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2017 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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"I Know What You Did Last Winter"... a summary of Atlanta Dream players in their WNBA offseason.

  • Angel McCoughtry -- Finals MVP w/ Euroleague Champion, All-League 1st Team w/ Russian League Finalist (Dynamo Kursk)
  • Sancho Lyttle -- Russian Cup Winner, Russian League Champion, Eurolague Semifinalist (UMMC Ekaterinburg)
  • Elizabeth Williams -- Russian League Semifinalist (Nadezhda Oreburg)
  • Bria Holmes -- Israeli Cup Winner, Israeli League Finalist (Maccabi Ramat Gan)
  • Tiffany Hayes -- Israeli League Champion (Maccabi Ashdod), 8 Turkish League games (Mersin BSB)
  • Layshia Clarendon -- Stayed Home, color analyst for Pac-12 Network
  • Damiris Dantas -- League Player of the Year, Finals MVP w/ Brazil League Champion (Corinthians/Americana)
  • Brianna Kiesel -- Hungarian Cup Third Place (UNI Gyor)
  • Meighan Simmons -- Polish Cup Winner, Polish League Finalist (Wisla Can-Pack)
  • Matee Ajavon -- 4 Turkish Super League Games (Botas Spor)
  • Rachel Hollivay -- 2 Spanish League Games (C.R.E.F. HOLA Madrid)
  • Aneika Morello -- 6 Turkish League Games (Mersin BSB)
  • Darxia Morris -- All_League 1st Team w/ Polish League Quarterfinalist (Energa Tourn)

~lw3

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The 2017 field for the WNBA Playoffs remains top-heavy. Minnesota is the clear-cut contender to topple defending champion Los Angeles for the crown and compete with the Sparks out West for the entire season. The Eastern Conference leader from 2015 and 2016, New York remains the class of the conference but seeks redemption after failing to reach the WNBA Finals in either year.

A beneficiary of quality draft choices in the prior two seasons, Seattle seems primed to make their surge up the standings into the upper tier. An offseason of star-laden acquisitions for Washington poses a similar outlook for 2017.

After that… well, it’s catch-as-catch-can for the remaining WNBA clubs, and that allows room for optimism by Dream fans as the season prepares to tipoff. Are there three teams, among the remaining muddled group of seven, good enough to keep Atlanta out of the WNBA postseason, for just the third time in its ten-year history?

Here are my season-tipoff WNBA power rankings for 2017:

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1.       Los Angeles Sparks – There’s no relenting for coach Brian Agler’s champs, finally breaking through in 2016. Free agent Kristi Toliver moved to D.C. But the team anchored by Candace Parker and MVP Nneka Ogwumike remains deep at guard, thanks to Riquna Williams (missed 2016 due to injury), rookie Sydney Wiese and trade acquisition Odyssey Sims joining the club.

 

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2.       Minnesota Lynx – Any team led by Maya Moore, all-world defender Sylvia Fowles, and coach Cheryl Reeve is in the running for championships in any season. Depth at point guard and center is questionable, the spots filled by rookie Alexis Jones and Plenette Pierson, respectively. As long as this veteran-laden team stays is top-notch health, they’re as likely as anyone to win it all.

 

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3.       New York Liberty – Another year of masterful play by Tina Charles, the WNBA’s top scorer, top rebounder, and the best two-way big in the league. Another year of dominating the league on the boards, with help from center Kiah Stokes. Another year of questioning whether coach Bill Laimbeer has the right mix at point guard and small forward to compete for a WNBA title.

 

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4.       Washington Mystics – Miss Elena Goes to Washington! Coach Mike Thibault’s crew not only acquired Toliver, but also encouraged All-WNBA 1st Teamer Elena Delle Donne to steer a trade closer to her Delaware home. The offense, with Emma Meeseman and sixth-woman Ivory Latta back, should be the class of the league. The burning question remains: can they stop anybody?

 

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5.       Seattle Storm – Coach Jenny Boucek’s team would be good enough to claim the East. But out West, they have L.A. and Minnesota standing in their way. 2016 Rookie of the Year Breanna Stewart will make her MVP chase. Sue Bird’s resurgence was among the top stories of 2016. But 2017 needs to be about the top WNBA assist-maker’s formal passing of the torch to Jewell Loyd.

 

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6.       Indiana Fever – Future HOF’er Tamika Catchings bid adieu, now working in the Fever and Pacers’ front office. But Indy says hello to coach Pokey Chatman, who got pushed out of Chicago. Much like Cooper, Chatman needs a new star to emerge. But she has veteran talent all along the top line. Guard Briann January and ex-Mercury star Candice Dupree should help keep things afloat.

 

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7.       Atlanta Dream – Coach Coop has ample time to identify a solid working rotation and keep his high-tempo outfit in playoff contention well into July, even without Angel the Engine around. But to do any more, he’ll need at least one player to become a consistently good All-Star talent. Whether those players include Williams, Holmes, Hayes, or someone else, remains to be seen.

 

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8.       Phoenix Mercury – A sadly disappointing effort in 2016 showed you cannot trust coach Sandy Brondello’s team as far as you can throw them. Point guards Danielle Robinson and Leilani Mitchell should help settle things down for franchise pillars Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi. But the pregnancy suspension of DeWanna Bonner leaves a tough hole to fill at small forward.

 

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9.       Chicago Sky – A fitting team name, since departures by Delle Donne and Chatman leave this team looking nebulous. Losing guard Jameirra Faulkner to injury also hurts. But they’re stocked with potential upfront and still have quality vets in the backcourt, like Courtney Vandersloot, Cappie Pondexter, and Allie Quigley. New coach/GM Amber Stocks was an assistant in L.A.

 

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10.   San Antonio Stars – How soon plucking #1-overall pick Kelsey Plum, college’s all-time top scorer, will bear fruit is anyone’s guess. But the rookie heralds a new era for a proud franchise that has lost its way in recent years. Can she etch out quality minutes playing behind the Kayla McBride and the superb Moriah Jefferson? For new coach Vickie Johnson, there are lots of moving parts.

 

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11.   Dallas Wings – Sims’ trade leaves no doubt that this show belongs to guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (sorry, fellas). There are plenty of returnees for coach Fred Williams, but he’ll need his first-round rookies, or second-year player Aerial Powers, to emerge at the wing spots to contend in the West. He’ll also need a full healthy season out of rebounding maven Glory Johnson.

 

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12.   Connecticut Sun – Bouncing back from personnel errors of the recent past is tough enough. But coach Curt Miller was already dealt an unkind hand with the likely injury loss (again) of forward Chiney Ogwumike. He does have stability, with guards Jasmine Thomas and Alex Bentley back in the fold. Forwards Jonquel Jones and Morgan Tuck could emerge as stars, IF they can win games.

~lw3

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Illustrating the delineation of the Top 5 (really, Top 2, then New York, then Washington/Seattle interchanging) from the rest of the WNBA pack are the espnW power ranking, and a poll of sportswriters/sportscasters conducted by AP. Both polls have Atlanta squeaking into the postseason.

http://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/19312317/minnesota-lynx-beat-defending-champion-los-angeles-sparks-no-1-spot-preseason-wnba-power-rankings

Here's espnW's (Mechelle Voepel's) take on the Dream entering 2017:

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7. Atlanta Dream

This is another team that is hard to project, because the Dream won't have superstar Angel McCoughtry, who was the No. 1 draft pick in 2009. She's resting this season. Although the possibility remains that she might return late in the summer, Atlanta has to proceed without her.

But the Dream will have 2016's Most Improved Player Elizabeth Williams (11.9 PPG) in the post, along with two other players who averaged double-figure scoring: guards Tiffany Hayes (15.0) and Layshia Clarendon (10.4). And while there's no way to avoid missing McCoughtry's 19.5 PPG, there's also a lot of opportunity for other players to step forward.
Last season: 17-17, lost in second round to Chicago

 

Among the 16-member panel for the AP poll, there are six different teams currently predicted to be dead-last, including the Dream, while one pollster has Indiana next-to-last. The highest projected ranking by any poll member for the Dream is 6th. Parity clearly prevails among the bottom half.

http://wtop.com/news/2017/05/ap-wnba-power-rankings-15/

(2016's W-L totals shown, "Previous" ranking from end of 2016 regular season)

  W L Pts Pv High Low
1. Los Angeles (11) 26 8 187 2 1 2
2. Minnesota (5) 28 6 180 1 1 3
3. New York 21 13 150 3 2 9
4. Washington 13 21 140 9 3 6
5. Seattle 16 18 132 7 3 7
6. Phoenix 16 18 105 8 5 12
7. Indiana 17 17 83 5 3 11
8. Atlanta 17 17 77 4 6 12
9. Dallas 11 23 59 10 5 12
10. Chicago 18 16 54 6 7 12
11. Connecticut 14 20 44 10 7 12
12. San Antonio 7 27 37 12 7 12

 

~lw3

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The Dream begin their season on the first day of WNBA action in Connecticut against the Sun. Their first home game comes next weekend, on the back end of a home-and-home with Chicago.

There are no long homestands, none longer than the first 3-game set that begins on May 21 against the Sky and concludes on the afternoon of May 31 versus Kelsey Plum and San Antonio. Chicago is the only opponent that Atlanta faces on four occasions this season; all other East and West teams they’ll play thrice. Atlanta will have a 5-in-6-game homestretch beginning on June 23, broken up only by a trip to Dallas. Skylar Diggins and the Wings conclude that run of home games on July 9.

Atlanta will have plenty of time to bond on the road to start the season. Atlanta spends the first half of June out of town, visiting four Eastern Conference foes plus Seattle, who gets an early shot to avenge their season-ending loss in Atlanta during last year’s playoffs. That’s the only road trip for the Dream that extends beyond two games. They’ll have just six road contests, and eight home games, after the brief All-Star Break in July.

The defending champs, Los Angeles, play in Atlanta twice, once on May 27 and once to close out June. Their toughest stretch will likely come versus a single adversary. Atlanta has long had trouble competing with Maya Moore and Minnesota, yet the Dream will face the Lynx three times over a span of 11 days after the Break. Stealing at least one of those games, two of which will be at McCamish, will go a long way momentum-wise for the club.

If Atlanta is to secure a spot in the WNBA Playoffs, they’re better off getting it done before the calendar turns to September. Their final pair of games are on the road that month: in Phoenix for the season finale, and at Staples Center against the defending champion Sparks.

If you need to feed your Bob Rathbun fix in the summertime, he'll be back with LaChina Robinson and Angel Gray on Atlanta Dream home broadcasts. 15 of the 17 games at Georgia Tech will be aired by Fox Sports Southeast or Fox Sports South, with one game to be telecast online via ESPN 3.

There won't be much Dream on the tube early on with the road-heavy schedule to start 2017. But after June 15, all but four of the 11 remaining road contests will be viewable either via local simulcast, ESPN 2, or online. The newest contributor among the WNBA media is Twitter, which plans to livestream at least 20 games every year through their platform, including two Dream road games late in the season.

 

ATLANTA DREAM 2017 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE

(all times Eastern)

ROAD – Saturday, May 13, @ Connecticut, 7:30 PM

ROAD – Friday, May 19, @ Chicago, 8:30 PM [The U Too in CHI]

HOME – Sunday, May 21, vs. Chicago, 3 PM [NBATV, Fox Sports Southeast]

HOME – Saturday, May 27, vs. Los Angeles, 6 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

HOME – Wednesday, May 31, vs. San Antonio, 11:30 AM (Kids Day Game) [Fox Sports South]

ROAD – Sunday, June 4, @ Washington, 3 PM [CSN Mid-Atlantic in DC]

ROAD – Wednesday, June 7, @ New York, 11 AM [NBATV, MSG Network in NYC]

ROAD – Saturday, June 10, @ Connecticut, 7 PM [CSN New England in CT]

ROAD – Tuesday, June 13, @ Seattle, 10 PM

ROAD – Thursday, June 15, @ Indiana, 7 PM [Fox Sports Indiana simulcast]

HOME – Friday, June 23, vs. Chicago, 7:30 PM [ESPN 3 online]

HOME – Friday, June 30, vs. Los Angeles, 7:30 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

HOME – Sunday, July 2, vs. New York, 6 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

ROAD – Wednesday, July 5, @ Dallas, 8 PM [Fox Sports Southwest Dallas Plus simulcast]

HOME – Friday, July 7, vs. Indiana, 7:30 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

HOME – Sunday, July 9, vs. Dallas, 3 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

ROAD – Wednesday, July 12, @ Phoenix, 10 PM [Fox Sports Arizona simulcast]

ROAD – Saturday, July 15, @ Seattle, 9 PM [JoeTV in SEA]

HOME – Tuesday, July 18, vs. San Antonio, 11:30 AM (Camp Day Game) [Fox Sports South]

ROAD – Wednesday, July 19, @ Washington, 11:30 AM [Monumental Network in DC]

[WNBA All-Star Game – Saturday, July 22, in Seattle, 3:30 PM] [ABC]

HOME – Tuesday, July 25, vs. Phoenix, 7 PM

HOME – Friday, July 28, vs. Minnesota, 7:30 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

HOME – Sunday, July 30, vs. Washington, 3 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

ROAD – Thursday, August 3, @ Minnesota, 8 PM [ESPN 2]

ROAD – Saturday, August 5, @ Chicago, 8 PM [The U Too in CHI]

HOME – Tuesday, August 8, vs. Minnesota, 7 PM [Fox Sports South]

HOME – Friday, August 11, vs. New York, 7:30 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

ROAD – Saturday, August 12, @ San Antonio, 8 PM [Twitter livestream]

HOME – Tuesday, August 15, vs. Connecticut, 7 PM [Fox Sports South]

ROAD – Saturday, August 19, @ Dallas, 8 PM [Fox Sports Southwest Dallas Plus simulcast]

HOME – Wednesday, August 23, vs. Seattle, 7 PM [Fox Sports South]

HOME – Saturday, August 26, vs. Indiana, 6 PM [Fox Sports Southeast]

ROAD – Friday, September 1, @ Los Angeles, 10:30 PM [Spectrum SportsNet/Spectrum Deportes in LA]

ROAD – Sunday, September 3, @ Phoenix, 4 PM [Twitter livestream]

 

~lw3

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Okay, it seems as if the WNBA GMs can vote for their own teams, perhaps?

Quote

Which team will win the 2017 WNBA Finals? 
1. Minnesota Lynx = 42% 
2. Los Angeles Sparks = 33% 
3. Washington Mystics = 17% 
4. Atlanta Dream = 8%

("8%" is one voter)

If that ain't it, then there's gotta be some quid pro quo going on: "Hey, I'll vote for your gal/guy/team if you vote for mine!"

Anyway, there's more GM love for Tip Hayes, Damiris Dantas, and Elizabeth Williams here:

http://www.wnba.com/news/2017-gm-survey-best-players-coaches/

~lw3

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Final cuts are due by 5 pm Eastern today. While teams are allowed to field just 11 players, Coach Coop seems satisfied he's got his Dreamy Dozen in place, ahead of Saturday's game up in the Nutmeg State:

~lw3

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Not a huge fan of "Free" "Trials" that you sign-up for, but for those interested, the first five days of WNBA Tip-Off week will be free to access on WNBA League Pass.

That trial includes the season-opener against the Sun, not the one against the Sky next Friday (May 19).

For those paying for the service, WNBA League Pass will be available for every WNBA game that isn't nationally televised (i.e., games not on ESPN/NBATV) and isn't livestreamed via Twitter.

~lw3

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Explaining to common fans that Dallas selecting first-rounder Evelyn Akhator was not a reach, Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller wryly noted after the WNBA Draft that coaches valued the center, “a lot differently than people sitting in their basement on the web.”

Having rankled more than a few WNBA fans with that comment, Miller added a dash of pressure upon his own shoulders to get Connecticut, hosts for the Atlanta Dream in today's WNBA season opener (7 PM Eastern, WNBA League Pass only), out of the basement themselves.

After going 25-9 and sitting on top of the East back in 2012, the Sun dumped coach Mike Thibault (now comfortably running the show in Washington) and later traded former league MVP Tina Charles. Connecticut finished last in the WNBA East in 2013, 2014, and 2015. In Miller’s first season as coach, the Sun finished just one game ahead of the Mystics.

While her sister Nneka would become the reigning MVP, Chiney Ogwumike has struggled to stay healthy. She played under a minutes restriction in 2016, but her recovery from an overseas Achilles tear has her out for all of 2017, as was the case in 2015. This roster, however, is better equipped to handle Chiney’s absence.

A hot name for a star breakout is forward-center Jonquel Jones, who finished last season first in O-Reb% (an ideal opening challenge for Atlanta’s Elizabeth Williams and Sancho Lyttle) while also finishing second in block percentage, as a rookie. Miller will be turning to Jones (56.6 eFG% in 2016, 10th in WNBA) for much more than the 14.1 minutes per game she received last season.

Atlanta can get their road record off to a good start if they can find a way to keep former Dream guards Alex Bentley (team-high 12.9 PPG last year) and Jasmine Thomas (team-high 5.1 APG, 2nd in WNBA) offensively benign.

Minimizing dribble penetration and open shots by this duo puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the Sun cast to create their own offense. Connecticut finished 9th out of 12 teams in assists even with Jasz on board. Bria Holmes will be challenged to keep the ball out of the hands of forward Alyssa Thomas at the ends of the shot clock.

Connecticut shot the ball poorly from outside in 2016, so they’ll look for more perimeter help from backups like second-year guard Rachel Banham, third-year forward Jordan Hooper (who teamed with Atlanta’s Brianna Kiesel off the bench in Dallas), and veteran stretch-big Danielle Adams to catch up. Having Adams and former Fever pivot Lynetta Kizer (career-high 9.8 PPG in 2016; 9th in WNBA with 55.8 2FG%) in the fold takes pressure off rookie Brionna Jones from needing to be an impact player from the jump.

With the ball frequently in the hands of Layshia Clarendon and Tiffany Hayes, the Dream have to put the Sun guards to work defensively, and avoid sloppy turnovers by forcing plays that aren’t there to make. When these teams last met in August, Angel McCoughtry (19 points) got adequate support from Clarendon (19, 6 rebounds), Hayes (17 points, 7 boards, 3 steals), and Williams (16 points, 9 boards) in the Dream’s 87-73 home win. They prevailed without Lyttle, whose last double-digit scoring effort came against the Sun (17 points, season-high 14 rebounds, incl. 7 O-Rebs) in a 67-63 July road victory, before struggling the rest of the way with injury.

Without Angel, but with Sancho, a similarly balanced effort on both ends of the floor could get the orange-and-white ball rolling smoothly for Atlanta.

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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WOW!

Next NBA season, could we please get these Dream girls to teach our beloved

Hawks how to shoot free throws.

Not only do they have a lead at halftime in their very first game of the season,

they are a perfect 21/21 from the line!

Yep, I'm watching it, live, on WNBA League Pass.  A bargain, I might add.

GO DREAM !!

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THAT'S ONE !

Dream missed two free throws in the second half but hit their first 22

or 23.  81/74 victory - - Not bad, Dream!  (And, no Angel this season, so far)

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After a decent showing on the road against Connecticut, the Atlanta Dream get a pair of games this weekend against the Chicago Sky, tonight (8:30 PM Eastern, League Pass only in ATL) and on Sunday afternoon (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, NBATV). The offseason was anything but a breeze in the Windy City.

Despite a playoff win over the Dream and a 3-1 series defeat in the next round to the eventual WNBA champs, there remained a lot of unease among the members of the Chicago Sky. Most notably, franchise face Elena Delle Donne, who engineered a trade to Washington so she could be closer to her family in Delaware during the WNBA season.

Delle Donne never seemed to get along with her head coach-slash-GM, so the Sky cut loose Pokey Chatman in a vain attempt to appease EDD. Elena’s forced departure follows that of former Sky star Sylvia Fowles, who won Finals MVP in 2015 with Minnesota after sitting out half the season.

Chatman helped the Sky reach the WNBA Finals in 2014, and later crawled into the 2016 playoffs with a 18-16 record (2nd in the WNBA East), despite Delle Donne missing the end of the season and the playoffs to undergo thumb surgery. The Sky ownership felt there was insufficient progress toward a championship, and now they move on without either of Chatman or Delle Donne.

Chatman was replaced by Amber Stocks, an assistant coach on the 2016 champion L.A. Sparks’ club. Elena’s trade to D.C. netted the Sky center Stefanie Dolson (a 2015 All-Star in her rookie season), second-year pro Kahleah Copper, and the #2 pick in the 2017 draft, where Chicago chose injured South Carolina center Alaina Coates.

As Atlanta knows well, it’s hard to replace 21.5 PPG. Yet Stocks referred to Copper on media day as “a superstar unfolding before our very eyes,” an unveiling that continues slowly for Kahleah, the small forward getting just 16 minutes of action off the bench in her first game as a Sky player.

Stocks is looking to stack the deck with posts on the floor together. She is looking to pair Dolson with 2016 WNBA All-Rookie center Imani Boyette, and include a third big, Jessica Breland, in the Sky-scraping mix. Whether her strategy to go with super-big frontcourt lineups will work is questionable. But it would help if Chicago had their #2-overall pick to turn to as well.

Coates is likely to miss most of this season, and is apparently un-signed to allow Chicago to maximize its roster space. It’s not out of the question that Coates re-enters herself in next year’s draft. If that happens, Chicago could wind up empty-handed after picking twice in the first round. Their pick at #9, Tori Jankoska, has already been waived after making the roster for one WNBA game.

Jankoska was the victim of a numbers game, as backcourt stars Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley are returning late from obligations in Turkey. Point guard is of more urgent need for the Sky without Jameirra Faulkner, who is out for the season after tearing her ACL in Poland.

At least until Vandersloot and Quigley get up to speed, Stocks is leaning heavily on veteran guard Cappie Pondexter to be the team’s “pusher”, the 34-year-old directing the offense, forcing play inside and making ballhandling decisions in the clutch. The Sky also are looking to former Dreamette Tamera Young and Copper to serve as sparkplugs off the bench.

Despite a predictable season-opening defeat, the Sky put together a low-scoring but spirited effort in their 70-61 loss last Sunday in Minnesota, Young leading the way with 14 points as a reserve. Stocks’ extra-big frontline was insufficient to deal with ex-Sky center Fowles (26 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks), and the Sky shot just 35.3% from the floor while missing seven of their 19 free throws. Still, Chicago used a rusty start by Maya Moore (1-for-11 3FGs, the Lynx 3-for-20 overall) to hang around for much of the game, Dolson’s jumpers pulling the Sky within three points of the Lynx lead in the final quarter.

Chicago will spend this weekend looking for answers to awaken their offense, and Vandersloot and Quigley cannot return soon enough. Playing so many bigs (including third-year pro Cheyenne Parker) at one time, and a seasoned but aging lead guard, could be problematic against teams, like Michael Cooper’s Dream (1-0) and the Lynx, that want to push the tempo.

There were anomalies abound in Atlanta’s 81-74 win in Connecticut last Saturday. As alluded to in the postgame by @Gray Mule, the Dream broke a WNBA record by making 21 free throws in the first half, all on made attempts (!!!), and finished the game sinking 25 of 27. Tiffany Hayes went 11-for-12 from the stripe, and Layshia Clarendon went 6-for-6. Neither starting guard shot the ball well from the floor, but Hayes made the play Atlanta needed when it counted, a triple with under thirty seconds to go to set the Sun.

It was Tip’s temper that must have flared up at an inopportune time again, drawing a technical foul with under a minute to spare and her team up by four points. But the Sun missed the freebie, and Hayes made them pay. She and Clarendon accounted for 8 of Atlanta’s final 9 points in crunch time.

Clarendon committed four turnovers, but that accounted for surprisingly half of Atlanta players’ turnover count for the game. Angel’s absence is a factor, and Connecticut is no defensive stalwart. Yet Atlanta had single-digit player turnover tallies on just five occasions last season, with eight-or-fewer turnovers in just two games. As anomalies go, this is one the Dream hopes will stick around for a while.

Atlanta in 2016 was a team that crashed the offensive glass to make up for poor shooting. But the Dream players were stifled in Connecticut, Jonquel Jones and Lynetta Kizer tag-teaming to keep the Dream frontcourt to one solitary offensive rebound. Hayes and Clarendon accounted for Atlanta’s other two O-Rebs.

Sancho Lyttle (5 rebounds, 4 steals, 1-for-4 3FGs in 27 minutes @ CON) has to play more like a traditional four and help Elizabeth Williams create second-chance opportunities for Atlanta. Against a big lineup like Chicago’s, the Dream can draw even more fouls and trips to the line if they look for early scores inside and crash the glass.

 

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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Chicago announcer said, on several occasions in the forth quarter, this

Atlanta Dream team is going to be better than many people around

the WNBA thought before the season.

91 - 83 victory makes the record 2-0 for the season and their first home

game coming Sunday afternoon at 3 PM against the Sky.

All the poor Hawk fans who don't like the WNBA, go be excited as you

watch grass grow.  Meanwhile, we who are Dream fans now have something

to enjoy this summer !!

GO ATL DREAM !!!

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Crunk! Hype! Def! Lit! Whatever the cool kids say these days!

Not sure if there are shuttles or not, but your best bet if walking from MARTA is Midtown (instead of North Avenue) station.

Also, copying driving directions to McCamish from the Dream's Media guide. Follow public parking directions once you arrive on campus:

Quote

 

Directions to McCamish Pavilion
Going South on I-75: Take exit 250 (16th St./14th St./10th St.), and follow through light at 14th St. Stay to the right and follow to 10th St., where the McCamish Pavilion is straight ahead. Turn right to access parking areas other than the main arena lot.

Going South on I-85: Exit at 17th St. (exit 84), stay to the left and follow ramp all the way to 10th St. The McCamish Pavilion will be in front of you. Take right on 10th St., then left on Fowler St. access parking on 8th St. or arena lot.

Going North on I-75/85: Take the 10th Street exit (250). Turn left on 10th Street and after you cross the bridge, the McCamish Pavilion will be on your left. Just past the arena, turn left at Fowler Street (first traffic light). Take first left at 8th Street and follow in.

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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DRAT !!

I bragged too soon.  Dream missed 9 free throws and lost by 4.

GT is now home, but not really home to the Dream.  Not yet.

Didn't look like there was many fans there.

DRAT !!

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The Champs Are Here! The Los Angeles Sparks arrive this evening to take on the Atlanta Dream (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet/Spectrum Deportes in LA) and coach Michael Cooper, who can no longer boast he was coaching in Tinseltown the last time the Sparks won it all.

The Dream slipped up during their home opener last Sunday, in a (tank-blocking?) loss to the Chicago Sky. Atlanta hopes they can make amends today for their fans, against a Sparks team that had a misstep themselves on the road this past week. Coach Brian Agler’s 2-0 squad was cruising right along in Indiana, up 14 points at halftime on Wednesday, before allowing the Fever to go on a 27-10 third-quarter spree, and eventually losing 93-90.

Reigning league MVP Nneka Ogwumike (23.3 PPG, 2nd in WNBA) has picked up right where she left off in 2016. But she and Candace Parker (18.5 PPG through 2 games) need better contributions from their perimeter defenders, certainly after the Sparks allowed Marissa Coleman, our old friend Erica Wheeler, and other Fever players to combine for 11-for-16 shooting from downtown Naptown.

There was precious little pressure on Fever star ballhandler Briann January, and without major adjustments, that might bode well for one of January’s former backups.

The Dream’s Layshia Clarendon earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week (did anyone know we still account for conferences anymore???) after averaging 16.3 PPG and 6.0 APG in her first three contests. She also got to the line and made her free throws (13-for-14 FTs) while setting the tone for the offense in Atlanta’s first two road victories.

But Clarendon (career-high nine assists on Sunday) and the Dream got erratic after the solid opening quarter of Sunday’s 75-71 defeat, at the hands of the Sky, either turning the ball over or putting up hurried attempts, rather than allowing the shots to come from a free-flowing motion offense.

The Dream got almost a full week to rest and recalibrate, and hopefully that will be enough of a respite for Tiffany Hayes (19.7 PPG, 6th in WNBA). Tip turned her ankle in the closing moments of the Chicago game, and was listed day-to-day with a mild sprain. Hayes got her career-high 32 points during a competitive loss in Los Angeles last June, nearly matching Ogwumike’s career-high of 38 points.

Thanks largely to Angel McCoughtry’s brilliance (32 points, 11 boards), Atlanta held off a late charge and prevailed 86-81 when these teams met last September, at Staples Center, to claim the season series over the eventual WNBA title holders while tightening up a playoff spot near the season’s end.

In their last visit to the ATL last July, the Sparks’ torrid 20-2 start, and nine-game winning streak, was snapped with a shocking 91-74 Dream victory. From that game forward, the Sparks prevailed in just three of their past nine road games during the regular season, although they did win the away games that mattered along the playoff path to the WNBA title.

That July game was a coming-out party of sorts for Bria Holmes. The rookie scored a then-career-best 15 points in just her second WNBA start, helping Atlanta compensate for the sudden loss of Sancho Lyttle for the season due to a foot injury.

Holmes and Lyttle are back together in the starting lineup in 2017, and the forward duo will want to work with Elizabeth Williams (7 O-Rebs vs. CHI on Sunday) to offset Parker, Ogwumike, Jantel Lavender and the Sparks’ bigs on the boards. Atlanta managed to outscore L.A. 44-30 and 42-36 in the paint in their prior two meetings, both Dream wins. They also held the Sparks to just four second-chance points in the September contest.

Aside from occasional steals and defensive boards, Lyttle continues to look rusty on offense (2.5 PPG, 25.0 FG%), and may usher in a lineup switch to Damiris Dantas (12 points, two blocks in 27 minutes vs. CHI) by Cooper, sooner rather than later. It will help Atlanta to have active Dream guards outworking their opponents and helping secure the defensive rebounds, to spark transition and control possession.

The Sparks were missing Odyssey Sims during their loss at Indy, sustaining an ankle injury in the prior Friday’s game versus Washington, and she did not travel with the team to Indiana. The leading single-game scorer in WNBA history, Riquna Williams serves as a luxury for Agler’s top-ranked offense (league-best 118.1 O-Rating, 48.1 team 3FG%, 1.69 assist/turnover ratio) off the bench, as does Sims, who can capably spell either of Chelsea Gray or defensive savant Alana Beard.

Following the free agent departure of Kristi Toliver to D.C., Sims arrived in a deal to help Dallas nab an extra pick in the draft, and in that trade the Sparks got the 11th pick, Sydney Weise. The rookie dropped a whopping six threes on Tolliver’s Mystics, but Wiese and Williams were held scoreless in their next game versus the Fever.

Agler needs much more than the four points (all from Lavender, the reigning Sixth Woman of the Year) the Sparks’ bench mustered up this past Wednesday. But it’s on the starters, and not merely Parker (5.5 APG) to help get the reserves involved.

The team with the deeper, more balanced offense is likely to prevail today. With Beard’s dogged attention directed at Clarendon, Holmes, and (hopefully) Hayes, there ought to be ample opportunity for Dream reserves like Brianna Kiesel and rookie Brittney Sykes to come in and make plays for Atlanta.

Both opponents enter this game with a 2-1 record, but the pressure is squarely on Los Angeles in the early going of this season to keep pace with rival Minnesota (5-0). The Dream are built to float among the flotsam in the WNBA pack, but the Sparks (four road games in their next five) need quality wins like this to ensure they can be the cream of the crop once again.

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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Ex-Dream Note: We used to say, "Is there a Doctor in the house? No? Well, there will be soon!" Congrats, Ali!

~lw3

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I KID.  I KID.  I THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA.  MY BAD.

I wanted the Dream, after their first game, to teach the boys how

to shoot free throws.  Seems that the Hawks have been teaching these

Dream girls how to shoot free throws.  Egad.

Despite all that, Atlanta wins!!

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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.
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      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.
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      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!
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      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      Say, does somebody feel a Draft? The WNBA Draft is right around the corner (April 13 at 7:00 PM Eastern, first-round on ESPN2, latter rounds on ESPN U).
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      Bria Holmes, who emerged late last season as a reliable rookie during Atlanta’s playoff run, is most likely to get the lion’s share of Angel’s minutes. Additionally, Damiris Dantas should be primed to make major contributions, after being suspended for all of 2016 so she could play exclusively in Brazil. If veteran Matee Ajavon makes the opening-day roster, the small forward spot is fairly set. If not, then a second- or third-round selection might be able to fill out the final spot, at least on a short-term basis.
      Late-round forward options where Atlanta picks (19th overall in the second round, 31st in the third round) include Norcross’ Shayla Cooper (Ohio State), along with Drake power forward Lizzy Wendell and Jessica Jackson of Arkansas. Each can stretch the floor with midrange shots, although Shayla’s emotional flameouts when times get tough could remind many fans of McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes at their worst. If the Dream goes this route, this should be a selection that helps fill scoring and rebounding gaps this year, and gets developed to become a key sixth-woman for 2018, when McCoughtry returns.
      A Lyttle heir apparent? – As far as we can tell, Sancho Lyttle will return from Europe and serve as a defensive anchor for a Dream team that sorely needs to create stops inside, especially without all-world defender Angel in the picture. However, Lyttle is in her 30s and hasn’t played a full WNBA season, due to injuries and/or international commitments, in some time. Unsatisfied with Reshanda Gray at power forward, the Dream parted ways in the offseason and brought back Aneika Morello (née Henry). But the latter struggled mightily last season with the Connecticut Sun. Dantas can play the stretch-four role, but another backup at either the 3- or 4-spot would be helpful.
      To acquire a future star that waits in the wings until Lyttle is either traded or her contract runs out, means using the first-round pick (7th) on a blue-chip prospect. Northwestern’s Nia Coffey is probably the top player for the 4-spot coming into the draft. Super-sized pick-and-popper Chantel Osahor, also by far the NCAA’s leading rebounder, helped all-time NCAA scorer Kelsey Plum (probable #1 overall pick, by San Antonio) carry Washington deep into the past two NCAA tourneys, and is rising up draft boards. But neither would likely be the “best player available” where the Dream sit, so a trade-down deal may be possible to acquire their services.
      Shoot… we need Shooters! – You’ve tired of the Dream being among the league’s worst perimeter-shooting teams, pretty much since their inception. Hayes brings a lot of fire to the floor, but not much firepower for a 2-guard along the three-point arc. The sometimes-hot, often-cold Meighan Simmons was brought back in free agency, but there remains a sense that the solution to Atlanta’s longstanding woes will have to come from, um, outside.
      Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has the range to boost Atlanta’s jumpshot game, and the build to avoid being a defensive liability on the floor, unlike many hot-shooting collegiate wings. Oregon State’s Sydney Wiese might be a reach as a middle-first-rounder, but is unlikely to fall to Atlanta at #19. If the Dream have any interest in SWK or Wiese, they’ll want to swing a trade-up deal to get them.
      Gawd save Queen Elizabeth! – Reigning Most Improved Player awardee Elizabeth Williams won’t be a repeat winner, not unless coach Michael Cooper can figure out a way to double her already league-high floortime. Re-signed on a training camp contract, Markeisha Gatling served well as a stopgap in the back half of last season, but her size can make it tough on Atlanta to live up to their “Run With The Dream” motto.
      Gatling will compete for a spot on the 12-woman roster with Morello and second-year pivot Rachel Hollivay. But if Atlanta can have a top-notch young center fall to them at #7, they may leap at the chance to upgrade behind Williams, or even supplant her over time as the team’s steady starter at the 5-spot. The qualifiers for such an upgrade would include Maryland’s Brionna Jones and South Carolina’s Alaina Coates, the latter missing the Gamecocks’ NCAA championship run due to an ankle injury sustained during the SEC tourney.
      What’s the Point? – There are only 12 starting point guard spots, and of those, Layshia Clarendon has the least-flashy resume among the group. Still, she established herself well enough to earn the starting nod at least for this upcoming season. But what about beyond 2017? The sole external free agent brought in with a guaranteed deal was Brianna Kiesel. But the third-year guard couldn’t stand out in Tulsa/Dallas, and was waived in mid-season last year.
      Any opportunities to use a late-round flier on a guard that could compete with Kiesel for the backup position would be helpful. Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen lugged the Irish into the Elite Eight and should be available where the Dream pick in the second round. Allen finished second in the NCAA with a sterling 3.57 assist/turnover ratio.
      If they wish to use a first-round pick on a short-term apprentice, either of Alexis Jones (Baylor) or Alexis Peterson (Syracuse) is likely to fall to them. Despite being a bit diminutive at 5-foot-7, Peterson finished top-12 in Division I for both scoring and assists.
      WNBA First Round Draft Order (as of 4/4/2017, subject to change):
      1. San Antonio Stars
      2. Chicago Sky (from Washington)
      3. Dallas Wings
      4. Dallas (from Los Angeles, via Connecticut)
      5. San Antonio (from Phoenix)
      6. Washington Mystics (from Seattle)
      7. ATLANTA DREAM
      8. Connecticut Sun (from Indiana)
      9. Chicago Sky
      10. Dallas (from New York)
      11. Los Angeles Sparks (returned back from Dallas)
      12. Minnesota Lynx
       
      Top Players Available:
      (** edited to include Early-Entry Players)
      PG: Kelsey Plum (5'8", Washington), Alexis Jones (5'9", Baylor), Alexis Peterson (5'7", Syracuse), Lindsay Allen (5'8", Notre Dame), Leticia Romero (5'8", Florida State)
      SG: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (5'11", Maryland), **Allisha Gray (6'0", South Carolina, Washington County GA HS), ** Kaela Davis (6'2", South Carolina, Georgia Tech transfer, Buford HS, Antonio's daughter), Sydney Wiese (6'1", Oregon State), Alexis Prince (6'2", Baylor), Makayla Epps (5'10", Kentucky), Tori Jankoska (5'8", Michigan State), Adrienne Motley (5'9", Miami), Brittney Sykes (5'9", Syracuse), Saniya Chong (5'8", Connecticut)
      SF: Nina Davis (5'11", Baylor), Ronni Williams (6'0", Florida), Lizzy Wendell (6'0", Drake), Jennie Simms (6'0", Old Dominion)
      PF: Nia Coffey (6'1", Northwestern), Chantel Osahor (6'2", Washington), Jessica Jackson (6'3", Arkansas), Shayla Cooper (6'2", Ohio State, Norcross HS), Hannah Little (6'1", Oakland)
      C: Alaina Coates (6'4", South Carolina), Brionna Jones (6'3", Maryland), Erica McCall (6'3", Stanford), Evelyn Akhator (6'3", Kentucky), Breanna Lewis (6'5", Kansas State), Tearra Banks (6'2", Austin Peay)
       
      ~lw3