2021 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews


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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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If you’re running to Gateway Center to catch the Dream live in today’s WNBA season-opener versus the Connecticut Sun (7:30 PM Eastern), you’re going to have to buy season tickets first! Whoever’s in charge announced they are limiting attendance for season-ticket holders, at least for this month, as the ongoing pandemic abates.

Whenever you choose to attend, here are links to driving and MARTA directions (including the ATL SkyTrain people-mover from the Airport) to the Arena. Gateway Center is a short walk past the convention center from the GICC Gateway Station (the station preceding the rental-car return station), and from the GICC parking lots.

https://arenagatewaycenter.com/getting-here/driving-directions/

https://arenagatewaycenter.com/getting-here/

 

As you know, conferences don’t matter like they used to, and that’s a good thing in terms of leaguewide competition. However, in celebration of the 25th WNBA season, the league is introducing a Commissioner’s Cup. Ten in-conference games before the Olympic Break will be designated as Cup games. The top finishers in each conference will vie after the Break for the Cup in Phoenix on August 12, three days before the WNBA season resumes.

Accommodating both the Olympics schedule and the Cup final, the season is shortened to 32 from its customary 34 games. Atlanta will face the Las Vegas Aces twice, and every other opponent thrice.

The league is insistent on finding new avenues for casuals to watch live games. Thus, some games, like today’s, will be available on Twitter, and others, like Wednesday’s home match versus Candace Parker and Chicago, via Facebook. Amazon Prime Video will be streaming select WNBA games during the season. And all games will be available, on TVs and tablets, via WNBA League Pass.

Bawb is catching a break! Bob Rathbun will get to pursue other ventures this summer, once the Hawks’ postseason comes to a close. LaChina Robinson will be back, though, as will Angel Gray and Tabitha Turner, as the first all-Black female broadcast crew will cover up to ten Dream games during this 32-game season.

The Dream will pop in on national broadcasts throughout the season, too! As always, check your local listings.

 

ATLANTA DREAM SCHEDULE

(Local and national TV broadcasts in Bold)

Friday, May 14 – vs. Connecticut Sun (7:30 PM Eastern, Twitter)

Wednesday, May 19 – vs. Chicago Sky (7 PM Eastern, Facebook)

Friday, May 21 – at Indiana Fever (7 PM Eastern, Twitter)

Tuesday, May 25 – at Chicago (8 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network, Prime Video)

Thursday, May 27 – vs. Dallas Wings (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast)

Saturday, May 29 – at New York Liberty (2 PM Eastern)

Friday, June 4 – at Minnesota Lynx (8 PM Eastern, Facebook)

Sunday, June 6 – at Minnesota (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast)

Wednesday, June 9 – vs. Seattle Storm (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast)

Friday, June 11 – vs. Seattle (8 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Sunday, June 13 – vs. Washington Mystics (3:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South in ATL, NBATV)

Thursday, June 17 – at Washington (7 PM Eastern)

Wednesday, June 23 – vs. Minnesota (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast Alternate)

Saturday, June 26 – vs. New York (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South)

Tuesday, June 29 – vs. New York (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, ESPN3)

Friday, July 2 – at Seattle (10 PM Eastern, Twitter)

Sunday, July 4 – at Las Vegas Aces (6 PM Eastern)

Friday, July 9 – at Connecticut (7 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Sunday, July 11 – vs. Indiana (5 PM Eastern, Facebook)

[BREAK -- OLYMPIC GAMES FROM JULY 26 THROUGH AUGUST 8]

[WNBA COMMISSIONER’S CUP GAME – AUGUST 12]

Sunday, August 15 – at Phoenix Mercury (6 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Tuesday, August 17 – at Los Angeles Sparks (10:30 PM Eastern, NBATV)

Thursday, August 19 – at Los Angeles (10:30 PM Eastern, NBATV)

Saturday, August 21 – vs. Phoenix (12 Noon Eastern, ESPN2)

Tuesday, August 24 – vs. Chicago (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, ESPN3)

Thursday, August 26 – vs. Las Vegas (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, NBATV)

Thursday, September 2 – at Dallas (8 PM Eastern, Facebook)

Sunday, September 5 – at Dallas (4 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Wednesday, September 8 – vs. Phoenix (7 PM Eastern, ESPN2)

Friday, September 10 – at Washington (7 PM Eastern, NBATV)

Tuesday, September 14 – vs. Indiana (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, NBATV)

Thursday, September 16 – vs. Los Angeles (7 PM Eastern)

Sunday, September 19 – at Connecticut (1 PM Eastern, NBATV)

 

~lw3

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Thanks for the write up.   I'm determined to watch more Dream this year. Wish Renee was still playing but it'll be great to have her as the face of the franchise.  I didn't even know they were going to play in CP. That place is really cool

Go Dream!

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It's WNBA Power Poll time!

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Las Vegas Aces – The WNBA championship is a foregone conclusion now that Liz Cambage returns, with co-stars, including Chelsea Gray and league MVP A’ja Wilson, ready to roll in coach Bill Laimbeer’s quest for a his first ring since 2008. Yes, Angel McCoughtry is out for the season again, this time due to a torn meniscus and ACL suffered in preseason (The league had better not mess up and leave her out of the All-25 WNBA Team this time around). Still, don’t bet against Vegas!

 

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Seattle StormBreanna Stewart has a complete lineup to defend the WNBA title, if the bet, that Katie Lou Samuelson is prepared to make her big leap pays off. The reigning champs didn’t skip a beat under assistant Gary Kloppenburg in the Wubble, and with Dan Hughes back in charge, the only question is how different this team will look with Samuelson and Candice Dupree in place of Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard.

 

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Minnesota Lynx – She's the real deal, that Crystal Dangerfield. As was true in recent seasons, Maya Moore would have vaulted reigning Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve’s club toward the top, but with Napheesa Collier and a healthier Sylvia Fowles to dominate frontlines, and Dangerfield’s fearless offensive output, there's no waiting around for her return.

 

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Phoenix Mercury – So much talent, such established reputations, yet still so many question marks abound. Can the Sky and Di reboot of Taurasi and Diggins-Smith, work this time? Will Brittney Griner be running in the final chase for MVP? Can coach Sandy Brondello hang on for one more season?

 

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Chicago Sky – It took a minute to get to a WNBA East team, didn’t it? Her Hall of Fame credentials intact, Candace Parker comes home to make the Sky an instant threat. There’s no question what Parker, and veteran guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley bring to the table, nor how good James Wade can be coaching up this group. Can Diamond DeShields and Azura Stevens bounce back after disappointing 2020 seasons?

 

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Washington Mystics – We finally get to witness Elana Delle Donne and Tina Charles wrecking shop together. Good thing, for the rest of the league, that Emma Meesseman is out satisfying her Belgian and overseas commitments, because her return will make the Mystics’ frontline patently unfair. Depth is all else that's missing from coach Mike Thibault’s roster, and the team will miss Clark, the free agent pickup now sidelined for the season with a foot fracture.

 

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Los Angeles SparksThe losses of Parker and Gray are certain to lead to a stepback for coach Derek Fisher’s crew. That is, unless Nneka Ogwumike, her returning sister Chiney, Amanda Zahui B and Brittney Sykes all make strides.

 

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New York Liberty – This team would be a big threat to make an instant, winning splash, what with Betnijah Laney joining forces with would-be Rookie of the Year winner Sabrina Ionescu, the latter lost to injury early in the 2020 season. The Howard acquisition was another bold offseason stroke. But Howard and Kia Stokes are still satisfying overseas commitments, while coach Walt Hopkins will have to proceed without COVID long-hauler Asia Durr.

 

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Connecticut Sun – Another year, another opportunity for coach Curt Miller’s club to overcome a setback. Alyssa Thomas was the straw that stirs the drink, but an Achilles injury suffered overseas will have her out for all of 2021. She will be missed, but All-Star center Jonquel Jones, who opted out of 2020, returns in full force. Her pairing with DeWanna Bonner will be fun. The lack of experienced depth will not.

 

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ATLANTA DREAM – The pending return of Tiffany Hayes, frontcourt reinforcements, the arrival of Aari McDonald and the emergence of Chennedy Carter makes this season one worth building upon. Who, exactly, is going to be around to see this rebuilding phase through? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

 

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Indiana Fever – Shocking 2020 All-Rookie guard Julie Allemand proved to be quite a catch for coach Marianne Stanley, whose team remains adamant about its slow-growth strategy. Can Lauren Cox and Teaira McCowan emerge upfront, to help top scorer Kelsey Mitchell, Allemand and the guards make an even bigger step up in 2021?

 

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Dallas Wings – Vickie Johnson, Laimbeer’s ace assistant, returns to Texas to coach up what is still a painfully young team, sure to take its lumps. The glut of incoming rookies, including center Charli Collier as the first of three among the first five WNBA Draft picks, won't ease things for league-leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale, not right away.

 

~lw3

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Even without former colleagues Chris Sienko and Nicki Collen, Curt Miller keeps pulling rabbits out of hats. He did it in 2019 in guiding Courtney Williams and his Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, and he nearly pulled off the feat again in 2020's Playoffs.. The Sun, as underdogs that finished Wubble play at 10-12, singed two opponents in elimination games, then took top-seeded Vegas to a fifth and deciding game in the WNBA semifinals.

Connecticut enters WNBA play today in College Park versus the Atlanta Dream (7:30 PM Eastern, Twitter) with one star that missed 2020 returning and one that helped make 2020 successful unavailable for this season. Jack-of-all-trades forward Alyssa Thomas tore an Achilles while playing overseas and will be sidelined for all of 2021. Master-of-many-trades center Jonquel Jones is back to wage an MVP campaign. But it feels like the roster construction around Jones has been poor, with the most stacked bench talent -- Brionna Jones, Beatrice Mompremier -- arguably playing behind her.

Former Dream and All-Star guard Jasmine Thomas has returned to the States from Turkish League play, but remains suspended as she has yet to clear COVID protocols. Constrained from adding talent due to salary cap constraints, the Sun are basically 10-deep with Natasha Heideman starting, and two recent late-round draft pickups, DiJonai Carrington and Aleah Goodman, supporting her and Briann January in the backcourt.

DeWanna Bonner and Jones should form a potent duo upfront, and Kaila Charles, herself a low second-rounder from 2020, should emerge in her second season at forward as well. But no one can afford to get into foul trouble, or games could spiral out of control.

Even without the availability of Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta (7-15 last season) has the depth advantage tonight, if not the know-how. Whether it's Cheyenne Parker inside or Elizabeth Williams outside, Dream players must make the taleneted Jonquel put the ball on the floor in hopes of producing turnovers. As versatile as Bonner can be, she is not the best perimeter shooter (25.2 3FG%), so the Dream must box out the Sun's bigs whenever DeWanna settles for long-range attempts.

The Thomases were the glue that kept opponents stuck shooting poorly from the perimeter. Atlanta has to use the pick-and-toll to keep the Jones girls honest, but also kick out and move the ball around the horn to find open shooters, then hitting them at a rate that only Jonquel could help the Sun match.

If Mike Petersen can keep the Dream focused on the tasks at hand, Atlanta's debut at Gateway Center could be a winning one

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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What the... ok if I wasn’t a diehard you’re trying to make me one lw3! It’s like having trading cards online for free. Lol I have a problem wanting to digest it so it could take me a minute to read. The NBA I follow in my brain as I read, this one I gotta almost learn these ladies right quick 😂. Crazy awesome stuff. #slayer #sportymarkymarktwain

Go Dream!! 

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Sims starts at PG ahead of Aari, which is certainly understandable.

Tianna starts now that Cheyenne FAAFO'd.

And Courtney starts until Tip Hayes returns and gets cleared.

~lw3

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The third-leading scorer in the WNBA is sorely missed by your Atlanta Dream.

She's the reigning WNBA Most Improved Player. But in 2021, nobody had Betnijah Laney (23.3 PPG, 57.1 3FG% w/ NYL) doing all o' that!

Least of all, the Chicago Sky, who drafted Laney into the league in 2015 and had her for three seasons. An ACL tear midway through her 2016 season derailed her development in Chi-town. But no matter. At least the Sky have 2019 Coach of the Year James Wade. They've got a long-tenured All-Star backcourt. And they've got a(nother) local legend in the fold.

Candace Parker joins Allie Quigley with Chicago, who visits Gateway Center for a match with the Dream this evening (7 PM Eastern, Facebook) in search of a second consecutive road victory. In her Sky-high debut, she sunk 3 of 4 three-pointers on the way to 16 points plus 8 boards and 4 dimes, making it easy to outpace a Washington Mystics team that is sorely missing a couple key players themselves (Elena Delle Donne to recovery from back surgery; Emma Meesseman to international commitments).

The Sky were also aided by Kahleah Copper's 23 points and 8 rebounds in the win at D.C. Big Mama Stef Dolson didn't have the best of games, but she is newly on the team suspension list to prepare for USA's 3x3 Olympic Team, replaced by rebounding rookie Natasha Mack.

Elizabeth Williams doesn't have her projected starting power forward alongside her, as Cheyenne Parker (out, COVID) is a finalist with Huascar the Ouch for this month's ATL Sports Boo Boo the Foo award. E-Will and the Dream were thoroughly overwhelmed by Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner in Atlanta's 78-67 season-opening loss to visiting Connecticut. She got little offensive help from her supporting cast, who granted her few paint touches while shooting a woeful 3-for-18 on threes and 20-for-60 inside the perimeter. She'll need a bigger role in coach Mike Petersen's offense to offset Parker this evening.

Tianna Hawkins and Mo Billings have to rotate out on Candace (former Wings center Astou Ndour-Fall looks to be the player filling in for Dolson, if not second-year forward Ruthy Hebard) and make her put the ball on the floor. One thing that made the final outcome for Atlanta (0-1) last Friday not a complete disaster were the 20 turnovers they forced on the Sun, including 8 of the Dream's ten players recording at least one steal.

For a decent chance at victory tonight, Speedy backcourt players Chennedy Carter and Aari McDonald (the rookie still seeking her first career field goal, 0-for-4 off the bench vs. CON) must beat Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot up the floor in transition, converting Sky turnovers and misses into buckets and/or free throws.

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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4 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Aari McDonald

Saw some more of her college highlights. She’s got the shwaaaaggg. Lil southpaw special for ya. She had a point! One is better than none! Get it ladies!

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Show of hands. Who had the Dream beating the Bravos to .500?

No Candace Parker, who injured herself before shootaround in Atlanta last week, and no Allie Quigley greased the skids for the Sky in today's first televised Dream game.

But for the unawares, here's a Tip: she's baaaaaaack!

~lw3

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On 5/24/2021 at 11:06 PM, NBASupes said:

Losing Laney is so freaking stupid. She's a female Kawhi Leonard. 

to wit:

we're left to wonder whether letting Betnijah get away was Sienko's most fire-able offense.

~lw3

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On 5/24/2021 at 8:06 PM, NBASupes said:

Losing Laney is so freaking stupid. She's a female Kawhi Leonard. 

Wow really? I’ve just started watched the ladies games. A female Kawhi, dang. That’s dope.

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Atlanta versus New York, Game 1. WNBA Style!

Our Atlanta Dream can't expect the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the New York Liberty's fantastic Sabrina Ioenscu (18.4 PPG, 8.8 APG, 6.4 RPG in her 1st five games) to put up Julius Randle numbers in this game (2 PM Eastern, Amazon Prime). So they'll need a leading contender for this week's award to help the Dream (3-2, winners of three straight) keep up.

Averaging 17.8 PPG in her first four games back, Tiffany Hayes has made seven of her 12 three-point attempts and scored 26 points in each of Atlanta's last two victories. Throw in Courtney Williams (54.2 3FG%) getting hot from outside, and the Dream suddenly have the perimeter presence that takes pressure off of driving guard Chennedy Carter (team-high 3.8 APG) and the offensively dormant (an annual occurrence this time of year) Elizabeth Williams (5.2 PPG, 2-for-11 FTs).  

If you catch the game on Prime you'll get to see how 2020's Most Improved Player winner for the Dream, Betnijah Laney, has taken it up another notch to become a Prime Time Player for Walt Hopkins' club (5-1). A beneficiary of attention thrown Ionescu's way and dimes from Ionescu thrown in her own direction, Laney's 22.7 PPG ranks third in the W. Laney was also the surprise beneficiary of Hayes' decision not to play in 2020, so it will be a fascinating matchup as Tip tries to slow Betnijah's roll. Ionescu, meanwhile, will face off with Atlanta for the first time since a season-ending ankle injury during a Dream game in the Wubble short-circuited her 2020 rookie campaign early.

As Atlanta's backcourt tries to deal with the league's best perimeter-shooting team in New York (43.7 team 3FG%), the Dream need more balance from their offensively inert frontcourt. E-Will's free throw ineptitude is emblematic of a Dream squad that earns the most free throw trips (WNBA-high 23.8 FTAs/game), but leaves points on the table (71.4 team FT%, next-to-last in WNBA).  She needs to step up today against a Liberty squad that's missing another of their big offseason pickups, Natasha Howard, for at least 4-6 weeks due to a sprained MCL.

Second-year stretch Kylee Shook has moved into the starting lineup, beside rookie first-rounder forward Michaela Onyenwere, but it has really been rebounding-by-committee anyway, with guards Ionescu and Sami Whitcomb (5.5 RPG) serving as the active leaders for the Libs. Atlanta will need Mo Billings (1.4 SPG, 2.0 BPG; probably time to start her instead of Tianna Hawkins, who's 0-for-12 on threes) and E-Will to dominate the glass, and they'll need their guards to keep New York's from nabbing boards to control possessions and pace.

E-Will won Most Improved back in 2016 with Atlanta and, after Laney, there may be someone that can have the Dream going 2 for 2 in that department. A 2015 first-rounder with Los Angeles out of Central Michigan, Crystal Bradford has not played in the league since that rookie season. But the swing player has provided defense, rebounding, and the occasional spark off the bench for coach Mike Petersen's crew. If Bradford and the Dream wings put up enough fight, they'll give Chennedy a puncher's chance at quieting the crowd and stealing a win late at Barclays Center. Somebody call the Mayor, he may want to tune in.

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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    • 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
    • By lethalweapon3
      Atlanta Dream 2018: So crazy, this just might work!
      Another WNBA season at the Thillerdome is about to unfold, and this edition of the Atlanta Dream is certain to have a better “look” than the crew that entered 2017. But will a better “look” equal better end-of-season results?

      What’s different? Well, literally for starters, thanks to their efforts to take last season seriously, Layshia Clarendon, Tiffany Hayes and Elizabeth Williams each have a shiny new All-Star credential in their quivers. Not that she often really looked the part, but Brittney Sykes is no longer a rookie. There’s also a new Dream management and coaching team, one taking much more than the semi-serious approach to the WNBA offseason we’ve grown accustomed to around these parts.
      Oh, and there’s this: Angel McCoughtry is finally back!

      The march to May 2018 began in January of 2017, when Atlanta’s franchise star announced a WNBA sabbatical to grant her body, and her focus, a well-deserved respite. That decision set the team’s clock ticking, first for coach Michael Cooper and now for his replacements, to provide the building blocks for a team ready to contend not only after McCoughtry returns to WNBA action, but in time for the team to return to a renovated Highlight Factory in the spring of 2019.

      If new GM Chris Sienko and the new coaching staff, led by first-timer Nicki Collen, can get this team to gel quickly, contention might not have to wait until next year.

      After issuing Cooper his walking papers, team owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler essentially knew what they were looking for in a head coach – and, more specifically, who. They got plenty of intel from Sienko, the consultant they would later hire to be the new GM. So, by the time Collen arrived for an interview from Sienko’s former employer, the Connecticut Sun, the Dream owners were already planning to hand over the head coach job.
      Don’t expect a vast departure from the high-paced “Run With The Dream” philosophy of seasons past. Collen has repeatedly noted a desire to get her new team to “play fast.” Yet, she wishes to depart from her predecessors by demanding quick decisions and efficient ball movement to extend to the halfcourt offense, where Atlanta historically bogs down.
      Swift decisions with the rock, when Angel gets double-teamed, when Layshia attacks inside off pick-and-roll action, when Brittney beats her assignment, when Tip drives, when Libby snags an offensive rebound… Collen wants the Dream offensive players to know how to execute, precisely, and find open scoring opportunities for teammates when opposing defenses find themselves imbalanced.
      With Sienko in charge, Atlanta made potentially the most momentous veteran free agent signings in franchise history, at least the biggest early-offseason additions since acquiring Sancho Lyttle via the 2008 Comets dispersal draft.

      Guard depth was immensely advanced with the acquisition of Renee Montgomery, a former All-Star and Sixth Woman of the Year who is now a two-time WNBA champion, after going all the way with the Minnesota Lynx last season. Those individual accolades for Montgomery, who was already living in Atlanta during her offseasons, came while she was playing with Sienko’s Sun from 2010-2014.
      Back with the Lynx for the past two-and-a-half seasons, Renee shot a career-best 42.4 percent from the field in 2017, and also spelled future Hall of Fame guard Lindsay Whalen, the player Montgomery was traded for following her 2009 rookie season in Minnesota. Montgomery filled in capably for Whalen in 12 starts last season, while the latter was sidelined with a hand injury. She averaged a 2.0 assist/TO ratio last season, dishing out the most per-36 assists since her 2011 All-Star season in Connecticut.
      Renee provides the Dream not only steady ballhandling but a legitimate perimeter shooting threat (8th all-time in 3FGs made), especially when the stakes increase. In Minnesota, Montgomery shot 39.3 3FG% (11-for-28) in the 2017 playoffs, boosting her career postseason accuracy to 38.2 3FG%. That included sinking half of her 14 attempts along the way to the WNBA Finals. Her being a decent free throw shooter (83.7 career FT%) is an additional plus for Atlanta. Even so much as a modest regression from her recent play with the reigning champs would still be a welcome development for a Dream team that has struggled with quality guard depth for years.

      Sienko and the Dream were not done, bolstering the frontcourt by wooing another former All-Star honoree, Jessica Breland of the Chicago Sky. The power forward also played with Mongtomery, briefly, with the 2011 Sun, and provides an experienced yet younger alternative to longtime Dream star Sancho Lyttle, who signed as a free agent with Phoenix.
      Returning full-time to a starter role in 2017, Jessica compiled her best numbers since her 2014 All-Star season with the Sky. She has ranked top-five in block percentage in four of her past five seasons, and she matched her career-best with 12 rebounds (11 defensive) during an early-season win in Atlanta last year. Her overall on-court efficiency took a dive in recent seasons, as it would for anyone no longer paired alongside Sylvia Fowles and/or Elena Delle Donne. But Breland should have no problems blending into frontcourt lineups featuring McCoughtry and Williams.


      In search of a frontcourt player who could serve as a stretch-four, Atlanta brought free agent Damiris Dantas back into the fold. In addition to the likelihood of more pick-and-pop action for Williams, Collen has expressed further excitement over the possibility of using Breland more in this specific role. Jessica flashed some of that perimeter potential at the outset of 2017 (7-for-17 3FGs in first ten games). But Chicago started out 2-8 and shied away from her outside shooting as the season wore on (just 1-for-4 3FGs in her final 24 Sky appearances). Potentially boosting the team depth would be rookie second-rounder Monique Billings, a 6-foot-4 forward who is hoping to expand on her newfound mid-range jumpshot.

      This team is not stacked with 1-through-12 depth, but Collen’s club is endowed with a positional versatility that is unprecedented for this particular franchise. While I would prefer to start Montgomery for the sake of spreading the floor, she can relieve either of Clarendon or Hayes at the guard spots. Sykes may become a sixth-woman award contender, too, filling in at either wing position and, as demonstrated late last season, as a third option at the point.

      Atlanta’s biggest wild card is their trade-deadline acquisition from 2017. Imani McGee-Stafford has only scratched the surface of her potential. The 6-foot-7, third-season center has averaged a double-double per-36 in each of her first two WNBA campaigns, plus she established a playoff rookie record with six blocks in her 2016 postseason debut. Yet, Imani found herself underutilized in 2017, first by Sky coach Amber Stocks and then by Cooper during Atlanta’s failed playoff push.
      Getting McGee-Stafford active in the frontcourt rotation, ideally as a starter that allows Williams to shift to power forward, is a critical measure for the Dream’s on-court growth over the next two seasons. The Dream demonstrated their commitment to Williams by extending her contract for a couple more seasons.
      An improved McGee-Stafford and Breland would help the Dream better contend in a league loaded with extraordinary talents at center. With McGee-Stafford, Williams, and Breland (all top-30 WNBA in per-game blocks) teaming up with McCoughtry (3rd all-time in per-game steals), Atlanta should prove capable of getting plenty of stops when opponents shift their offensive attack to the interior.
      Hayes, Clarendon and Sykes were instrumental, meanwhile, in Dream opponents shooting just 31.4 3FG% last season (3rd-best in WNBA, virtually tied for best with Minnesota and Phoenix). If that development holds this season, and if Atlanta keeps opponents off the free throw line (4th-most personal fouls, 2nd-most opponent FTAs in 2017) while limiting live-ball turnovers themselves (16.2 opponent TO% in 2017, 3rd-best in WNBA), they will satisfactorily suppress foes with their defense while giving themselves ample room to sort out their own offensive flow.

      The final X-Factor is the re-enmeshing of McCoughtry into the team gameplans. Angel has already played with Clarendon, Dantas, and Williams in prior seasons, and Hayes for much longer. Just last week, she got an opportunity to bond further with Layshia, Brittney, Tip, and Elizabeth during Team USA training camp, where Collen serves as an assistant.
      The likelihood that a rested McCoughtry returns to All-WNBA prominence isn’t in question. But how much more hardware she can collect will depend on her ability to guide the execution of Collen’s offense, not merely her own. Collen, in turn, will also have to entrust the league’s premier two-way non-center to help orchestrate the team defense whenever her star is on the floor.
      The blend of talent, experience and potential is as sound as it has been in any of Angel’s prior eight WNBA seasons in Atlanta. But when the team runs into adversity, which is coming for every competitive team at some points this season, McCoughtry cannot turn a tin ear toward her teammates and staff and just party like it’s 2013.
      This is a squad loaded with players with huge off-court aspirations, from sports media to advocacy to modeling to retail and even medicine. A Finals-competitive squad only enhances those individual endeavors further, and McCoughtry is just the tide that, when she rises rather than capsizes, can lift all boats. If this team finishes strong, and Angel’s play makes several teammates better at both ends of the court, her MVP candidacy can’t be obscured.

      Vying for final spots on the Dream roster include: Maggie Lucas, a veteran jumpshooting wing eager to make a comeback after tearing two ACLs since May 2016 (supported throughout by Kyle Korver’s off-season strength and conditioning coach); Adaora Elonu, a 2011 college-champ swing player with Texas A&M who has played in EuroLeague and was in camp with the Sun last season; Blake Dietrick, a star collegiate guard who led Princeton to an undefeated regular season in 2015, and; 2018 third-round pick Mackenzie Engram, who shined at forward for Georgia under coach Joni Taylor (spouse of new Dream assistant coach Darius Taylor). If they can impress in camp, there is enough room for at least one, if not two, of them to outlast the final roster cuts.

      Cooper made the cardinal error of touting his 2017 Angel-free unit as championship-contender material. Collen and Sienko won’t make the same mistake, but they also know they'll have no time to get acclimated, not in this rough-and-ready WNBA, and not in Atlanta’s once-sleepy but now superheated summertime sports market. Whether they’re longtime diehards or on-the-fence wannabes, Dream fans deserve a team that’s worthy of a grand return to Philips Arena in 2019, not one relegable to whatever rink the Hawks construct down in College Park. In the meantime, this is shaping up to be one crew that can bring the Thrill back to the Thrillerdome.
       
      ~lw3