor) and I? We’re in the windmill business.” A natural at inspiration, Petersen has long played the good-cop, rah-rah role off Collen’s bench, and he has an established rapport with veterans like Elizabeth Williams, Tiffany Hayes and Monique Billings. He was also a late-game strategist during Collen’s timeouts.
      How well Petersen can handle the task full-time remains to be seen, but players heeding his direction during this transitional phase won’t be a problem at all. New assistant coaches La’Keshia Frett, a former WNBA player and a Hampton Roads-area legend like Elizabeth Williams, and Daynia La-Force just joined Taylor on the bench a few days ago.

      Before the Baylor job opened up, Collen professed to desiring frontcourt players who could space the floor, and Sienko delivered in the offseason. Chicago decided their town wasn’t big enough for two C. Parkers, so as Candace makes her way to her native land from Los Angeles, Cheyenne Parker (no relation) now resides here in The A. While putting up career marks in 2020, Cheyenne’s 55.4 FG% (incl. 15-for-32 3FGs) last season ranked 5th in The W.

      Spelling Parker off the bench, Hawkins is likely to join guard Courtney Williams as a strong candidate for Sixth Woman of the Year. The free agent forward was instrumental in the Washington Mystics’ run to the 2019 championship, hitting six of ten three-pointers in the playoffs, and continued providing serviceable minutes behind the Mystics’ star forwards in 2020.

      Sims shined as a full-time starter in Minnesota in 2019, leading the Lynx in scoring and assists while becoming a first-time All-Star, but the rise of reigning Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield found her playing second-fiddle upon her return from pregnancy. Odyssey provides another veteran presence in the backcourt that will aid Carter and McDonald in their WNBA development. These additions, plus a full season of Williams, gives the Dream its best second unit in recent memory.

      As is the case for virtually every WNBA team, overlapping commitments with overseas teams usually has players unavailable to start training camp and the regular season. Hayes will be returning from Spain after shining last month in the EuroLeague Women Final Four club tourney. WNBA players are committed to many national clubs, not just Team USA, so absences ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games abound. How well Tiffany performs upon her return, after opting out of 2020, need not be a concern given how she played against other WNBA stars in Europe.

      In a transition ushered last season by Carter, 2020’s All-Rookie sensation, the roster has the makings of a run-and-gun outfit not seen since McCoughtry’s and Hayes’ early years sprinting Atlanta into WNBA Finals. The challenges will be keeping motion and ball movement up, and turnovers down as the old “there’s only one ball” applies, and Chennedy (WNBA-high 31.9 usage% in 2020) will have to share playmaking duties.

      Defense in the halfcourt and in transition will be a work in progress, likely to be enhanced upon Hayes’ arrival. Elizabeth Williams, who finished third in total blocks last season, Shekinna Stricklen, Brown, Parker and Hawkins will all have to run the floor to keep up the heightened pace and secure rebounds at both ends, a tall task due to age and/or size.
      Whether a diminutive backcourt of Carter and McDonald can hold up defensively in this league also remains to be seen, but any concerns that a lack of size can’t thrive were allayed last year with the arrival to the league of Dangerfield, who earned her respect after being passed over until Minnesota selected her midway through the second round of 2020’s Draft.
      The Dream will miss Betnijah Laney, 2020’s WNBA Most Improved Player who departed in free agency for New York, and Blake Dietrick, who helped Atlanta escape the perennial basement for three-point marksmanship (35.0 team 3FG% in 2020, 6th in WNBA). Carter shot the ball well from outside as a rookie, and she will need McDonald and the veterans to make good on their perimeter threats to keep her from absorbing double-teams and grant her more open looks.

      In a town where change comes faster than a camera flash, the nebulosity of the Dream’s leadership, frankly, is something this franchise, its fanbase, and its longer-tenured players have grown accustomed to over many years. Same with the venue, the marquee players, the management, the team identity, and the team’s financial viability. So much has been up in the air, for so long. For all the organizational missteps and hard-luck setbacks, including a pandemic, it is amazing to see Atlanta has persevered to see its WNBA team play in the league’s celebratory 25th season. At this point, there isn’t any time for the Dream to ponder, or worry about what the future holds. Beginning at tip-off today, there is only time to tilt at the windmills. Better yet, it's time to run them.
       
      Let’s Go Dream!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      "We've decided to move in a different direction... AFTER the draft."
      ~dr3am
    • By lethalweapon3
      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
    • By lethalweapon3
      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
    • By lethalweapon3
      Happy trails, Angel! Aces putting all their cards on the table for 2020!
      ~lw3