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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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"Dam, Dam, Dam!"

No word whether it's injury precaution, or Olympics prep, or both, so maybe the team will have some commentary about it soon. Maybe.

~lw3

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I know it's unrealistic but i think i'd watch more WNBA if it was basically the same months as the NBA.   By the time we hit June I don't really want to watch anymore basketball. 

Go Dream!

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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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TONIGHT IS THE NIGHT !

GO DREAM !!

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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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So fsse has on lacrosse and not the dream? I saw where they are on ESPN 7 or whatever.

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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
      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
    • By lethalweapon3
      As noted on RebKell and elsewhere, the Dream's newest coach was an assistant at Louisville back when Angel Mac was a recruit.
      Collen has lots of collegiate ties (her husband, Tom, coached Arkansas until 2014, where she was an assistant), but also a couple years of experience as an assistant under reigning WNBA Coach of the Year Curt Miller at Connecticut. She seems to check off plenty of boxes for the current ownership. Good luck!
      http://dream.wnba.com/news/nicki-collen-named-atlanta-dream-head-coach/
      Let's Go Dream!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      ...but not for long, in Texas!
      http://stars.wnba.com/news/important-message-fans/

      Sucks every time a franchise moves, but the league has been avoiding outright folding teams for some time now, which is good.
      So... Frisco? Vegas? HOUSTON? #BringBackTheComets
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      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