2020 WNBA Season Preview: Atlanta Dream

The 2020 season is hopefully still going to happen in some fashion this year. Here begins my preview of each team. This is not going to be an exhaustive preview, but more a look at the key questions facing each team. I will not mention most third round picks, since it is unclear why the WNBA has a third round at all given how few make the team that drafted them. I am going in reverse order of the 2020 standings. Players are grouped as guards, wings and bigs to denote where they mostly play. Within that, 1 = point guard, 2 = shooting guard, 3 = small forward, 4= power forward, and 5 = center. Positions mostly by who a player guards, not where they play on offense. Stats per stats.wnba.com.

The Atlanta Dream struggled last year, finishing last in the league at 8-26. This was a surprise after losing in the semi finals the prior year. The defense had carried them in 2018 but for 2019 it slipped, going from 1st in defensive efficiency to 8th. Pair that with some of the ugliest offense one will see in the WNBA and you get why they ended up in last place. Their 89.8 offensive rating was the second worst in the past 5 years. Playing 1 consistent three point shooter in Renee Montgomery was not a successful strategy. Coach Nikki Collins thankfully will be coaching a reshaped roster that brought in shooting and consistent playmaking, so the offense should be better. Still somewhat limited in true two way players, particularly in the frontcourt, but the Dream should be much more fun to watch. 

Roster breakdown

Notable additions:

Courtney Williams. Shekinna Stricklen. Glory Johnson

Notable losses:

Angel McCaughtry. Brittney Sykes. Jessica Breland. Alex Bentley 

Draft picks: 

1st round: Chennedy Carter

2nd round: Brittany Brewer

Projected depth chart:

Guards: Chennedy Carter, Courtney Williams, Renee Montgomery. 

Wings: Tiffany Hayes, Shekinna Stricklen

Bigs: Glory Johnson, Monique Billings, Elizabeth Williams, Kalani Brown

These nine players are favored to make the team and play the bulk of the minutes this year. This is a team that at least one of the remaining 3 spots could go to a third round pick. I’m particularly interested to see how Mikayla Pivec, a guard out of Oregon State pans out. 

One more center will likely make the team, either Alaina Coates or Brittany Brewer. Edge to Brewer, as this year’s 2nd round draft pick with the potential to maybe stretch the floor, though 67% free throw shooting leaves me less optimistic than some. They have the cap space to carry 12 players, so maybe Maite Cazorla, a guard who was their 2019 second round pick, gets more time to develop. 

Playing time breakdown:

The biggest unknown is going to be who plays the 3 and 4. For both 3 and 4, most of the options come with sharp trade offs between offense and defense. Shekinna Stricklen has the longest history of playing the 3 and the best combination of size (6’2”) and shooting (38% on 6 attempts per game), but lacks footspeed on defense to keep up with more athletic wings. 

Glory Johnson is 6’3” and has the speed to guard smaller players, but is only a 32% career 3 point shooter. She did shoot 34% last year, close to average. If she can keep that up, maybe the Dream can use some bigger lineups with Johnson at the 3, which would make them huge on defense. 

My preference is they try to go the other direction, with Tiffany Hayes guarding bigger players, in order to maximize the shooting and playmaking on the court.  Hayes at 30% is a worse shooter than Johnson but is a much more decisive slasher and playmaker. Outside of super big Washington lineups, I’d take the trade off of a team trying to post up Hayes, to give her a speed advantage on the other end.

This would also allow them to play Johnson at the 4, to ease some spacing concerns that come with their other players. Chennedy Carter was the best player in the draft at Atlanta’s spot, but the main position holding this team back is the four and the five. Glory is the only big on the team who can and will shoot 3s. While better shooting from the guards should help, it is still hard to see this team being a top 6 offensive team as currently constructed. An interesting experiment would be to see if Shekinna Stricklen can hold up at the 4. 

For center, size and potential vs production. Playing professional defense is hard for young players, but I hope the Dream give Brown time to see what they have. Brown running pick and rolls with Carter could be fun, as Brown uses her size (6’7”) to rim run, assuming there is sufficient space to roll into. 

Elizabeth Williams is a consummate professional, but outside of rim protection is not offering much more than average production as a center. Part of the team’s 2018 success was driven by unsustainable shooting by Williams from the 2, and she fell back to earth last year. 

Glory Johnson is the same height as Elizabeth Williams, both 6’3″, but typically has not provided the same rim protection. She would allow for a defense more able to switch pick and rolls, and play 5 out on offense, so would at least be interesting for small stretches.

Courtney Williams is the one guaranteed starter on the roster at the 2, as the team’s main free agency signing.  A driving factor in the Sun making the 2019 finals was Williams turning some of her long 2s into 3s. She went from the regular season attempting 1 three a game, to 3.6 a game in the playoffs, while not losing efficiency, shooting an excellent 41% in the playoffs. If Nicki Collens can get Williams to shoot even more 3s in the regular season, Williams might be the signing of the off season. Williams competes on defense and typically does not get taken advantage of, even given her size, 5’8″.

For the 1, Chennedy Carter starting with Renee Montgomery backing up both guard spots would be the most fun to watch. Starting Carter from the beginning, similar to how Dallas handled Arike Ogunbowale last year, is my hope. 

Montgomery slipped from 3 last year, and is entering her 12th season, but given she will no longer be the only consistent three point shooter on the floor for most of her minutes, should still be effective. Though the end can come quickly for shorter players, shooting and passing both age well, and she should be able to provide solid back up guard minutes.  

This team has the talent to be a better team than in 2019, but it is hard to see them getting back to the playoffs. For that to happen, Chennedy Carter would likely need to step in as a positive force right from the beginning. Possible, but rookie guards usually struggle. Or maybe a big on the team makes strides. What can Kalani Brown do when not buried behind future Hall of Famers and #1 draft picks as she was on the Sparks?  Courtney Williams will bring it, but she has never had to carry a team by herself. However, even if the Dream do not win that many more games, thankfully for Dream fans this will be a more fun year after last year’s ugliness. 

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