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2023 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews

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On 6/4/2023 at 10:11 AM, Spud2nique said:

t’s just my own writing style, I detect hate, bitterness, jealousy in my own posts.

Again, not talking squawker but rather thread and content of thread seems like it’s kinda projection from a bloody mirror.

Let's Go Dream!



Sorry gramps 😢 anger set in after I felt like I wasn’t treated fairly.

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So far, so, so good. So, now what?




Everyone, please say hello to The Third Longest Tenured Head Coach on a WNBA Team. Do not adjust your view settings, because by the time you do, Atlanta’s Tanisha Wright, hired less than two years ago in October 2021, might scooch up to #2 on the Coaching Tenure list (Noelle Quinn was handed the keys to the Storm from the legendary Dan Hughes upon his abrupt retirement in May 2021. Seattle has dropped seven straight and is in a rock fight for last place).

Far more turbulent than the moving and shaking on WNBA rosters has been what transpired in short order along the sidelines. Chicago’s WNBA champion coach James Wade stunned many just weeks ago, taking a permanent leave of absence from the Sky to join Toronto’s new array of NBA assistants. Vanessa Nygaard’s coaching run survived 2022’s absence of Brittney Griner, but it couldn’t sustain the extended maternal leave for Skylar Diggins-Smith and diminished on-court chemistry, under the eyes of a new owner, this season.

That leaves Coach T looking the part of a seasoned professor in only Season #2 at the helm of the Dream. Wright had her charges paying heed to her tutelage in the winning run-up to last weekend’s All-Star Break. Atlanta checked in at 11-8 on the strength of a six-game winning streak, presently the best in the league, and a June awakening on away games, where they’re an impressive 7-3 halfway through their road slate. The 6-4 record in certain games versus Eastern opponents left them just a game behind New York and Connecticut in the Commissioner’s Cup standings.

The straw that has stirred Atlanta’s drink, and her foes, all season long has been Parker (career-highs of 15.1 PPG, 2.6 O-Rebs and 4.9 D-Rebs/game, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 85.5 FT%), a worthy All-Star in her ninth WNBA season. Parker (5.7 restricted-area 2FGAs/game, 63.3 FG% from that close range) has been running neck-and-neck with L.A.’s Nneka Ogwumike and Indiana rookie star Aaliyah Boston as the league’s most relentless interior offensive threats. Rhyne and Cheyenne, and flyin’, have been the rhyming names of emerging Atlanta’s game.



Wright entered this season with a club that wasn’t spreading the floor much, and that continued in larger order once guard Aari McDonald tore a labrum five games into her struggling season start. A league-low 27.2 percent of Dream shots come from beyond the three-point arc. While hardly anyone in the league makes hay from corner shots, Atlanta’s markswomanship from the left (21.4 3FG%, last in WNBA), and right (28.4 3FG%, 11th among 12 teams) leaves much to be desired.

The flip-side is Atlanta is a heavily interior-oriented offense (league-high 38.7 paint 2FGAs/game), high on post-ups and putbacks led by the super-capable Parker, agile drives to the cup by her fellow All-Star first-timer Allisha Gray (52.6 2FG%), and forays from the elbows into the paint by Rhyne Howard and the Dream’s backcourt ballhandlers (AD Durr and Haley Jones least effectively, each shooting below 40 percent on 2FGAs).

Defenses lock in to Atlanta’s lightly diversified gameplan, producing copious Dream turnovers (18.4 team TO%, tied-3rd-worst in WNBA; 7.9 opponent steals-per-40, currently behind only Los Angeles’ 8.0), largely miscues of the ballhandling, offensive foul, and three-second violation varieties. Leading all WNBA starting bigs in turnover frequency (3.6 per-36), Parker could stand to lower her paint touch volume.   

Stir in a lot of extra dribbles and a lack of ball movement, and despite a league-high tempo (83.9 possessions per-40), Atlanta’s 1.23 assist/turnover ratio ranks third-worst in the league (likely, worse than that before the recent winning run). Danielle Robinson also exited during the season opener, and the lack of veterans to push the rock pushed first-round rookie Jones (3.4 TOs per-36, 3rd-worst among WNBA guards) into trial-by-fire scenarios likely to benefit her in the long run.

Playing tit-for-tat, opponents were finding it easy to attack the Dream inside as well, shooting 51.1 eFG% (second-highest in WNBA) during the month of June. Dream foes’ 36.9% rate of possessions resulting in free throws was also the league’s highest in that first full month. Parker gets support at turns from the energetic yet hack-happy Mo Billings and Naz Hillmon. Jones, the rookie, is doing a lot of reaching, and being taught, as is the vet Robinson, now back in the fold.

The rangy Jones supported at the wing by Howard and Gray, Atlanta has done well to make perimeter looks tough (32.9 opponent 3FG%, 5th-best in WNBA; league-best 27.2% during this six-game win streak). But the backcourt isn’t generating the strip-and-score chances one might have anticipated when Allisha was acquired to join forces with Rhyne. Even in undefeated-to-date July, Dream opponents bear a league-low 15.2 opponent TO%, and the season-long 16.5 turnover percentage is just a shade off from last in the league.

Atlanta ought to be earning much more than their 14.6 points-per-40 off opponent turnovers. Further, for a high-tempo club insistent on running from pillar to post, they should be outscoring their opposition on the fastbreak (10.8 points-per-40 for the Dream, to 11.2 for opponents).

The road wins would soon come in bunches, but the disappointing run of games from the outset at Gateway Center Arena was certainly a downer for the otherwise spirited home faithful. The home-opening loss that stemmed Indiana’s league-record losing skid initiated a deflating 1-5 stretch at the pillbox in College Park.




The gameday stability of opposing rosters certainly has played a factor in the Dream’s recent spate of success. Still, signals suggest that the team is moving in the Wright, if you will, direction.

During this six-game win streak that began on June 30, Atlanta has held teams below 90 points, including sub-80 in the past four. That’s a stark difference from last month, when they allowed Sabina Ionescu’s Liberty to exceed 105 regulation points while visiting College Park twice, and let ex-Dreamer Brittney Sykes have a field day with a then-healthy Elena Delle Donne to help the Mystics drop 109 points on the Dream during a blowout in D.C.

Last season, a nifty 7-4 start dovetailed into a 7-18 finish. But indications are that this year’s version, more experienced learning and playing together while getting relatively healthy and deeper, won’t allow this current successful surge turn into a mirage.

When it comes to three-point shooting, Atlanta has taken the M/A/R/R/S approach to pump up the volume. The accuracy, too. Momentary pickup Taylor Mikesell filled in ably during June’s injury stint, but as McDonald returns, she will likely come off the bench behind Robinson, who has steadied the floor (3.9 APG, 1.4 TOs/game) while splashing a timely perimeter shot when needed (45.5 3FG%).

If McDonald’s shoulder has healed well from the extended rest, and if she rediscovers her pull-up shooting form to accompany her fastbreak attacks, Aari can offer up an extra dimension to Wright’s current play calls. It is also not beyond question whether a re-emerging McDonald could serve as a valuable commodity as the August 7 trade deadline looms.

No longer a low-visibility help defender for Parker in the paint, Nia Coffey (1.2 BPG and 3.8 D-Rebs/game) is making better use of her starts by taking and making her open perimeter looks early on in games (42.2 3FG%). That’s taking pressure off of Howard, who is now sinking threes at nearly a 40 percent clip while taking over seven attempts per game.

Parker’s utility could best serve the Dream as a powerful power forward alongside a stretchy pivot. Perhaps Iliana Rupert, the 6-foot-4 Frenchwoman freshly back from overseas duties (shooting 46.7 3FG% for Bologna in Serie A1, 44.4% in Euroleague, on high volumes), could fill that bill. Meanwhile, the improved interior efficiency has Atlanta leading the league with 44.7 paint points per-40 over the course of their past six games, while outscoring their opponents by 9.0 in the paint.

There remains ample time in the WNBA schedule for Atlanta to move in whichever direction it pleases. Now that they’ve shaken off their homecourt hex, the North Star for the Dream is one of two first-round homecourt slots behind Las Vegas and New York. Connecticut has fared well to date despite the season-ending injury to should’ve-been All-Star center Brionna Jones. But injuries in recent weeks to Delle Donne, Shakira Austin and Natasha Cloud left Washington sputtering, allowing Atlanta to catch up with them in the standings.

The schedule strength is bound to toughen up, with just one 2-game homestand between today’s visit by the Minnesota Lynx (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast in ATL, NBATV) and the Commissioner’s Cup in mid-August, and a pair of trips to Las Vegas, one on the back end of a back-to-back, still on the docket. But the increasingly competitive finishes, steeliness on the road, and the renewed confidence displayed before the home crowds, all suggests this Dream squad is down for the struggle, and up for the challenge.


Let’s Go Dream!


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Over the 20-games-in hump for everybody, so ahead of tonight's Mercury-Dream game (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast) -- and MessiMania in town-- it’s Midseason WNBA Power Poll time!

Las Vegas Aces (21-2) – No notes. Really, none. Okay, if one must, heal up, CP3! The Aces check in with a league-low in O-Reb Percentage. Who can blame them, given they hardly miss any shots? A near-Korverian 50-plus percent from the field, including over 38 percent on threes, and comfortably over 80 percent on freebies, as a team. And they’re tops in D-Rating and blocks while top-three in steals. And they foul the least, and they commit the fewest turnovers. If you come at the queens, you’d best… hope they all have an off-night, or something?

New York Liberty (16-5) – The most fascinating development – at least for Yours Truly, lamenting his terrible fantasy squad – is the wholesale sacrifice of center Jonquel Jones. Second banana to the awesome Breanna Stewart is expected, but Jones even checks in behind sharpshooting guard Sabrina Ionescu… in defensive rebounds! Jones remains one of four Lib starters splashing threes above a 40 percent clip. If coach Sandy Brondello maximizes the 2021 league MVP’s inside-out game, it’s more likely we’ll see a titanic WNBA Finals clash in October.

Connecticut Sun (17-6) – Stephanie White deserves the Coach of the Year hardware, while Alyssa Thomas has earned MVP-finalist recognition for being a nightly triple-double threat in any of five categories. But don’t forget to give the new GM his flowers. Former Atlanta interim coach and assistant GM Darius Taylor has quickly rebuilt the club into steady Finals contention despite major departures across the board since the 2022 season ended. The Sun still rises without pivotal center Brionna Jones, and kudos go to White, Taylor, and all around.

Dallas Wings (13-9) – Replacing current Dream assistant coach Vickie Johnson, first-year head coach Latricia Trammell has done a solid job despite wayward shooting from its top offensive threats, notably Arike Ogunbowale and Natasha Howard. Teaira McCowan is healthy again and smashing the boards. But was anyone truly prepared to witness a leaner, meaner Kalani Brown wrecking shop around the glass, too? The Wings’ rebounders give Ogunbowale chances to steal the show on most nights, and in fourth quarters, she is happy to oblige.

ATLANTA DREAM (12-10) – On defense, players aren’t giving up on shots they should be contesting. On offense, they are doing better at creating passing angles so ballhandlers aren’t stranded on islands without an outlet. That’s half the battle for a team with designs on making a little noise in the postseason for the first time in a few years. Ratchet down the turnovers, tighten up the help rebounding, and get just a few more road wins under their belt. Then, we can all see what playoff fever in College Park looks like.

Washington Mystics (12-10) – I say every year that the Thibualts’ team is one you don’t want to see showing up with playoff advancement on the line, and that’s because their defensive tenacity, now led capably by ex-Dream wing Brittney Sykes, remains monumental. We have no reason to believe Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin, along with the esteemed Kristi Toliver, won’t all be back soon and ready to go for a spirited playoff run. But if that changes, then so does their outlook. Can GM Mike do anything to shore up their depth at the guard spots?

Minnesota Lynx (10-13) – Simple to say they haven’t been the cat’s meow, even with Napheesa Collier’s engine purring at all cylinders. Just as Cheryl Reeve gets Collier back to supplant the leadership void left by the retired Sylvia Fowles, starting pivot Jessica Shepard turns up with a month(s?)-long mystery illness absence. Diamond Miller has been fun to watch figure things out, particularly when the rookie isn’t constrained by Reeve. But the trouble for the Lynx is their foes are scoring inside, and especially outside, at-will.

Chicago Sky (9-13) – You cannot blame fans for suspecting the Sky is falling in more ways than one. The one being Coach/GM James Wade’s abrupt departure for the NBA. Wade as a GM left the cupboard bare by giving away the draft-pick store for Marina Mabrey, currently shooting sub-40 percent from the field. The shelves below Mabrey, Court Williams and Kahleah Copper on the depth chart are fairly barren, too. At least Alanna Smith’s bounceback season has been pleasant to watch. Also, another Wade, hometown hero Dwayne, is on the way as a co-owner.

Los Angeles Sparks (7-15) – All-Star starter Nneka is just about the only Spark plug, and the only Ogwumike, giving coach Curt Miller decent chances to win. With all due respect to her and point guard Jordin Canada, the rest of the Sparks gang simply can’t shoot straight, running side-by-side with Seattle for the W’s most anemic offense. Miller will get at least as much time as ex-Coach/GM Derek Fisher to reform the roster. But it would help to keep Nneka around, and both she and Canada are unrestricted free agents for 2024.

Indiana Fever (6-16) – Feed NaLyssa Smith and Aliyah Boston? Starve Queen Egbo. The latter young Fever big was shipped to Washington for a veteran, Amanda Zahui B, whose contract more conveniently expires at season’s end. Fieldhouse fans have been treated to as many appearances by local rookie Grace Berger as they have actual wins (1-7) in their building. Still, a very home-friendly back-half schedule can not only help Kelsey Mitchell and company steer things around, it could also give them at least the air of an emerging 8-seed threat.

Phoenix Mercury (6-16) – There’s not much to look forward to in the second half of this season for the Mercury in retrograde, aside from getting Diana Taurasi healthy enough to eclipse 10,000 career points, and Brittney Griner healthy enough just to last through the regular season. Without the likely return of Skylar Diggins-Smith, like Griner unrestricted as a free agent for 2024, there is little reason for this plodding club to race for the 8-spot. Merc fans keep coming in droves, though. With all that great air conditioning, who can blame them?

Seattle Storm (4-18) – It’s been hard for the Storm to weather the predictable downturn. But at least they have a foundation of sorts in Jewell Loyd, 2023’s All-Star Game MVP, in the backcourt, and her emerging fellow All-Star Ezi Magbegor upfront. At least for now, as Loyd is conveniently (for other teams) set up for a big free agent payday in 2024. For the balance of this season, whomever is coaching, please grant rookies Jordan Horston and Dulcy Fankham Mendjiadeu lots of touches.



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Closing time! With three shots to clinch a long-sought reservation for the WNBA Playoffs, including tonight’s chance at payback at the Collipark coliseum versus the Seattle Storm (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast in ATL, NBA TV), I know who I want to take the Atlanta Dream home.

Coffee is for closers, sure. Unfortunately for Dream fans, Rhyne Howard doesn’t yet feen for caffeine. The franchise face is arguably among the least effective key W players in the final frames of games.

Among 14 players in the league logging at least 7 fourth-quarter minutes and taking 3 shots per game, Rhyne’s last-place 30.3 FG% in that quarter is at nightmarish as anything you’ll find on Peachtree, or Elm, Street. Yet, it’s still not all the second-year, two-time All-Star player’s fault that Atlanta has grown unwatchable in second halves. At least, it should not be.

Howard spearheads a “Dream” team (5-12 since topping out at 12-8 just after the All-Star Break, incl. 8 straight road losses) that has fallen precipitously from its July prominence. Collectively, their minus-20.8 Net Rating over the past 15 contests is by far the worst in the W. Chicago checks in at second-worst with minus-11.0, while freefalling Phoenix’s is merely a minus-6.8.

The Dream’s league-worst 21.8 fourth-quarter team TO%, in these past 15 games, is emblematic of a team that has been making-do, as best they can, without a top-flight point guard option to execute plays. Atlanta’s inability to capitalize on Coach Tanisha Wright’s demands for a breakneck pace (46.0 team eFG% in this same timeframe, ranked 10th out of 12 teams ahead of Chicago and Connecticut), reflects a club that makes-do with a cavalcade of forwards supporting the pivot, fewer since the mid-August departure of Nia Coffey due to injury.

Wright’s right when she insists her team needs to “grow up,” as evidenced during disastrous collapses at Seattle and Indiana last month. But the physical growth won’t occur in time to conclude this season, one increasingly likely to end in any case without a playoff game in the Dream’s home arena as the best-of-3 opening round has the higher-seed hosting the first two. Whether the mental maturity transpires under Coach T’s watch in the near future remains to be seen.

The good news for the Dream is, no team in the league, Atlanta included, is passing the rock worse than visiting Seattle (0.83 4th-quarter assist/TO in past 15 games, the only ratio worse than Atlanta’s 0.89). Further, there’s no team bricking the ball worse lately than Connecticut (47.7 TS%), by default the team the Dream should want to visit if they have any hopes of ensuring the next two regular season games at Gateway Center aren’t the final ones in 2023.

The six-slot is the sweet-spot. Atlanta blew their shots at homecourt advantage weeks ago, and they’re a combined 2-12 versus the league’s top three (the turnaround June road wins were at New York and Connecticut, although the Liberty resting Sabrina Ionescu in their matchup, and Cheyenne Parker thwarting a successful seven-point Sun comeback in the final second to force OT, were huge factors in avoiding 0-14). But the third-seeded Sun, led by MVP finalist Alyssa Thomas (the new all-time single-season assist leader) but still absent Brionna Jones, are the poison to pick if Atlanta has designs on not seeing New York or Las Vegas until the semifinals arrive (pipe down, Jim Mora, Sr.)

Despite being Lottery-bound, the Storm still compete through to the final horn (7-8 since starting out 4-18), the reason why Noelle Quinn remains coaching there. Their 21-7 fourth-quarter rally at Climate Pledge Arena on August 10 secured the 68-67 win over the Dream team that’s steadily losing steam. Before the following week’s implosion versus ex-Dreamer Kristy Wallace in Indiana, the Seattle loss was the most ignominious and pivotal L of the season, sending Atlanta’s road woes into maximum overdrive.

Storm ace Jewell Loyd, like Rhyne, is sub-40s from the floor in fourth quarters. Yet Loyd remains an All-WNBA candidate by always being good for a timely three-pointer. Jewell gets even more perimeter scoring help, with games on the line, from Sami Whitcomb and Kia Nurse, supporting markswomen for whom Atlanta, with all respect due to Aari McDonald, has no peer.

Peaking as a potential 4-seed in mid-July, Atlanta’s approach to clinching in the back half of the season has been to sit back and hope that Los Angeles and Chicago keep losing.

At playoff time, should our Dream be so fortunate, the spotlight should be on Rhyne as she figures out how to elevate her play at both ends of the floor. But in the meantime, just to get Atlanta over the playoff line, Howard should focus on getting stops and transition buckets while deferring the halfcourt in the final three games to her senior All-Stars, namely Allisha Gray and Parker.

To get into the postseason for the first time since 2018, with three games remaining and two of them at home, the Dream only need to succeed once. To secure a game in front of the home fans, once they get in (knocks on wood), in two road games, they’ll only need to succeed once.

Just once. Can they find a way to finally make it right? If so, then maybe we’ll see if Rhyne Howard can make the magic last for more than just one night. Sure, Atlanta, I know we could break through it. If we could just get to it…


Let’s Go Dream!


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Escape from College Park… Center! That’s the marquee, now showing, for the 2023 Atlanta Dream as they enter the postseason for the first time since 2018’s magical carpet ride.

As you know, College Park in Arlington, Texas is a designated campus district for the University of Texas at Arlington, who can’t be thrilled that they’re not the only Mavericks in the Metroplex. Their arena hosts the Dallas Wings (22-18), who closed out their season with their franchise’s best record since the championship era in the Motor City steered to a shocking close back in 2009.

Virtually the inverse of the Dream (19-21), Dallas, under first-year coach Laticia Trammell, was only 15-14 in mid-August but closed the season strong. Games, too, as Atlanta found out when the Wings left them in the dust in the Dream’s home finale last Sunday. Arike Ogunbowale saved her best for last (16 fourth-quarter points, incl. 3-for-5 on threes) as the Wings sped away with a 28-19 quarter to leave no doubts. Most Improved Player finalist Satou Sabally out-assisted the Dream in that final quarter, 5-3, by her lonesome, while ex-Dreamer Kalani Brown and the Dallas bigs cleared the glass with a 16-5 edge.

Maybe Atlanta’s head coach Tanisha Wright (assisted by former Wings head coach Vickie Johnson, who took the Wings to 18-18 last year) and leading scorer Rhyne Howard were intent on keeping their powder dry ahead of their respective WNBA playoff debuts. In any case, the time to give away the store is now. If Atlanta (9 straight road L’s before winning last week in Washington) has any hopes to bring a playoff game to the Gateway Center in College Park, Georgia, they must prevail in either of Games 1 (9:30 PM Eastern, ESPN2) or 2 of this three-game series at the College Park Center of Arlington, Texas. Atlanta cannot afford to have any of its three All-Stars turning in mediocre performances.

That is especially true for Allisha Gray, who broke out as a co-star in Dallas last season and was a participant in its last four playoff seasons going back to 2017. With Gray (and Coach VIckie), the sixth-seeded Wings stole Game 2 in Connecticut last season, earning fans back in DFWA at least the opportunity to cheer the team on in person for the rubber match.

Parker must make her presence felt in the paint, but so must her fellow starter in the frontcourt. Monique Billings, the only remaining Dream member from the 2018 playoff run, was instrumental in securing a playoff reservation on September 6 by crashing the boards mercilessly, and that same spirit will be needed to limit extra-chance scores for the Wings’ offensive threats.

With the defending champion and top-seeded Las Vegas Aces likely to await the survivor of the Atlanta-Dallas series, Gray and the Dream corralling a home game (if necessary) and a chance to advance is about all fans around Georgia’s College Park could hope to see. We’ll wait to see if Atlanta gives local fans a reason to get our popcorn ready.


Let’s Go Dream!


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We had 'em in the first half, not gonna lie!

First quarter, to be precise, as Rhyne Howard matched former Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry's 2011 output with a WNBA-record (for any playoff quarter) 19 points, spurring her team onto a 20-point lead by the early phase of the second quarter. Coach Tanisha Wright tried to give her starters a rest, and Game 1's momentum was quickly squandered before halftime.

The lead was squandered in the second half, where Atlanta's inability to execute at either end was adroitly exploited by the Dallas Wings before their excited home crowd. Wings fans would like to celebrate a closeout and set a date with destiny in Las Vegas tonight (9 PM Eastern, ESPN2). Can Howard's supporting cast adjust their off-screen execution, and box-out strategies, to retain and sustain a lead of any size, forcing a decisive Game 3 back in Georgia? If not, well then, we'll always have that first quarter of Game 1.


Let's Go Dream!


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