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As noted on RebKell and elsewhere, the Dream's newest coach was an assistant at Louisville back when Angel Mac was a recruit.
Collen has lots of collegiate ties (her husband, Tom, coached Arkansas until 2014, where she was an assistant), but also a couple years of experience as an assistant under reigning WNBA Coach of the Year Curt Miller at Connecticut. She seems to check off plenty of boxes for the current ownership. Good luck!
Let's Go Dream!
...but not for long, in Texas!
Sucks every time a franchise moves, but the league has been avoiding outright folding teams for some time now, which is good.
So... Frisco? Vegas? HOUSTON? #BringBackTheComets
With their WNBA season tipping off this Saturday, the Atlanta Dream hope to spread their wings in 2017. But how far can they truly fly without Angel McCoughtry around?
Entering its tenth season, the WNBA franchise was dealt two blows affecting their appeal to sports fans this year. One was inevitable, as forthcoming summertime renovations to Philips Arena meant the Dream needed a new home for the next two WNBA seasons. Fortunately, Georgia Tech has long been accommodating to the Dream (and the Hawks, back in the day). Last year’s playoff home of McCamish Pavilion, the since-renovated “Thrillerdome” on 10th Street, will be the site of Dream games through at least 2018.
Atlantans have an affinity for driving right up to the doors of desirable establishments, and the limited campus-area parking even during the summer sessions tend to be a drag on attendance. The Tech Trolleys will likely be re-routed to accommodate gameday traffic, while the newly extended schedule for Atlanta United at nearby Bobby Dodd Stadium will require even more campus coordination, shuttling pro sports fans around from MARTA and Atlantic Station. But while soccer fans don’t question whether it will be worth the trouble, current and prospective basketball fans will.
And that’s where the other blow landed. Fans become more attuned to the WNBA game if there is the likelihood a star talent suits up for the team they root for. The one billboard-worthy talent the Dream has had, almost since their inception, has been perennial All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Angel McCoughtry. Unfortunately, she has been wearing down from year-round globetrotting and basket weaving.
It’s the same deal for many WNBA players, regardless of starpower. The salaries they command here pale in comparison to the dollars and rubles and drachmae they pull overseas, their reputations here serving mostly to fuel their international demand.
This plus the routine demands of national team commitments take its toll, and it becomes tough for young women to keep up hooping obligations and other life interests, like schooling, running a business, or planning a family. (Side note: Angel’s new venture, “McCoughtry’s Ice Cream”, should be opening in June, around the corner from Philips Arena in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.)
Angel is among the few players fortunate enough to be constantly in demand for her basketball talent, and she keeps herself in peak athletic condition. But, at age 30, she has also joined the elder stateswomen in the W, and deserves some serious respite after having carried a WNBA franchise on her back for eight seasons.
Angel Mac is nowhere near broken down, as she most recently displayed in April by guiding Dynamo Kursk to the Euroleague Women’s championship and Russian League finals (the latter won by Sancho Lyttle’s UMMC Ekaterinburg team). With her WNBA suspension in ink, McCoughtry plans to spend this month playing for a team in suburban Beirut for the Lebanese League playoffs, before returning to the ATL for the start of her new dessert shop. But she’s not going to wait until her body cannot go for 30 minutes per night before taking personally productive time away from the league.
McCoughtry’s season-long absence, announced back in January, scuttled any serious hopes of contending for a WNBA title this year. But this Angel-free season can serve as a prime opportunity for new talents to step into the limelight. The Dream, already among the lowest-attended WNBA outfits, truly needs this to transpire.
But who might that rising player, or those players, be? One could look in any number of directions.
McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes’ late-season suspensions for excessive technical fouls in 2016 opened the door for the emergence of rookie Bria Holmes. Her scoring and activity helped salvage a 17-17 season for a Dream team that wasn’t projected as a playoff team at the outset. Teaming with Angel in the playoffs, the rookie shined as an offensive option during the few times the opponent managed to contain McCoughtry.
No one person should be expected to completely compensate for Angel’s lost production, but Holmes can certainly fill the bill to an extent. If she has used her time overseas (in Israel) to expand her range and hone her defensive chops, Bria could become Atlanta’s go-to performer at least in the interim, until McCoughtry returns.
One could also look to the interior, where the reigning WNBA Most Improved Player award winner resides. Head coach Michael Cooper entrusted Elizabeth Williams with a WNBA-high 34.7 minutes per game, and the second-year center delivered in spades. Williams finished 2016 second in the league in per-game blocks, and fifth in rebounds, including first on the offensive end.
Demonstrative of her fullcourt capacities, only Williams and Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles finished in the top-five of the WNBA in O-Rebs and blocked shots, while reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike was the only other player to finish the season among the top ten in both categories.
Williams struggled to finish attempts around the rim with the ball in her hands, but if Williams can stay healthy and round out her offensive game while cutting down on fouls, the former Duke star (jersey retired in the offseason, first Blue Devil men’s or women’s number retired since 2008) could turn even more heads in 2017.
A wildcard for a breakout could be arriving off the bench. Damiris Dantas stayed home for her native Olympic host Brazil in 2016, but is back in training camp. It has been over a year-and-a-half since she last suited up for Atlanta, starting 16 games in 2015 after the Erika DeSouza trade. In the interim, Dantas has spent a lot of time in Brazil creating mismatches at the forward spots, expanding her range to the three-point line so she could apply her 6-foot-3 frame advantageously.
As a notoriously poor jump-shooting team, Atlanta has never had a legitimate stretch-four (or-stretch-five), so Dantas could become a tool Cooper employs liberally in his rotations. If things work out well, Dantas’ return could be just in time for a gradual transition from defensively savvy starter Sancho Lyttle.
Atlanta’s struggles to limit opponents’ paint points and force turnovers in 2016 could be tied to its continued in-and-out relationship with Lyttle. Sancho departed from the team in June to help Spain with its Olympic bid. Then, the Dream lost her for the season in mid-July with a broken bone in her foot.
For as long as she’s here (she is likely to take another trip in June, to participate in the Eurobasket Women Olympic qualifying tournament), Sancho serves as the predominant veteran voice on and off the floor, in Angel’s stead. She’s not outspoken, but she won’t rail on her teammates in displeasure when mistakes get made. Her Millsap-style ability to get steals and deflections while also securing rebounds could keep Atlanta in the running to lead the league in fastbreak points once again, even without McCoughtry around to finish those plays.
Of course, we cannot forget about Hayes, Atlanta’s top returning scorer (15.0 PPG) who returned from a playoff-game suspension to lead the way with 30 points in the Dream’s 2016 postseason denouement. Tip enjoyed career-best marks in minutes, scoring, and steals last season, and her hard-charging attitude makes her the prevailing option to score or get fouled on drives to the hoop. But the shooting guard has not been a steady perimeter shooter during her career, and improvement in this area will be crucial for the Dream to contend for a playoff spot in 2017.
Another area of improvement for Hayes needs to come in the composure department. Opponents know Tiffany’s temper can get the best of her, either through overzealous fouling or griping to the referees. McCoughtry’s absence only increases the likelihood of physical opponents putting the screws to Hayes in anticipation that she’ll react detrimentally. If she can curb her emotions, or at least channel them toward productive team-oriented basketball, Hayes might not only lead the Dream to victories, but earn herself a mid-season trip to Seattle for the All-Star Game.
Angel was the league’s highest-usage player, so that ball will now reside in the hands of lots of other players, no one more than point guard Layshia Clarendon. She returns on a new multi-year contract after a successful first year as a WNBA starter (career-high 10.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG). While her 34.6 3FG% was a regression for her, it was easily the best on the team that ranked last (as usual) in the league in three-pointers made and three-point percentage, McCoughtry the only other Dreammate shooting (barely) above 30 percent on the year.
There is no significant depth behind Clarendon on the roster. Hoping she can remain healthy, Cooper will rely on his outspoken floor leader to transition his team out of the iso-heavy and oft-sloppy offense that relied on McCoughtry for nearly a decade. Despite finally cutting down on turnovers in 2016, Atlanta ranked last in the WNBA for assists produced (15.0 team APG), their failures to hit threes contributing greatly to that ranking.
Cooper and the Dream management elected to improve on backcourt depth through the draft, reaching a bit to select shooting guard Brittney Sykes out of Syracuse. “She reminds me of me,” Coach Coop said to Syracuse.com after the draft. I’m sure we have heard that before. “It’s a match made in heaven… I do think we got the steal of the draft.” We shall see.
After suffering two season-ending ACL injuries in college, Sykes bounced back to help lead the Orange to the 2016 national championship game. She continued to team with point guard Alexis Peterson through 2017 to form college basketball’s highest-scoring backcourt tandem.
Cooper estimates that the first-round pick’s perimeter shooting (a low-volume but team-high 39.3 3FG% as a redshirt senior) and defense will translate well to the WNBA level. The elevated pace and frequency of games and the limited time for acclimation and off-court development are always tough on WNBA rookies, to say nothing of the adjustment to opposing pro talent.
Sykes rounds out the seven surefire guarantees for spots on Atlanta’s 11-player minimum (12-player maximum) roster. Considering the limited depth, the most likely addition among the remaining women in training camp is point guard Brianna Kiesel, an unrestricted free agent signee previously with the Dallas Wings.
Kiesel’s 2016 campaign in Dallas proved to be a washout, waived midway through the year after 48 appearances with the Wings/Shock franchise over the past two seasons. But she filled in admirably as a replacement starter for the 2015 Shock, first filling in the gap formed by Odyssey Sims’ injury as Tulsa raced to an 8-1 season start, then again with an injury to Skylar Diggins. Kiesel’s career game came during that summer in Atlanta, where her career-best 16 points helped visiting Tulsa upend the Dream.
Competitors for the remaining roster spots include several Dream returnees. Second-year pivot Rachel Hollivay will vie for a backup role behind Williams. Atlanta also re-acquired longtime reserve Aneika Morello via trade, after a lackluster season in Connecticut.
Meighan Simmons showed flashes on occasion during her delayed rookie season in 2016, but will be challenged to reveal new facets to her game and better consistency if she intends to stick with this roster. Veteran Matee Ajavon, who regressed after a surprising 2015, journeywoman point guard Darxia Morris, and former Georgia Tech star Ty Marshall round out the hopefuls.
Although the Dream played without several key frontcourt players, last Friday’s 113-67 washout loss in Minnesota confirmed that this team has plenty of work cut out for it, a rotation that is likely struggling to gel at the outset of this WNBA season. More than ever before, this team will have the undivided attention of Michael Cooper and his coaching staff, which includes Michael’s son, Miles, as the player development director.
The 2018 Draft will be deep with future WNBA stars, but Atlanta sports fans are not keeping track in any case, and will not be rewarding attempts to tank by purchasing gameday tickets at Georgia Tech. The Dream are competing for attention in a heightened local summertime sports market with a wildly popular MLS outfit, a reigning NFC champion, and a team in a shiny new MLB baseball park.
It will be Coach Coop’s challenge to hold this team together through this season, without Angel, and through next season in their temporary home. Regardless of their record or their playoff prospects, Cooper must make the 2017 Atlanta Dream competitive enough to keep hoop fans entertained through the summer.
Let's Go Dream!
Say, does somebody feel a Draft? The WNBA Draft is right around the corner (April 13 at 7:00 PM Eastern, first-round on ESPN2, latter rounds on ESPN U).
With a few early-entry candidates exploring the lay of the land and electing to stick around for their senior seasons, 2017 is not going to be a terribly deep draft, talent-wise (set your calendar, though, because 2018 will be bonkers). But there are plenty of players that can contribute off the bench in the near-term, and the Atlanta Dream have an opportunity to strategically improve their depth in at least one position on the floor, if not more.
Waiting in the Angel Wings? – As we know, there will likely be no Angel McCoughtry suiting up in the baby-blue-and-red this season. Following in the footsteps of standout players like Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker, the WNBA superstar plans to take off a full year, getting some well-deserved rest and recuperating from the wear-and-tear of year-round high-level hoops (she’s finishing up her play in Russia this month).
Bria Holmes, who emerged late last season as a reliable rookie during Atlanta’s playoff run, is most likely to get the lion’s share of Angel’s minutes. Additionally, Damiris Dantas should be primed to make major contributions, after being suspended for all of 2016 so she could play exclusively in Brazil. If veteran Matee Ajavon makes the opening-day roster, the small forward spot is fairly set. If not, then a second- or third-round selection might be able to fill out the final spot, at least on a short-term basis.
Late-round forward options where Atlanta picks (19th overall in the second round, 31st in the third round) include Norcross’ Shayla Cooper (Ohio State), along with Drake power forward Lizzy Wendell and Jessica Jackson of Arkansas. Each can stretch the floor with midrange shots, although Shayla’s emotional flameouts when times get tough could remind many fans of McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes at their worst. If the Dream goes this route, this should be a selection that helps fill scoring and rebounding gaps this year, and gets developed to become a key sixth-woman for 2018, when McCoughtry returns.
A Lyttle heir apparent? – As far as we can tell, Sancho Lyttle will return from Europe and serve as a defensive anchor for a Dream team that sorely needs to create stops inside, especially without all-world defender Angel in the picture. However, Lyttle is in her 30s and hasn’t played a full WNBA season, due to injuries and/or international commitments, in some time. Unsatisfied with Reshanda Gray at power forward, the Dream parted ways in the offseason and brought back Aneika Morello (née Henry). But the latter struggled mightily last season with the Connecticut Sun. Dantas can play the stretch-four role, but another backup at either the 3- or 4-spot would be helpful.
To acquire a future star that waits in the wings until Lyttle is either traded or her contract runs out, means using the first-round pick (7th) on a blue-chip prospect. Northwestern’s Nia Coffey is probably the top player for the 4-spot coming into the draft. Super-sized pick-and-popper Chantel Osahor, also by far the NCAA’s leading rebounder, helped all-time NCAA scorer Kelsey Plum (probable #1 overall pick, by San Antonio) carry Washington deep into the past two NCAA tourneys, and is rising up draft boards. But neither would likely be the “best player available” where the Dream sit, so a trade-down deal may be possible to acquire their services.
Shoot… we need Shooters! – You’ve tired of the Dream being among the league’s worst perimeter-shooting teams, pretty much since their inception. Hayes brings a lot of fire to the floor, but not much firepower for a 2-guard along the three-point arc. The sometimes-hot, often-cold Meighan Simmons was brought back in free agency, but there remains a sense that the solution to Atlanta’s longstanding woes will have to come from, um, outside.
Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has the range to boost Atlanta’s jumpshot game, and the build to avoid being a defensive liability on the floor, unlike many hot-shooting collegiate wings. Oregon State’s Sydney Wiese might be a reach as a middle-first-rounder, but is unlikely to fall to Atlanta at #19. If the Dream have any interest in SWK or Wiese, they’ll want to swing a trade-up deal to get them.
Gawd save Queen Elizabeth! – Reigning Most Improved Player awardee Elizabeth Williams won’t be a repeat winner, not unless coach Michael Cooper can figure out a way to double her already league-high floortime. Re-signed on a training camp contract, Markeisha Gatling served well as a stopgap in the back half of last season, but her size can make it tough on Atlanta to live up to their “Run With The Dream” motto.
Gatling will compete for a spot on the 12-woman roster with Morello and second-year pivot Rachel Hollivay. But if Atlanta can have a top-notch young center fall to them at #7, they may leap at the chance to upgrade behind Williams, or even supplant her over time as the team’s steady starter at the 5-spot. The qualifiers for such an upgrade would include Maryland’s Brionna Jones and South Carolina’s Alaina Coates, the latter missing the Gamecocks’ NCAA championship run due to an ankle injury sustained during the SEC tourney.
What’s the Point? – There are only 12 starting point guard spots, and of those, Layshia Clarendon has the least-flashy resume among the group. Still, she established herself well enough to earn the starting nod at least for this upcoming season. But what about beyond 2017? The sole external free agent brought in with a guaranteed deal was Brianna Kiesel. But the third-year guard couldn’t stand out in Tulsa/Dallas, and was waived in mid-season last year.
Any opportunities to use a late-round flier on a guard that could compete with Kiesel for the backup position would be helpful. Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen lugged the Irish into the Elite Eight and should be available where the Dream pick in the second round. Allen finished second in the NCAA with a sterling 3.57 assist/turnover ratio.
If they wish to use a first-round pick on a short-term apprentice, either of Alexis Jones (Baylor) or Alexis Peterson (Syracuse) is likely to fall to them. Despite being a bit diminutive at 5-foot-7, Peterson finished top-12 in Division I for both scoring and assists.
WNBA First Round Draft Order (as of 4/4/2017, subject to change):
1. San Antonio Stars
2. Chicago Sky (from Washington)
3. Dallas Wings
4. Dallas (from Los Angeles, via Connecticut)
5. San Antonio (from Phoenix)
6. Washington Mystics (from Seattle)
7. ATLANTA DREAM
8. Connecticut Sun (from Indiana)
9. Chicago Sky
10. Dallas (from New York)
11. Los Angeles Sparks (returned back from Dallas)
12. Minnesota Lynx
Top Players Available:
(** edited to include Early-Entry Players)
PG: Kelsey Plum (5'8", Washington), Alexis Jones (5'9", Baylor), Alexis Peterson (5'7", Syracuse), Lindsay Allen (5'8", Notre Dame), Leticia Romero (5'8", Florida State)
SG: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (5'11", Maryland), **Allisha Gray (6'0", South Carolina, Washington County GA HS), ** Kaela Davis (6'2", South Carolina, Georgia Tech transfer, Buford HS, Antonio's daughter), Sydney Wiese (6'1", Oregon State), Alexis Prince (6'2", Baylor), Makayla Epps (5'10", Kentucky), Tori Jankoska (5'8", Michigan State), Adrienne Motley (5'9", Miami), Brittney Sykes (5'9", Syracuse), Saniya Chong (5'8", Connecticut)
SF: Nina Davis (5'11", Baylor), Ronni Williams (6'0", Florida), Lizzy Wendell (6'0", Drake), Jennie Simms (6'0", Old Dominion)
PF: Nia Coffey (6'1", Northwestern), Chantel Osahor (6'2", Washington), Jessica Jackson (6'3", Arkansas), Shayla Cooper (6'2", Ohio State, Norcross HS), Hannah Little (6'1", Oakland)
C: Alaina Coates (6'4", South Carolina), Brionna Jones (6'3", Maryland), Erica McCall (6'3", Stanford), Evelyn Akhator (6'3", Kentucky), Breanna Lewis (6'5", Kansas State), Tearra Banks (6'2", Austin Peay)