2017 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews


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Two congratulatory items first, before going into Sancho Watch.

Congrats to Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen for becoming the WNBA's all-time leader in wins! Also, from this weekend, congrats to Phoenix's Diana Taurasi for surpassing Tina Thompson to become the WNBA's all-time leader in scoring!

So, Sancho has been doing her thing over in the pond, and by winning the first two games in their pool, Spain qualified early for the Eurobasket Women 2017 quarterfinals. Even before Spain's courtesy loss this afternoon to the host Czech Republic, Lyttle was leading the tourney in per-game efficiency and ranked second in rebounds. Through 3 games, she is averaging 16.7 PPG (8th in FIBA), 10.7 RPG (4th in FIBA), and 2.3 SPG (7th in FIBA), shooting 58.1% from the floor and 82.4% from the free throw line.

More importantly to Dream fans, she's still healthy! By skipping the round of 12, the first round of knockout play, Sancho and Spain get to rest and practice until Thursday's quarterfinal, awaiting tomorrow's winner between Latvia and Serbia.

~lw3

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Did the Hawks inadvertently lob a monkey wrench into a significant chunk of the Atlanta Dream's flagging attendance? We're about to find out.

The Dream (5-5) return home from their weeks-long road trip clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot, with only the blazing-hot Connecticut Sun nipping at their heels. It's way too early for Must-Win games, but tonight's contest at McCamish Pavilion against the visiting Chicago Sky (7:30 PM Eastern, online via ESPN3, 10 PM Eastern tape delay on The U Too in CHI) certainly falls into the Oughta-Win category.

Chicago checks into this affair with a 2-9 record. One half of their victory tally came in this building, a disappointing home opener for the Dream. Atlanta dropped a 75-71 game back in May, just two nights after scraping the Sky 91-83 in Second City.

The other half of Coach Amber Stocks' team's win total came two weeks ago on the road, but it was against winless San Antonio (0-12), and it required OT and a comeback from eight points down in the fourth quarter.

Having rested since last Thursday's loss in Indy, Atlanta should be able to keep the Sky at arm's length if the frontcourt puts up a better effort against "Big Mama Stef" Dolson (23 points, 8-for-10 2FGs, 2-for-3 3FGs, 5 blocks @ ATL on May 21), and finds some decent bench scoring. Chicago starters Dolson, Jessica Breland, Cappie Pondexter (6.7 APG, 2nd in WNBA) and Tamera Young are giving it everything they've got, but on most nights it's not enough when the Sky are getting very little from their reserves.

In Sunday's 91-79 home loss to Indiana, five Chicago backups totaled 8 points (incl. 2-for-5 FGs). All five Sky starters scored in double figures, but logged 30+ minutes and were pooped by the time sixth woman Tiff Mitchell and the Fever turned the tide midway through the third quarter.

Six Dream reserves managed just 11 points in the loss at Indiana last week, but at least they bothered to get some shots up (combined 3-for-19 FGs). Jordan Hooper has hit one three-pointer in her three games in a Dream uni, easing the perimeter pressure a smidgen for Coach Michael Cooper's club. As for Chicago, Stocks needs much more out of Kahleah Copper, Imani Boyette, and Cheyenne Parker to start turning all these Ls into Ws.

Atlanta remains without Sancho Lyttle (Spain), but Chicago Hope might be buoyed by the return of star guard Courtney Vandersloot (Hungary), whose Eurobasket Women's team bowed out from tourney play on Tuesday.  Lyttle's pending return is going to push one of these backups to the waiver wire, so they all need to step up and make positive impacts tonight.

(side note for those watching online: former Hawks draft pick Stephen Bardo is the Sky's color analyst for this game.)

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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Tough loss! but if you're an Atlanta sports fan you know the drill by now. What should happen =/= what does happen. It's on tape delay on Fox Sports Southeast right now for those that can stomach it.

Still, a couple good silver linings. Brittney Sykes was phenomenal finding her own offense, and although she struggled in a backup point role (where have you gone, Brianna Kiesel?), it's encouraging to see her figure it out while providing some steady buckets along the way.

Also, when it comes to Hawks (and EX-Hawks), we had the 3 D's representing. Dennis... Delaney... and Dwight! Mr. Howard showed up decked out in Hornets purple and had a sound ovation from the sparse crowd.

~lw3

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Tag-teaming with Alba Torrens, Sancho Lyttle and Team Spain handled their business versus Emma Meesseman and Belgium in the Eurobasket Women semifinals. Today's final in Prague (2:30 PM Eastern) will have Spain going up against our old friend, former Dream point guard Celine Dumerc, and France. Good luck, Sancho! Stay healthy!

~lw3

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The champs are back in town! The Los Angeles Sparks have returned and looking to exact revenge on the Atlanta Dream (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet in LA, NBATV elsewhere). Eurobasket champion Sancho Lyttle ought to be back and suiting up for the Dream at McCamish Pavilion. The one burning question is, will anybody else bother to show up?

The Dream (5-6) have played just four home games to date, two-to-five fewer than any other WNBA outfit. Their 4,300 attendee average ranks 11th out of 12 teams through Tuesday’s games, and it’s about a 30% drop thus far from the tickets sold through the end of 2016, when Atlanta played with Angel McCoughtry at Philips Arena.

The Dream were on the road for the first few months of June, to be fair. But one key WNBA fan demographic hardly made a blip in attendance when the team celebrated Pride Month last Friday, when the Dream dropped their homecoming game to Chicago 82-78. This, despite its starting point guard’s noteworthy activism and the Georgia Tech campus arena situated less than a 1-mile stroll from the intersection of 10th and Piedmont, Atlanta’s epicenter of LGBT entertainment.

Will things get worse drawing fans to/from Midtown? They could, especially if this team continues to resemble The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight when they do play.

Atlanta ranks dead-last with a 22.5 3FG% (winless San Antonio’s 30.0 3FG% ranks 11th out of 12 teams). That would blow the 1998 Sacramento Monarchs’ record for futility (26.0 3FG%) out of the water. That’s despite Tiffany Hayes holding up her end with a career-high 42.9 3FG%. Without Hayes and newcomer Jordan Hooper (4-for-9 3FGs for ATL), Atlanta’s all-time ugly perimeter shooting would look even uglier.

They’re also currently dead-last with a 71.8 FT% (Connecticut’s 72.9 FT% ranks 11th). Only two WNBA squads in the past five seasons (Washington’s 71.9 FT% in 2012, Connecticut’s 71.2 FT% in 2016) have shot free throws this poorly. Leading scorers Hayes, Layshia Clarendon, Bria Holmes, and Damiris Dantas are above the team average, but the rest of the roster have been dragging the Dream (way) down.

They’re even below average when shooting twos (45.7 2FG%, tied for 9th in WNBA). Despite putting up a team-high 20-and-10 in last week’s loss to Chicago, on the season, purported center Elizabeth Williams is hitting shots inside the arc (44.0 2FG%) barely better than guards Clarendon (43.5 2FG%) and Hayes (43.0 2FG%).

Despite severely curtailing turnovers in the past two seasons (league-best 15.1 TO%), the epic poor shooting and a regression in offensive rebounding contribute to an offensive rating (93.9) that ranks 10th in the 12-team league, barely in front of Chicago (93.4) and San Antonio (92.6).

Never mind the fickle, casual, on-the-fence sports fan, even dedicated WNBA fans aren’t shelling out the dollars for teams that look to be poorly developed and fundamentally flawed, especially when the problems have been hallmarks of the franchise’s 10-year history.

The Dream’s saving grace to this point remains their dedication to on-ball defense, particularly around the perimeter (28.0 opponent 3FG%).  Atlanta’s marks for defensive rating and opponent TO% ranks a stout 3rd in both categories. But with a pro hoops market increasingly geared toward exciting offensive flow, there is no customer appetite for Grit-and-Grind in the ATL. The former All-Star player returning to the team, Lyttle, is a band-aid for Atlanta’s woeful offense, but is by no means a cure.

Dream coach Michael Cooper has tried to trim the fat a bit, bidding adieu to Rachel Hollivay (no points in a 7-minute start vs. CHI last week) and the futile Brianna Kiesel by placing both on waivers. Coach Coop picked up Darxia Morris, who played well in the preseason, to back up Clarendon at the point in lieu of Kiesel.

But Cooper may have also found a ballhandling option in rookie Brittney Sykes (8-for-15 FGs and 8 rebounds off the bench vs. CHI). The first-round pick brought the ball up the floor capably in the fourth quarter, helping make a certain defeat interesting in the closing minutes. In looking for her own shot off drives first and last, Sykes seemingly does Matee Ajavon better than Matee Ajavon. Another strong effort from Sykes today would help take some of Alana Beard’s defensive pressure off of Clarendon and Hayes.

The Dream raised their record to 3-1 on the season with a pleasantly surprising 75-73 home win over the Sparks back on May 27. The Sparks were missing guard Odyssey Sims in that game, and since that loss L.A., now with Sims in tow, have won eight of their last nine contests, including three straight games on the road.

Los Angeles contained double-double dynamo Jonquel Jones and the improving Alyssa Thomas in an 87-79 win in Connecticut on Tuesday. Coach Brian Agler’s club committed just nine player turnovers for the game while forcing seven out of Thomas alone. Reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike (20.4 PPG and 59.7 FG%, each 3rd in WNBA) has returned to award-winning form, after she and frontcourt mate Candace Parker (2.1 BPG, 2nd in WNBA) turned in underwhelming efforts in Atlanta last month.

A late scramble by Chelsea Gray (48.4 3FG%, 3rd in WNBA; 4th in O-Rating among WNBA starters), arguably one-and-two with Skylar Diggins-Smith as the top guards in the league right now, was not enough to catch up with the Dream in May. Sims, Jantel Lavender, and Riquna Williams will try to produce enough offense to overwhelm Atlanta’s anemic bench and allow Gray and the starters some quality rest.

Having played just one game over the previous 14 days should be beneficial for a Dream squad that has just one road game (in Dallas) over its next five games. But those matches will be coming in rapid succession; nine games over the course of 20 calendar days, beginning tonight and ending at the All-Star Break.

The good news is there are no teams between the 4-seed and 10-seed in the WNBA standings that are more than two games above the .500 mark, Atlanta currently sitting just 1.5 games out of the coveted 4-seed position, despite their flaws. Still, getting back in the win column today won’t be easy, as the champion Sparks aren’t about to be caught off-guard again.

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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Another uphill drag awaits the Atlanta Dream today at McCamish Pavilion. To shed their losing skid, they’ll have to find their way around Tina Charles and the New York Liberty (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, MSG Network in NYC).

Coach Bill Lambeer’s squad squashed Atlanta’s offense and trounced the Dream 76-61 in Madison Square Garden back on June 7, giving hope to Libs fans that the team was preparing to right the ship and make a charge up to the top of the standings. Alas, despite sitting in 4th in the WNBA playoff standings, New York (7-6) dropped three of their last four contests, including twice to Charles’ former team, the Connecticut Sun. Last Sunday, the Liberty fell short after climbing their way out of a 21-point second-half hole at home.

The Liberty come into Atlanta after making host Washington look like a defensive juggernaut on Thursday, scoring just 12 second-quarter points and 7 in the third quarter as the Mystics rolled to a 67-54 victory. New York has their work cut out if they have designs on releasing Washington’s grip on the Eastern Conference.

In addition to Tina (now 10th all-time in WNBA career rebounds, 3-for-15 FGs vs. WAS) shaking off her brief funk, using her size and quickness to her advantage against Sancho Lyttle and Elizabeth Williams, New York would find it sweet if they get swing player Sugar Rodgers (back injury vs. CON last Sunday, day-to-day) back in the lineup. Rookie Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe was granted her first WNBA start on Thursday but was ineffective. Laimbeer needs much more production than he’s getting out of bench players Rebecca Allen and Bria Hartley.

Atlanta (WNBA-low 47.6 TS%) cannot afford extended cold stretches against New York, the best defensive rebounding team in the league (77.1 D-Reb%). Teams have been getting back on D and forcing the Dream to make-do in a halfcourt offense, so Layshia Clarendon has to spark the Dream offense by putting Epiphanny Prince on her heels and creating buckets (and drawing fouls, and making free throws) in transition.

Any chance at a victory today against New York depends on a big day from Clarendon, who hasn’t had one in awhile. The starting point guard did not exceed double-digits in scoring in any of seven games during the month of June. After going 2-for-5 from the field (no free throw attempts) in Friday night’s 85-76 loss to Los Angeles, Layshia’s lackadaisical month concluded by shooting 19-for-61 from the field, including 2-for-17 from deep, and 6-for-8 for the entire month on free throws after going 7-for-7 versus San Antonio on May 31.

Layshia has cut down on the turnovers recently (last 3 games: 19 assists, 3 TOs), a partial product of Michael Cooper putting the ballhandling duties more in rookie Brittney Sykes’ and wayfaring Darxia Morris’ hands. But Coach Coop and the Dream need Clarendon to be more than a mere distributor if Atlanta (5-7) intends to turn things around anytime soon.

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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The Dallas Wings’ Allisha Gray has been running away with the WNBA Rookie of the Year award thus far. But she’s got a new challenger over her shoulder. Brittney Sykes is in the building with the Atlanta Dream for the matchup with the Wings tonight (8:00 PM Eastern, WNBA League Pass only in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest Dallas Plus in DFW), making her footsteps known.

Can we all just admit that Michael Cooper knows what he’s doing at draft time? He led the deal in 2016 to acquire Elizabeth Williams, 2016’s Most Improved Player, from Connecticut, and selected Bria Holmes, at the time considered a reach, but the rookie who heated up just in time to secure a playoff spot?

Now it appears Coach Coop is shooting 3-for-3 with first-rounder Sykes, again a consensus reach when Atlanta picked her 7th overall. Brittney is up to an 8.0 PPG scoring average, behind only Gray’s 12.1 PPG, despite 11 fewer minutes per game than Dallas’ fourth-overall pick, and not starting until a couple games ago. On a per-40 basis, Sykes presently leads all rookies with 19.7 points.

The per-game scoring spread would be even narrower if Sykes wasn’t shooting free throws at an atrocious 48.5% clip, a value that must improve for a player so dependent on drives for offensive production.

The 5-foot-9, 146-pound Dreamette also sits right behind the 6-foot Gray with 2.5 defensive rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game. Bearing a strong upper frame, Sykes is confident in her ability to mix it up inside. Her insertion into the starting lineup alongside Tiffany Hayes and Layshia Clarendon helps Atlanta (6-7) become more formidable as a defensive backcourt.

Sykes’ career-highs of 19 points and nine boards were essential for Atlanta to race to a stunning 40-20 lead during the opening half on Sunday, fending off the New York Liberty’s late charge for the 81-72 victory. Off the bench, Holmes and Damiris Dantas contributed adequately to a Dream offense which surpassed 80 points in regulation for the first time since May 19, a span of 11 games. Dantas nailed her first three shots, all three-pointers, while Holmes joined starters Clarendon and Hayes (combined 16-for-19 FTs) to alleviate the Dream’s woes at the charity stripe.

Perpetually beleaguered Wings coach Fred Williams has been missing Aerial Powers (hip) and Courtney Paris (meniscus tear) for most of the season due to injuries, and has had to field an active roster of ten players, half of whom consist of rookies the Wings drafted in April.

Third-overall pick Evelyn Akhator and second-rounder Breanna Lewis are backup centers, while tenth-pick Kaela Davis spells Gray and third-rounder Saniya Chong gets a modicum of time behind surefire 2017 All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith (league-high 32.9 minutes/game).

Fortunately for Coach Freddy, Gray has been the most WNBA-ready rookie out of the box, and Diggins-Smith has come into this season ready to deal for Big D. Skylar has averaged 17.3 PPG, in a return to the scoring prowess of her Tulsa years pre-ACL surgery, while shooting a career-best 44.2% from the field. Further, her career-best 32.4 assist percentage ranks behind only Sue Bird (41.0 percent of baskets assisted) and Clarendon (36.7 percent) in the league.

Atlanta’s perimeter defenders must be ready to contest shots and switch on pick-and-rolls without fouling. The Wings’ offensive punch is predicated upon their insane ability to draw shooting fouls and get to the free throw line. Dallas has piled up a WNBA-high 26.6 free throw attempts per game. That rivals the all-time WNBA record 26.7 per-game freebies the Dream were granted in 2016.

All those free throws are of little use whenever Dallas displays poor defense (109.7 D-Rating, next-to-worst in WNBA; WNBA-worst 86.1 opponent PPG), and/or when they’re shooting poorly from the floor. This was the case when the Wings got clipped at home by Seattle on Saturday, 89-69, ending Dallas’ four-game winning streak.

Dallas got 12 more free throw attempts than their visitors, even making 14 more of them, but shot just 1-for-17 on threes. The Storm out-assisted Dallas 29-13, and despite Glory Johnson’s rebounding efforts (18 points, 5 O-Rebs), Seattle’s Breanna Stewart (30 points, 10 rebounds) and Crsytal Langhorne (19-and-7) were mercilessly dipping the Wings’ depleted front line in ranch.

With Dallas already starting the back half of their schedule, Coach Williams sorely needs at least a modest finish to the season. The Wings’ loss in Atlanta around this time last year initiated a 2-13 slide out of playoff contention. Dallas (8-9) cannot afford to go from sizzle to fizzle if they have designs on a postseason run.

If Powers and Paris are out again today at Arlington’s College Park Center, look for Freddy to turn to his rookies “Shaq-ator” and Lewis, who rested through most of Saturday’s loss. In any case, this is a prime opportunity for Atlanta to balance the floor with buckets and putbacks by Elizabeth Williams (5 O-Rebs vs. NYL on Sunday) and Sancho Lyttle (WNBA-high 2.1 SPG; 3 steals away from 9th all-time). A rested Jordan Hooper should be able to join Dantas and contribute both inside and outside to help overwhelm the Wings.

With just one game separating the 10th-seeded Dream and 4th-seeded Phoenix (7-6) in the standings, today’s game is pivotal for Atlanta to reverse course. The Dream and Wings meet again on Sunday afternoon, back in Midtown Atlanta. While Dallas gets to rest, the Dream have an intervening game, hosting the Fever on Friday. With struggling defensive teams like Indiana, Dallas, San Antonio and Seattle on the docket, the moment is ripe for Atlanta to formally fix what ails them offensively.

 

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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Having blown home games the last two Fridays in a row, perhaps the third time's the charm for the Atlanta Dream? Hopefully it'll be the Dream giving Indiana the Fever (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana) all through the night.

I erred in saying Wednesday's game in Dallas was not on locally, as Fox Sports South had it simulcast. But it turned out I was doing a lot of folks a favor. Atlanta's defense betrayed them by allowing the Wings 31 first-quarter points. That, and a rough night from the floor for Tiffany Hayes, was enough for the Wings to fend off a late Dream charge and prevail 94-84.

After seeming to shake off the cobwebs verus New York, Layshia Clarendon returned to her shell offensively (0-for-3 FGs, 8 assists but 5 TOs in just 17 minutes) in Texas. Hayes and Clarendon's struggles came at the worst possible time for Atlanta (6-8) against the firepower backcourt of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Allisha Gray (combined 41 points).

As a scorer, Layshia was also a virtual no-show in Indiana on June 15 (8 assists, no TOs, but 4-for-11 FGs) as her counterpart, former Dream guard Erica Wheeler (20 points, 9-for-16 FGs, 7 assists and 4 TOs) had a field day in the Fieldhouse. Fatigue and bench support played a bigger hand in the 85-74 loss, but Atlanta needs more balance and consistency from their lead guard if they intend to beat middle-tier teams like Indiana (7-8) and Dallas.

Losing Sancho Lyttle early in the Dallas game after she caught a pork chop from Courtney Paris in the schnoz wasn't encouraging, either. Lyttle's out for tonight's game but is listed as probable for Sunday's payback match with the Wings at home.

Getting over the 80-point hump for the second-straight game, however, necessitated some offensive punch from the Dream reserves. Jordan Hooper provided, if not much else, enough threes (3-for-5 3FGs) to help keep Atlanta in the running late. Damiris Dantas also stepped up her rebounding (nine boards, seven defensive) in Lyttle's absence before fouling out. with under five minutes to play.

One of the other reserves was Meighan Simmons, who got waived yesterday evening after getting a couple uneventful minutes in Dallas. With Simmons and Darxia Morris being ineffective, coach Michael Cooper's club will be snooping around in search of a guard that can produce in short stints without giving up too much on the defensive end. WNBA teams are actively clearing roster spots to improve flexibility in advance of the WNBA Trade Deadline at the close of this month (July 31).

Atlanta needs Dantas and Hooper, as well as Bria Holmes (team-high 17 points plus 4 assists @ IND on June 15), to continue producing buckets while making stops to take the pressure off of Elizabeth Williams (6 blocks, but minus-25 vs. DAL) in Sancho's absence. Even without Lyttle, back in June, Atlanta did hold coach Pokey Chatman's club to five O-Rebs and coaxed the Fever into more player turnovers (13) than assists (11).

Besides dealing with a team that has rested for six days, the Dream will have their shorthanded frontline tested by the savvy Candice Dupree (14-and-11 vs. CON last Saturday) and the bruising Erlana Larkins.

Yet Indy is not a good defensive team, allowing opponents to shoot a WNBA-high 48.7 FG%, (worst mark in WNBA history if it stays here) including 38.0% from three-point land (worst by any team since 2012). Those figures don't get much better when Indiana puts their show on the road (opponents 49.4 FG%). part of the reason the Fever are 2-5 away from home.

Williams lacks the versatility of Connecticut's Jonquel Jones (29 points, 9-for-11 2FGs, 2-for-2 3FGs, 15 rebounds @ IND last Saturday), but she can create enough havoc if she runs the full floor to put Larkins (fouled out in 12 minutes on Saturday) in quick foul trouble and get Indy on the ropes.

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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23 minutes ago, Dnice said:

Is Jordan Hooper ready to tear it up? Is she an all star, or at least one for the future? Don't know about centers but I hope she can dominate with her size.

In her fourth season, Jordan's a potential steady role player, but she hasn't shown much more dimension to her game aside from the ability to hit threes. Of course, threes being our Achilles' heel, she should have a role here for as long as she likes. But to become a starter she'll have to rebound, pass, and defend better.

~lw3

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After a month-long fan balloting process, WNBA All-Star starters will be announced on Tuesday. For at least a couple of players at this afternoon's meeting between the Atlanta Dream and the Dallas Wings (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL), they've got some work to do to ensure they get picked among the reserves.

Based on the early returns announced back on June 29, it's looking good for Tiffany Hayes' chances to hear her name called a couple days from now. The top-scoring guard in the Eastern Conference (career-highs of 16.5 PPG, 39.6 3FG%, 82.5 FT%), Hayes has not only the positive storyline of keeping an Angel McCoughtry-less Dream team (7-8) in playoff contention, but also legions of committed UConn hoops fans ensuring their top WNBA performers don't get snubbed.

The WNBA balloting process allowed voters to pick up to ten players per day, regardless of position, the webpage-based ballot listing all players only alphabetically by surname. With hardly anyone voting for East guards, Hayes led the pack with one-fourth the votes of West backcourt leaders. She would have finished ninth if the East and West guards were combined.

Inexplicably, Hayes ranked first in the East just ahead of another Tiffany, Indiana Fever backup guard Tiffany Mitchell (10.8 PPG, 36.7 FG%) My hunch? Phoenix fans errantly thought they were voting for the more deserving Leilani Mitchell. Maybe a few fans thought they were voting for Hayes and forgot her last name.

The second-leading scorer in the West, the Wings' Skylar Diggins-Smith (17.5 PPG) is probably going to have to settle for the coaches' vote, which gets revealed one week after Tuesday's starters announcement. Drake acolytes and male fans who liked her single have trailed off, and the lack of regional attention for the lowest-attended team in the league (under 4,000 fans per game, neck-and-neck with Atlanta) hasn't helped matters. Even with over 7,000 votes more than Hayes, Skylar finds herself in the West behind two longtime WNBA stalwarts Seattle's Sue Bird and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi.

Diggins-Smith should really be a lock to make it among the West reserve guards. But she'll have to continue carrying Dallas (9-9) to victory, lest WNBA coaches try to shoehorn guards from Minnesota and Los Angeles ahead of her. Skylar made her case last Wednesday with a team-high 21 points (8-for-8 FTs) and 7 assists to help the wings hold off visiting Atlanta 94-84.

The odds-on favorite for WNBA Rookie of the Year, Allisha Gray (20 points, including a dagger three-and-one vs. ATL on June 5) has a more crowded field of Western All-Star guards and wings to contend with to get to the extravaganza in Seattle in her first WNBA season. Gray will need to continue to stand out, going up against the top-notch defensive backcourt of Layshia Clarendon and Hayes.

Coming off a career-high 27 points to pace Atlanta over the Fever on Friday night, Clarendon knows that offensive consistency is key to making a closing case for her addition to the All-Star roster. Layshia leads all WNBA guards (min. 20 minutes per game) with a sterling 96.2 defensive rating.

Even frontcourt players on the Wings and the Dream have a shot with a solid effort. Elizabeth Williams enjoyed her second-consecutive outing with six blocked shots on Friday, surging to a tie for first in the East with 1.7 BPG. As for Dallas, Glory Johnson's 8.5 RPG ranks fifth in the league, two spots ahead of Williams (8.1 RPG).

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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Elizabeth Williams has rediscovered some of her defensive chops, with 17 blocks in the past three games. Her reward? A face-to-face with the most dominant player in the game right now. Brittney Griner and her Phoenix Mercury await the arrival of the Dream (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Arizona simulcast on Fox Sports Southeast) for tonight’s clash.

Coming off some well-publicized baby mama drama, Griner slogged through much of 2016, posting her lowest figures (14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) since her rookie season. The Merc followed suit, squeaking into the 2016 playoffs with a 16-18 record.

Phoenix pulled off two winner-take-all playoff upsets on the road before getting swept by Minnesota in the semifinals. But trades, retirements, and a pregnancy resulted in Sandy Brondello fielding a team with only two returning players, Griner and new all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi.

Former All-Star Danielle Robinson arrived via trade from San Antonio, her point guard play bolstered off the bench by the efficient free agent pickup Leilani Mitchell. Camille Little arrived via trade from Connecticut, filling in as best she can to compensate for the pregnancy suspension of DeWanna Bonner (whose wife and former teammate, Candice Dupree, signed with Indiana in the offseason).

Coach Sandy, an Aussie, enticed a pair of Opals, small forward Stephanie Talbot and center Cayla George, to come to the Valley of the Sun and help fill out the roster. They also swapped with the Stars again, acquiring former Mercury player Monique Currie in hopes of bringing their offensive efficiency (5th in WNBA) up to par with WNBA leaders Minnesota and Los Angeles.

After weeks of uneven play, Phoenix (10-6) is rising and hopes to notch their fourth consecutive regular-season victory, their first streak this long since winning five in a row back in July-August 2015. They want to keep the momentum positive, as they face a home-and-home pair of games with the first-place Lynx over three days this coming weekend.

Their uptick has everything to do with Griner (career-highs of 22.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 58.1 FG%, 2.1 APG). The league’s leading scorer, top free-throw maker and runaway leading shot-blocker (2.8 BPG) has probably eclipsed Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles in what was looking early-on like a one-woman race for MVP.

Griner had to notice, however, that she was not voted in as an All-Star starter by fans, finishing the weighted balloting in fifth-place out West behind Fowles, Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike (coaches and media did vote Griner 2nd). Over the next few games, Britt will be out to show fans what they’ve missed.

All indications suggest the reinvigorated 6-foot-9 Griner will be a tall order for Williams and whomever has the unfortunate assignment of keeping her out of the paint. But Brittney has also surprised opponents with a feathery mid-range touch, as she showcased (13-for-17 FGs, 31 points, 13 defensive boards, 6 blocks) in Sunday’s 81-69 flummoxing of Tina Charles and the visiting Liberty.

Atlanta’s best bet is to keep a big body in front of Griner, Williams (who also had a career-high 4 steals vs. DAL on Sunday) relying on help defenders to strip the center of the ball whenever she gathers the ball low or puts it on the floor, creating enough pressure to compel her to pass. When she screens for Taurasi, help should be coming on rotation so the Dream center can disrupt Griner’s rolls to the basket, while the Hall of Fame-bound guard cannot feast on open perimeter shots. The ideal scenario for Michael Cooper’s club is allowing the new Mercury players to make smart decisions with the ball.

Phoenix is pushing the ball on offense (3rd in offensive pace) while looking to slow the game down on defense (last in defensive pace), allowing Taurasi to rest and Griner to dig her heels in the halfcourt. When Griner makes a post play, whether Atlanta is rebounding or inbounding the ball, someone on the Dream needs to be leaking out and anticipating a downcourt pass in swift transition.

Hopefully, the fastbreak ball will find its way into the hands of another Brittney. Rookie sensation Brittney Sykes was en fuego from deep (4-for-5 3FGs) to help Atlanta (8-8) run away from Dallas 98-78, but she did struggle to find the bucket inside the arc (2-for-12 2FGs). Still, there wasn’t much to quibble with Sykes’ defense on Sunday: eight D-Rebs, three blocks, including an uncredited steal as she helped the Dream cool off Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Sykes needs 15 points tonight to make her the fifth Dream player (if Williams can muster at least nine herself) to average double figures. Williams and All-Star starter Tiffany Hayes (19 points, 6-for-12 FGs vs. DAL) should find little pressure out-running Mercury defenders in the fullcourt. Damiris Dantas (9.4 PPG) isn’t far behind, and if she can find her range (1-for-6 3FGs last three games, 11-for-52 on the season), she and Jordan Hooper (8-for-18 3FGs w/ ATL) can help push the Dream over the 80 PPG mark consistently.

Sykes, Hayes and Bria Holmes (4 assists vs. DAL) would do well to complete the extra cross-court pass whenever Griner approaches to thwart the wing players’ dribble penetration, alleviating Layshia Clarendon (8 assists, 16 points vs. DAL) from having to completely quarterback Atlanta to victory.

A fourth road win tonight would allow the Dream to hit the halfway mark of the season with a winning record, something that could not have been predicted when the season began, and certainly not coming out of a lackluster month of June.

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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Tough loss, a late-game lapse, but ONLY due to the brilliance of Brittney Griner! Well, that, and a wise play by Princess Di to get open for the dagger three!

Carry that effort forward into the back half of the season, Dream, and good things will happen!

~lw3

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

      When the curtain closed on the Dream in 2020’s hermetically sealed Wubble, the greatest question of uncertainty was whether the rebuilding roster would finally get to open up the 25th WNBA season in their promised, still minty-fresh venue by the Airport in College Park. The next biggest questions involved who is going to be around to make sure the arena doors get unlocked, and who will be paying the bills and signing the checks.
      The first answer seems to be an easy one. Atlanta will begin the season at their long-awaited new home, the Georgia International Convention Center’s Gateway Center Arena, completed in 2019 to host the G-League’s College Park Skyhawks. Capacity in the south Fulton County venue is a bite-sized 3,500, but it’s hoped the ambience will prove to be more right-sized for WNBA games.
      All the other answers are nuanced, at best, and murky, at worst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      In a town where change comes faster than a camera flash, the nebulosity of the Dream’s leadership, frankly, is something this franchise, its fanbase, and its longer-tenured players have grown accustomed to over many years. Same with the venue, the marquee players, the management, the team identity, and the team’s financial viability. So much has been up in the air, for so long. For all the organizational missteps and hard-luck setbacks, including a pandemic, it is amazing to see Atlanta has persevered to see its WNBA team play in the league’s celebratory 25th season. At this point, there isn’t any time for the Dream to ponder, or worry about what the future holds. Beginning at tip-off today, there is only time to tilt at the windmills. Better yet, it's time to run them.
       
      Let’s Go Dream!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      "We've decided to move in a different direction... AFTER the draft."
      ~dr3am
    • By lethalweapon3
      Extreme Makeover: WNBA Edition!
      The twists and turns of WNBA life are unyielding, even as the league enters its 24th season of existence, and as the Dream lurches into its 13th season in The ATL… oh, wait… in Bradenton, Florida?

      No, this team hasn’t been poached out of town, not just yet. After toiling for a couple years in Midtown Atlanta, the Dream were granted just a year back in downtown’s renovated State Farm Arena, only to find out via Hawks management that they’ve overstayed their welcome. The intention was to get the Dream to sell seats down at the Hawks’ new G-League home, the tinier venue in College Park.
      But the players and staff headed down to South Fulton only to grab tickets at Hartsfield-Jackson for a hopefully round trip to the west coast of Florida. They’re joined there by the eleven other WNBA clubs, as part of their league’s hastened efforts to seek secure shelter, now commonly called the “Wubble” for obvious reasons, from the ravages of The Rona, at Bradenton’s sprawling IMG Academy sports campus.

      First, before players tip off the reconstructed season that begins on July 25, let’s run down the list of Atlanta’s players down on the Gulf Coast that will actually be returning from last season. Because that list is way smaller.
      2017 WNBA All-Star Elizabeth Williams.
      Third-year pro forward Monique Billings.
      That’s it. That’s the whole list.
      The face of this franchise, who missed all but a token moment of the 2019 season to rehab from her 2018 injury, Angel McCoughtry has moved on in free agency. She’ll be suiting up for the Las Vegas Aces, who need her return to all-league form as swiftly as possible to assure themselves of a worthy championship run.
      Without an untimely injured McCoughtry, then-new head coach Nicki Collen’s Dream made a daring late run into the 2018 Playoffs, missing the Finals by a hair. Sadly, the instability from Angel’s extended absence took its toll on a club that finished with a basement-dwelling 8-26 record last summer.
      Last year’s leading scorer, Tiffany Hayes, and the team’s leading dime-dropper and saving grace in the three-point-shooting department, Renee Montgomery, are both veterans that elected to opt out of playing in the Wubble this season.
      Last year’s leading rebounder? That was Jessica Breland. She and Nia Coffey were sent packing to Phoenix in February, as part of a deal that we’ll mention later. Similarly, Dream President and GM Chris Sienko dealt Atlanta’s second-leading scorer, Brittney Sykes, and Marie Gulich to Los Angeles.
      No Alex Bentley, the inefficient guard who the team permitted to walk in free agency. No Maite Cazorla, who wisely estimated that, amid a raging pandemic, she’d be safer back home in Spain. That’s at least nine spots the Dream have had to fill, and that’s not even counting Star, the Dream’s inaugural mascot that was ushered to the Mothball Retirement Home, coincidental to a logo and uniform makeover.
      What did Sienko and company do with all that roster space? There are some intriguing additions.

      Courtney Williams was the breakout star of the 2019 Playoffs, the guard averaging about 18 PPG and shooting over 40 percent on threes for the Connecticut Sun while leading all WNBA guards with 5.8 RPG despite weighing in at 135 pounds. Her assertive play and infectious fan-dad on the sidelines were frequent draws on SportsCenter highlight reels.
      The Sun, who charged to the #2 seed and swept the L.A. Sparks to reach The Finals, desperately wanted her back for a shot to return to the title series. But the free agent, a South Georgian from Charlton County, found the opportunity to play closer to home too good to pass up.
      In February, Sienko swung a three-team deal with the Sun and the Mercury, with Breland and Coffey headed to Phoenix. C-Will likely won’t have her father in tow for this season’s games, but the former University of South Florida star may be the one competitor in Bradenton that’s even closer to home than she would be in Atlanta.

      Six summers ago, Angel was instrumental in arranging a surprise engagement party, at a nightclub here in The ATL, in which Glory Johnson fatefully said yes to Brittney Griner. McCoughtry is no longer around town, but GloJo, now with twins in tow, returned to Atlanta during this past offseason, acquiescing to a courtship of a different feather from the Dream.
      Glory is well removed from her fine years as a Tennessee Vol star and a two-time WNBA All-Star, the last trip coming in 2014. Injuries during her last two seasons with the Dallas Wings has sapped her scoring efficiency, with shooting splits of 41.7/31.5/78.0 and 36.4/34.0/58.3 (FG/3FG/FT) in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But the 6-foot-3 forward strives to hone her skillset as an ever-evolving stretch-four.
      Glory remains a solid rebounder and a poacher on the defensive end (4.2 Defensive RPG and 1.4 SPG in 24.1 minutes/game). Relying less on having to make plays with the ball in her hands, she limited her turnovers to 1.0 per contest last season.
      2018’s strong close worked against 2019’s lead-balloon edition of the Dream, as the reformulated draft lottery takes each non-playoff team’s past two seasons into account. The fourth-place lottery position yielded unfortunate results, as Atlanta was unable to quench their longstanding thirst for a sure-shot star point guard (Orgeon’s Sabrina Ionescu, bound to play for the New York Liberty). But the next best guard available in 2019’s Draft, and perhaps the one with the most sizable upside, did fall to the Dream, in the form of Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter.

      The absence of Hayes and Montgomery will offer more ball-handling opportunities for the 5-foot-7 rookie than Collen likely planned, prior to the wraths of the ongoing pandemic. That’s great news for Chennedy (pronounced, “Kennedy”), who was a certified bucket at the collegiate level. 2018’s unanimous National Freshman of the Year award-winner averaged comfortably above 20 PPG during three seasons with the Aggies.
      Thanks to COVID-19, Carter wasn’t granted a chance to build on her sterling 31.0 PPG in NCAA tournament play, behind only Elena Delle Donne and Sheryl Swoopes (five WNBA MVP awards between that duo) as collegians for the highest March Madness scoring average. Her shooting efficiency, especially from the perimeter, waned in recent seasons as opponents zeroed in on her, but she remains a crafty interior finisher and, as Coach Nicki asserts, an “underrated passer.” How effectively she creates for her teammates, defends, and passes will guide how closely she tracks Ionescu in the race for Rookie of the Year.

      “I get y’all tryna be cute with some inches, but (tie) that cheap $&*^ up!” The fur won’t be flying with Liz Cambage this season, as the titanic Aces center elected to sit this season out. But Kalani Brown, with her hair flowing, made waves in spurts for the Sparks last season, most notably when she found herself in an entanglement with Liz last June and held her own (12 points off the bench, a season-high she’d tie a couple weeks later in Atlanta). Despite losing a few locks in the process, she was imposing enough to help her team win the game.
      The inches that matter for Kalani's sophomore campaign won’t involve follicle measurements. Clocking in last season at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, Brown appears to have added significant girth during the downtime. Acquired by Atlanta in exchange for Sykes and Gulich, much will be expected of the space-eating Brown to help Atlanta (last-place in D-Reb% in 2019) secure boards across the floor.
      Whether the 2019 NCAA championship pivot from Baylor (and daughter of longtime NBA veteran P.J. Brown) will have the mobility to contribute fully at both ends remains to be seen. But if she can finish around the rim and keep up her solid free throw shooting from her rookie season, Kalani can limit her liabilities as a sixth-woman backup to the much leaner (yet hopefully meaner) Elizabeth Williams.

      If conditioning becomes an issue for Brown, another Texas collegiate star, rookie Brittany Brewer of Texas Tech, offers rim-challenging support as a reserve, and recent pickup Erica McCall can crash the glass efficiently, if not much more.

      With neither Hayes nor Montgomery making the trip, there are no 80’s babies on the roster; Johnson, who turns 30 next week, exceeds her former fellow Lady Vol, swing player Shekinna Stricklen in seniority by just three calendar days. Ranked fourth among active (2020 season) WNBA veterans for three-point swishes, Stricklen won the 2019 Three-Point Shooting Contest, and looks to be the one Dream player that can be counted on to sink money balls by the rack.
      Sizable for a shooter at 6-foot-2, Strick (38+ percent on threes in past three regular seasons) would have offered a wondrous opportunity for Collen to spread the floor alongside Montgomery to the benefit of an array of driving 2-guards, and would certainly have helped turn around Atlanta’s historically woeful shooting efficiency as a franchise (league-low 41.7 eFG% and 46.2 TS%; only WNBA squad hitting below 30.0 3FG% in 2019). Even so, the full-time starter at the wing for Connecticut last season can serve as the fulcrum, chemistry-wise, for Johnson and Courtney Williams, and a trusty release valve whenever Carter gets bottled up.

      A backup to Montgomery as a rookie during the Minnesota Lynx’s last championship run in 2017, Alexis Jones was granted a bit more daylight under Derek Fisher’s watch last season in L.A.  Entering her fourth season out of Duke, Jones will be relied upon as never before to help run plays, and she can make an impact if she cuts down on her turnovers and especially her propensity for fouling.

      Returning to Atlanta one season after a stint in Seattle, guard Blake Dietrick was quite useful on occasions when she could hit an open three, not-so-much when her shots came up short. The third-year pro out of Princeton (5-for-17 on 2FGs in 46 appearances; 3rd lowest Player Impact Estimate value in 2019 2/ min. 15 appearances) must show she can be a threat on the drive if she intends to boost her reserve minutes in competition with recent arrivals Betnijah Laney (27 starts with depleted Indiana last year; 2nd on the Fever in MPG, 1.4 SPG) and Jaylyn Agnew (2020 second-rounder picked up off waivers from the Mystics).

      No matter the 2020 record, this campaign down in the Wubble shouldn’t be the final referendum for Nicki Collen at the helm. 2018’s WNBA Coach of the Year elevated expectations for the franchise, but she could never get the Dream’s spirited train to leave the station in 2019, as her players found themselves waiting for Angel like Vladimir and Estragon did for Godot.
      Coach Nicki gets to finally build a team from the bottom-up, without bearing much of the weights of decisions from organizational leaders past. She has some new veterans to turn to, including a pair with a recent Finals pedigree, that aren’t caught up in the old ways of doing things around these parts. Even better, she has a young starlet to mold and hitch onto for a long-anticipated rebuild.
      But the chemistry needed to compete in the rough-and-tumble WNBA will be lacking, especially with reliance upon a rookie scorer cutting her teeth and a series of inexperienced youngsters providing some semblance of depth but requiring tutelage on the fly.
      On paper, this looks to be a team that should turn some frowns upside down, particularly when it comes to seizing the rebounding edge. With C-Will and Carter pushing the pace, there could be tantalizing opportunities to thrive in transition on offense, something past Dream teams struggled to do without McCoughtry leading the way. Whether this team has the energy to sustain a cohesive defensive approach, in transition or in the halfcourt over the course of 40 minutes, remains to be seen.
      This could have been a fascinating post-Angel transition period, with Hayes and Montgomery on-board. Further, with many key stars sitting out (Jonquel Jones, Cambage, Tina Charles, Kristi Tolliver, Chiney Ogwumike, Asia Durr, Maya Moore, and possibly Elena Delle Donne and Odyssey Sims among them), this abbreviated season could have been a prime opportunity for Atlanta to build its way back into postseason prowess. Ultimately, that may have to wait until the curtains come up on the WNBA's next season, whenever that comes to pass.

      No matter how many wins this collective picks up, the ultimate challenge facing Collen and the coaching staff, as Atlanta treads through this 22-game schedule, is to shift the longstanding local narrative of What Could Have Been, into What Could Be.
       
      Let’s Go Dream!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      Say, is anyone feeling a draft? The window hasn’t quite closed on the prospects for a WNBA season this year. The new-look Atlanta Dream will try to turn 2019’s season-long frown upside down with the 4th pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft tonight (7 PM Eastern, ESPN).
       

      The Dream’s long half-baked history is tied to the many snakebites they have suffered in seeking out a transcendent basketball talent and surefire fan draw through the Draft. 2014’s gamble for Shoni Schimmel, much like the player herself, eventually blew up. The opportunity to nab a future star, like ATL-native and 2019 All-Star Diamond DeShields, through the 2018 Draft was squandered away via trade by Michael Cooper, in a failed ploy for a late 2017 playoff run.
      Ron Terwilliger, the Atlanta-based real estate mogul and inaugural franchise owner, wanted in on the WNBA game, but only under the assumption that the league was going to hand his new team first dibs in the draft, clearing the way for Tennessee superstar and NCAA champ Candace Parker to head south. This was not to be, as the league rewarded a Los Angeles Sparks team that was absent Lisa Leslie (pregnancy) the top pick in 2008.
      Atlanta, instead, wound up 4th, and traded down to pick #8. The Dream’s comically bad opening season was attached with a top pick the following year, but Terwilliger, miffed by the lost opportunity to showcase Parker, was seeking out the exits already by then.
      For reasons both good and bad, Atlanta did obtain a franchise-defining player in Angel McCoughtry. But Angel never quite reached Parker’s lofty tier, and the organization failed to find the teammate chemistry and reliable coaching to help the 3-time WNBA Finalist achieve championship glories during her peak athletic years in A-Town.
       

      If there is to be a 2020 season, McCoughtry will spend it with the Las Vegas Aces, as the decade-long franchise face was permitted to lickety-split in free agency.
      Atlanta checked out of 2019 with an 8-26 mark, the worst record in The W. But a rule instituted by former Atlanta councilperson and ex-league commissioner Lisa Borders combined the prior two seasons for each team to calculate lottery odds, precisely to avoid the gains made by teams like L.A., who won Parker due to Leslie’s absence, and Phoenix, who nabbed top-pick Brittney Griner after Diana Taurasi took a year-long sabbatical from WNBA play.
       

      Once Angel and her team made it clear she was unlikely to play last season, it would have been sweet to just play like mowed-down fescue for Sabrina Ionescu, the record-shattering Oregon guard who is all but certain to be a star in the pros. Alas, 2018’s campaign that had the Dream nearly reaching the WNBA Finals came with the penalty of the 4th-worst lottery odds for 2020. Sabrina is instead bound for New York, the Liberty this week rolling out the red carpet for her while shipping their hometown star Tina Charles to Washington.
       

      There remains ample potential for a bounce-back season by the Dream, even with Angel gone for good. An active offseason by Dream GM Chris Sienko brought former Brittney bride Glory Johnson (coincidentally, Angel arranged her fateful “surprise” 2014 engagement party with Griner here in Atlanta), still a steady rebounder and post scorer, into the fold. Further addressing the team’s historic wayward-shooting droughts, swing player and 2019 3-Point Contest winner Shekinna Stricklen also arrived as a free agent.
       

      The biggest offseason coup came when Atlanta pried the face of the 2019 WNBA Playoffs (if you maybe discount her superfan dad), South Georgia native Courtney Williams, away from Connecticut via trade. The energetic mid-range scorer hit enough big shots in the playoffs to nearly carry the Sun to a surprise 2019 WNBA title. Taking Williams together with her former Sun teammate, Stricklen, and Johnson, and that’s enough versatility, energy and experience to offset the departures of McCoughtry and Brittney Sykes, who was dealt to the Sparks in a deal for young pivot Kalani Brown.
       

      Johnson, with Dream holdovers Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery and Elizabeth Williams, ought to bring enough leadership for Atlanta, behind head coach Nicki Collen, to hop back into low-level playoff contention in the near-term. But the challenge for this draft is to find, without Ionescu available, a player who can mesh well with the current roster but also be molded into a franchise-carrying star in the seasons to come. If that player is a guard, then a couple SEC stars come immediately to mind.
       

      Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter is a certified bucket. A 5-foot-7 supernova scorer, she will have time to round out her game as a floor leader while granting fans plenty of highlight plays along the way. Scoring over 20 PPG every season with the Aggies, Carter’s perimeter accuracy regressed in 2019-20, but prior seasons suggest she could shine in this area with an adequate supporting cast to pry defenders away.
       

      2020 Dawn Staley Award winner Tyasha Harris spent her collegiate career under Dawn Staley’s watch at South Carolina, feeding eventual WNBA Rookies of the Year Allisha Gray and A’ja Wilson with the rock before their successful springboards to the next level. That was all before going 32-1 with the SEC Tournament champion Gamecocks in her senior season. Harris is the ultimate pass-first point guard prototype as a steady ball-handler and play-caller, but her quality jump-shooting and dogged defense give off the air of a slightly taller Briann January.
       

      Oregon’s Satou Sabally and Baylor’s Lauren Cox are expected to follow Ionescu’s name being called with the next two picks in this Draft, by Indiana and Dallas, respectively. In the event either forward falls to #4 due to Carter going higher, and given Glory’s reported one-year deal with Atlanta, Sabally or Cox would be painfully hard to pass up.
       

      An early-entry candidate like Carter, the 6-foot-4 Sabally has great size for the small forward position, and the Cheryl Miller Award winner has quality shooting range to boot. A 2019 NCAA champion, Cox is a solid shot-blocker, as well as passer, in the post. Type-1 since her childhood and playing with a blood sugar monitor, she is the ultimate answer to the question about the last time you’ve seen a funky diabetic.
       

      The biggest name out of 2017’s five-star high school crop, Megan Walker struggled under the glare of Geno Auriemma at UConn, particularly outside of weak-conference play, but she won’t be the last to do so along the way becoming a steeled star talent at the pro level. For a team that can afford to wait a year or two for her emergence, Walker carries a strong “Star Potential” banner with her athletic upside as a forward.
      At the moment, the Dream have the fifth pick of the second round (17th overall), and the first and third picks of the third and final round (picks #25 and 27). Those selections rarely make it onto the slim WNBA rosters maxed out at 12 players. But there are plenty of prospects that could give the back end of Atlanta’s depth chart a literal run for their money.
       

      Texas Tech’s Brittany Brewer may drop into the second round despite being the top prototypical center on most draft boards. Do-it-all Oregon State guard Mikayla Pivec, a consistent triple-double threat in the collegiate ranks, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, the SEC tourney MVP at small forward for the Gamecocks, or Tynice Martin, an Atlanta native and SACA graduate who starred at West Virginia, are among the many options that could fall to Atlanta’s picks in the second or even top-of-third rounds.
       

      Even before the current health crisis hit, nearly everything around the Atlanta Dream seemed to be in flux, from the focus of team ownership, to Angel’s playing status, to where the team would even play (they relocate to College Park’s Skyhawks venue with the next WNBA tipoff). Even without making an instant splash, a great first-round draft selection tonight could eventually, and finally, help the Dream work their way toward a steady footing as a competitive franchise in this league. After so many years of being snakebit, it is time for Atlanta to begin snapping back.
       
      Let’s Go Dream!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      Happy trails, Angel! Aces putting all their cards on the table for 2020!
      ~lw3