How Do Atlanta Dream Fix This Going Forward?

The Atlanta Dream have lost seven straight games after a 5-10 start. Now sitting 5.5 games out of the No. 8 spot with 12 games remaining, the Dream must begin looking inward as they evaluate what went wrong and how they can get back into contention next season.

Here are the biggest questions facing general manager Chris Sienko and head coach Nicki Collen in the final third of their schedule and the early stages of the offseason.

How can they make things easier for Tiffany Hayes?

As presently constructed, the Dream cannot surround their best player with an ideal cast of complementary strengths. Tiffany Hayes is one of the league’s most dynamic slashers, so surrounding her with shooting will open up driving lanes and set up more open spot-up 3-pointers.

Murmurs have grown louder criticizing the league’s ‘let ‘em play’ approach for officiating during the 2019 season. Hayes is attempting 4.1 free throws per 36 minutes after averaging 6.9, 6.7 and 6.8 in the past three seasons.

Her assist percentage (23.7) would be a career-high, however—a surprising note considering how mightily the 2019 Dream have struggled to hit shots. Per Synergy Sports, 2018’s 10th-ranked halfcourt offense (0.858 points per possession) now ranks dead last (0.756).

UNCASVILLE, CT – JULY 17: Atlanta Dream guard Tiffany Hayes (15) defended by Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams (10) during a WNBA game between Atlanta Dream and Connecticut Sun on July 17, 2018, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. Atlanta defeated Connecticut 86-83. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire)

A big part of the problem: They just can’t hit open jump shots. As Rachel Galligan recently noted at Hero Sports, the Dream are shooting just 36.8 percent on 242 catch-and-shoot attempts that Synergy classifies as uncontested. The 242 attempts is the second-most in the league. They shot 38.3 percent last season, good for 1.018 PPP compared to 0.992 PPP this year.

The 2018 recipe for success started with the league’s top defense, allowing 97.5 points per 100 possessions. Atlanta ranked 10th in offense, scoring just 100.4 points per 100 possessions.

With scoring down league-wide, this year’s 99.2 defensive rating ranks 10th, and the team is dead last on the other end with an offensive rating of 88.1.

All-Star Angel McCoughtry went down late last season with a torn ACL and has not played yet, so Atlanta’s absence of stellar complimentary offense talent has been accentuated with one of their two one-on-one star creators out of the picture completely.

Without sacrificing too much of their defensive integrity, the Dream simply must get more offensive firepower on the floor around Hayes.

What role do you want Brittney Sykes filling for a contender?

Brittney Sykes has clearly been one of the best players coming out of the 2017 draft class. But she can’t create like McCoughtry, and the ball simply isn’t going in the basket enough when set up by others.

Sykes started the season shooting 18-of-72 from deep and 22-of-82 last season after connecting on 33.6 percent of her 2017 attempts.

It’s too soon to know if she can take on more of a scoring role, but this year’s group needed the spot-up shooting.

Which PGs can you count on?

ATLANTA, GA Ð AUGUST 09: Atlanta’s Renee Montgomery (21) drives to the basket during the WNBA game between Atlanta and Los Angeles on August 9th, 2018 at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta Dream defeated the Los Angeles Sparks by a score of 79 Ð 73. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

Starting point guard Renee Montgomery is shooting a tick below 28 percent from deep after shooting 37.1 percent last season on the second-most attempts in the league. The already top-heavy 3-point shooting team hasn’t gotten enough from its most reliable shooter.

Meanwhile, lead reserve Alex Bentley is shooting 33 percent (26-of-78) from midrange and 19.5 percent (15-of-77) from deep. She has always been more of a mid-range shooter but is getting up a career-high 7.8 3-point attempts per 36 minutes.

Bentley and Montgomery not connecting on long-range shots is doubly harmful because they don’t get to the rim. Without attempting to filter out shots in transition, they combined to attempt just 31 looks in the restricted area last season and 28 during 2019 so far.

Can they diversify the frontcourt?

UNCASVILLE, CT – JULY 19: Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams (1) grabs a rebound during a WNBA game between Atlanta Dream and Connecticut Sun on July 19, 2019, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire)

The Dream get little scoring punch from their starting frontcourt, though Jessica Breland is good for some spot-up mid-range shooting while Elizabeth Williams does her damage on rolls to the rim, offensive rebounds and cuts.

And the Dream shouldn’t want to completely turn the page on such a strong defensive pairing. At minimum, they need some pieces that can introduce more shooting, face-up or even back-to-basket scoring.

Marie Gulich may pan out as a stretch big given time to further develop. Monique Billings is more of an energy player and rebounder.

A respected shooter would pull another body out of the lane. Depending on who becomes available, will the potential tradeoff be worth it to put that shooter on the floor if they’re noticeably worse than Williams or Breland on defense?

Letting Bentley walk in free agency or refusing to guarantee her next contract would allow the Dream to leverage that final guaranteed roster slot by making a big bet on somebody that could address some of their needs—the very move made by the Minnesota Lynx in prying stretch 4 Damiris Dantas away in restricted free agency. Chicago Sky center Stef Dolson, a very solid midrange and 3-point shooter, will be an unrestricted free agent.

What’s next for Angel McCoughtry?

ATLANTA, GA Ð JULY 22: Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry (35) brings the ball up the court during the WNBA game between Atlanta and Seattle on July 22, 2018 at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta Dream defeated the Seattle Storm by a score of 87 Ð 74. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

McCoughtry’s status is still unknown. Her shot-making and a return to form by Montgomery alone may bring them closer to their 2018 level of play.

As long as McCoughtry comes back healthy, the Dream could justify pursuing either extreme—running it back or testing the trade market. Perhaps McCoughtry will even force their hand. She told The Athletic back in June that word came back to her that the team considered trading her in the offseason.

Entering her age 33 season and coming off a major knee injury, McCoughtry’s trade value would be tough to predict, as will the outcome of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

The Dream are also likely to have the worst lottery odds because they are determined by each team’s two-year win-loss record. They’ll need luck there to get the best odds of adding another star through the draft.

The most disappointing aspect of the 2018 run was the fact that Atlanta had to go out with McCoughtry sidelined by injury. After carrying the franchise for so long as its leading scorer, this coming offseason will likely determine her chances at helping the team pursue its first championship or closing a chapter altogether.

All stats current as of August 2 and obtained via WNBA.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and contractual details obtained via the High Post Hoops salary database.

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