MVP, All-WNBA first and second team, MIP Player, and 6th Women of the Year.

The level of play in the bubble was everything WNBA fans could have hoped for. Here are my awards, if I had a vote, which of course I do not. This post will cover ALL-WNBA, Most Improved Player, and 6th Women of the Year. Defensive Player of the Year, All-Defense teams and Rookie awards to come Sunday. Only Dearica Hamby has clearly run away with an award, so it will be especially interesting this year who the actual voters end up awarding.

MVP:

  1. Breanna Stewart: 

A’ja Wilson had a wonderful season, but Stewart was just a bit more impactful on the court this year. She was the best defensive player on the leading defense in the league. To be fair, she did get a lot of help from good defenders up and down the Storm roster, but with Natasha Howard scuffling compared to her normal standards to start the season, Stewart has been great all season. Her passing and shooting provided needed variety to a Storm team that has dealt with injuries. Stewart led or was very near the top in whichever all in one stat one looked at, from pipm, to WARP, to win shares, to player impact estimate. These all in one stats are imperfect, but I do think they are capturing something about how good Stewart has been when they all point in the same direction.

  1. A’ja Wilson

A’ja Wilson was great this year. She very well might win MVP, and that would be a reasonable choice. It will be interesting to see what happens next year when Liz Cambage comes back, because until Wilson is willing or able to shoot 3s, she is at her best as a center. Cambage and Wilson can play together, but it may not be optimal usage of them. Defensively, Wilson has been a good on ball defender since she came into the WNBA, even switched onto guards and wings, but this year she really improved her help defense. She anchored the second best defense in the WNBA, and while her teammates are all good defenders, none are on the level of Alysha Clark or Natasha Howard, except possibly Angel McCoughtry, but she played far fewer minutes than either Clark or Howard.  

  1. Candace Parker

This is the toughest choice when it comes to MVP. Napheesa Collier has played extremely well, and at 2 positions where it is tough to find contributions, at 3 or 4. But she is just a bit behind Parker and for whatever reason the Lynx do not run their offense through her the way the Sparks can with Parker. 

Courtney Vandersloot was excellent as usual. But a guard to compete for MVP needs to do it on the offensive end because they just do not impact defense to the same degree as the forwards who tend to dominate MVP voting. Vandersloot of course led the leagues in assists, and nearly shot 50/40/90, but her attempts from 3 were not as high as one might want from such a good shooter, she took the same amount of 3s per game as Jasmine Thomas. Diana Taurasi is the weakest defender of the potential MVP candidates, but her offensive explosion helped the Mercury to fourth place without Brittney Griner. 

But Candace Parker has been the most impactful. Parker has been able to shift between the 4 and the 5 as needed. Chelsea Gray has been good, but not her best self, as she has struggled shooting a bit. Nneka Ogwumike has been effective when she has played, but has missed time. Parker’s 3 point shooting and passing has been key. Kristine Anigwe and Marie Gulich have improved as 2nd year players tend to, but both were among the least effective players in the WNBA last year and both have been helped immensely by playing next to Parker. While talk of defensive player of the year is a bit much, Parker is tall, still mobile, and knows where to be.

All-WNBA First team:

My understanding is the WNBA asks voters to keep to traditional positions. While I would prefer to simply make a list with the 5 best players regardless of position, I slot players in positions they at least spent some of the year playing. 

First team:

Center: Candace Parker

Forward: A’ja Wilson

Forward: Breanna Stewart

Guard: Diana Taurasi

I briefly mentioned Taurasi, but it’s worth emphasizing that she has been the single most effective offensive force in the WNBA this year, at age 38. That is incredible. She is taking 9.2 3s per game, with the next closest player who played more than 10 games being Kelsey Mitchell at 6.5. Taurasi shoots from deeper than anyone else in the WNBA, off the dribble, in a way that warps defenses like no other player. I limit my WNBA – NBA comparisons, but there’s a reason Taurasi has said that “Steph Curry highlights are just WNBA highlights.” No one else does it like Taurasi or Curry, though I am excited for Kelsey Mitchell, Sabrina Ionescu and other up and coming guards who clearly take inspiration from the shooters before them. What a gift to get yet another great year from Diana Taurasi. 

Guard: Courtney Vandersloot

The most underrated aspect of Vandersloot’s game might be her defense. There are limits to how much the Sky can crossmatch her, as she can get overwhelmed physically by bigger guards and wings like Chelsea Gray, but there’s a reason James Wade will at key moments have Vandersloot switch assignments with Allie Quigley and take the more dangerous guard. She’s not quite on the level of Jasmine Thomas or Jordin Canada, but she is a good athlete, and competes hard.

2nd team All-WNBA:

I’m staying away from anyone who played significant minutes at center for my second team, as it is challenging to find someone more deserving than the plethora of forwards this year. Swapping Collier for Parker and sliding Wilson to 1st team center is tempting just to make my lineups work, but probably not worth it.

Forward: Napheesa Collier

Sometimes it is hard to remember that Collier is only in her second year. She plays like a seasoned vet, one who handled a huge load for the Lynx, especially after Fowles went down. She led the WNBA in minutes, and maintained her energy throughout. Her versatility is key to the Lynx success. Her three point shooting seems real which allows her to play the 3, and her off ball defense when she is at the 4 and even occasionally a small ball 5 is impressive for any level of experience, but especially for a second year player. She has struggled a bit lately guarding the bigger forwards, namely A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart.

The next step in her development is for the offense to run through her more, particularly in key moments. When will Cheryl Reeve have her take more direct responsibility for the offense, as wings with her skill set tend to? They have the shooting to run plays through her, have her run pick and rolls as both ball handler and screener, and it would raise Collier’s ceiling if it could be incorporated. Whether Reeve is simply reluctant to move towards a less democratic system, or Collier needs to improve her handle and passing, or both, that seems like an area the Lynx could look to work on.

Forward: Angel McCoughtry: 

On a per minute basis, McCoughtry had a good argument for first team over Candace Parker (and moving Wilson to center) or being slotted in as a guard over Taurasi. Getting to watch McCoughtry play so well has been wonderful. She did only play 411 minutes, compared to 521 for Taurasi and 600+ for her other competition. Still, she was so impactful in those minutes I am fine putting her on 2nd team. The low minutes for Mccoughtry is a good sign for the Aces playoff hopes, as reporting has indicated the Aces will try to increase her workload closer to 30 minutes per game than 20, which will only make the Aces better, assuming she is able to handle the increased load for the playoffs.

Forward: DeWanna Bonner: 

I stand by my piece on the Sun and the awkward fit offensively between Bonner and Alyssa Thomas. But even at the time I wrote the piece, when the Sun were 0-5, it was clear they were a better team than that. Briann January returning and Jasmine Thomas shooting more have helped. And for all that Bonner and Thomas cause spacing issues on offense, they are so hard to score against. They can both guard multiple positions, switch any pick and rolls, and are good at generating turnovers without unnecessary gambling. Bonner cooled off from 3 after a hot start, but she had her usual impact with her passing, ability to draw fouls, and rebound well for her position.

Guard: Alysha Clark

This is a bit of a cheat, as Clark mostly plays small forward. But she is often tasked with guarding the other team’s best player, including guards, whether that be Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Mitchell, or Arike Ogunbowale. They also will sometimes guard her, and she is good at using her post skills to score down low a couple of times a game. She is also an unusual choice for the all-wnba team, because of how low usage she is, she either passes or shoots immediately when she gets the ball. She can do basically everything one wants from a modern guard/ wing, except for dribble. Which admittedly is a big part of basketball. But she is so good as the perfect role player, and her ability to be impactful off-ball helps her more ball dominant co-stars thrive, that she has earned this spot. 

Guard: Arike Ogunbowale

Advanced stats are really down on her defense, and that hurts her when if one relies on those. But the Wings as a whole are a poor defensive team, and it’s hard to pin that solely on Ogunbowale. Sure, she could stand to improve her defense, but she’s not a complete mess there. Offensively though, Ogunbowale took a step forward. Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jewell Loyd also have good arguments for this spot. Ogunbowale is not as efficient as SDS or Loyd, but she is the main focus of opposing defenses night after night, unlike those other two. She is second in the league in usage and still manages to be reasonably efficient. Loyd is the best defender of the group, but even though the Storm were the best team in the regular season, they were not three players on All-WNBA team good. 

Most Improved Player

I’m not a huge fan of this award, as it is the award with the least clear standards. More clarity on the criteria would be nice. But for me, I don’t consider second year players, as they all tend to improve, as they should. I also prioritize players who are playing similar amounts in a similar role, but simply doing it much better. So Kaleah Copper had a good year, but she was pretty good last year. The big improvement she made was that Diamond DeShields was hurt this year, so Copper played more.

  1. Betnijah Laney

Laney went from playing 26 minutes per game for the Fever, who cut her, to playing 33 minutes for the Dream, and improving offensively in basically every category one can improve in. Massive improvements like hers can be flukey, but the fact that her shooting splits went up in basically every category gives me some hope that this is repeatable. Going from 36/30/68 in 2019 to 48/40/85 in 2020 on significantly more attempts in the fifth year of a player’s career simply does not happen. What a great year for her. 

  1. Myisha Hines-Allen

Hines-Allen’s improvement was somewhat just that she went from being buried on the Mystics bench behind two of the best players in the world to starting, but she still took her opportunity and ran with it. Her shooting numbers went up and she showed off a more versatile game than she had before, at least in the WNBA. She is going to among the most interesting players to watch over the next couple of seasons, as 25 year old players with her skillset simply do not become available very often in the WNBA, the Mystics are unable to resign her.

6th Women of the Year

  1. Dearica Hamby

Hamby winning this seems like violating the spirit of the award, as Hamby was a starter for all intents and purposes. She played the 25th most minutes in the league. She was second on her own team. Not to take anything away from Hamby, but on most teams she’s a starter. Still, she is clearly the best player who came off the bench in the bubble. She is a key reason the Aces were so successful this year as she is effective next to Wilson or Carolyn Swords. While she did not shoot very many 3s, her diligent work to expand her range helped the Aces manufacture just enough spacing. She can guard the toughest matchups from 3-5 and hold her own switched onto quicker guards, if forced to.

Honorable mention: Riquana Williams, Jackie Young, and Sami Whitcomb.

Looking Forward: The Atlanta Dream’s Forwards

The Atlanta Dream have had as tough a 2020 season as any team not named the Washington Mystics when it comes to opt outs, injuries, and players coming back after testing positive for covid-19. Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery opted out, Glory Johnson, Courtney Williams, and Kalani Brown all joined the team late and have needed time to get back into shape and in tune with their teammates, and Chennedy Carter has missed time with an ankle injury.

This has left Nicki Collen having to play some lineups she probably was not planning on playing coming into the year. Notably, Monique Billings at the power forward spot. Billings does bring some positives to the Dream. She is a good offensive rebounder, she is able to outrun opposing bigs in transition, and can sometimes beat opposing bigs off the dribble using her speed.

However, Monique Billings’ lack of any kind of shooting also highlights some of the ways the WNBA is changing to emphasize shooting. Simply put, it is very hard to craft a top 6, so top half of the WNBA, league offense while playing two front court players who can not shoot 3s. Billings spends much of the game playing next to the Dream’s center, Elizabeth Williams, who also does not shoot 3s. 

The obvious counter to the need for spacing is the Las Vegas Aces. A team that shoots far fewer threes than any other team, but as of 8/31 is 2nd in offensive rating, per wnba.com. However, the Aces actually manage to have better spacing than one might think, by where they station their players. 

In the Aces best lineups, Dearica Hamby plays the 4 on offense. While Hamby is only attempting 1.5 3s per game this year, she will stand behind the 3 point line and teams will at least somewhat guard her. This allows the Aces to give just enough spacing to A’ja Wilson and whoever else to attack inside. McCoughtry will similarly stand at the three, and take them sometimes. Both are also excellent cutters and better post up threats than Billings, which helps. 

Something to watch for in the playoffs is how teams guard the Jackie Young, Angel McCoughtry, Dearica Hamby trio, as teams will often be more extreme in ignoring non-threatening shooters in the playoffs when they have time to focus on a single opponent. The benefit the Aces have is all 3 of those players can attack and make plays off the dribble, which makes up for some of those spacing issues.

Back to the Dream. Even when Monique Billings puts up decent numbers herself, when she is playing next to Elizabeth Williams, she tends to make it harder for her teammates to succeed. A big question the Dream should answer going forward is who is going to be their power forward of the future.

 Of course playing Billings next to a stretch 5 who can shoot 3s might work, but there are 2 of those currently in the WNBA, Stefanie Dolson and Jonquel Jones. I guess 3 if you include Natasha Howard, who occasionally hits her 3s. While that would be great, figuring out a better solution for who plays 4 seems more likely.. 

This play against the Minnesota Lynx is a good example of the drawbacks of two non-shooters in the front court. On the box score, this play is recorded as a turnover by Betnijah Laney. However, the play breaks down largely because of how Napheesa Collier is able to completely ignore Monique Billings. Watch where Collier goes and where Billings goes.

Atlanta Dream pick and roll. Leads to steal for Minnesota Lynx.

The play is a pick and roll with Elizabeth Williams screening for Betnijah Laney. Right off the bat, Damiris Dantas, who is guarding Williams, knows she can double team Laney hard, because Collier is right behind her to pick up the rolling Williams. 

Then, when Laney stops to look for someone to pass to out of the double team, all she sees is Billings running right at her. That might be the best pass, but it’s understandable why Laney tries for something riskier. Billings isn’t likely to make a shot from long 2, and if she tries to drive, Dantas and Collier are there to cover her, since Elizabeth Williams is still under the basket. 

This is why willingness to shoot 3s can matter, even when the outcome is not particularly good. If Glory Johnson had been with the Dream from the beginning, she might have gotten the starting nod at the 4. And while Johnson is by no means a knock down 3 point shooter, a career 31% 3 point shooter, she is at least willing to stand behind the three point line and let it fly when open. 

Especially in the regular season, opposing teams tend to guard players who let it fly, even when the percentages say they could back off. DeWanna Bonner has benefited from this tendency for years. Letting Bonner shoot a 3 is about as good an outcome as one could hope against the Sun, but teams still guard her out on the perimeter, even though she is below 30% from 3 for her career. 

Monique Billings has flirted with shooting 3s a couple of times this season. One avenue to improvement would be for her to add that to her game. But the Dream should be making plans as if Billings is best off as a smaller 5 off the bench, who can use her quickness to outrun opposing bigs. Can Betnijah Laney give them minutes at the 4? All questions to keep an eye out for over the final 7 games of the 2020 season and into the offseason. 

The Dream have found some good pieces this year, even in a frustrating season in terms of wins and losses. Betnijah Laney is most likely going to win Most Improved Player of the year and Chennedy Carter has looked at times like a future superstar. Courtney Williams is rounding into shape and looks like the player the Dream signed. Shekinna Stricklen is still an excellent role player. Reinforcements from Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery will hopefully be coming. How this team handles the forward position is going to be key to the next few years for the Atlanta Dream.

WNBA Awards So Far: MVP, Rookie of the Year and more

We are at the 40% mark of the 2020 WNBA season, with each team having played 9 games. To get a sense for where we are at in this season, here are my picks for a few of the awards if the season ended today. Here are my picks for MVP, rookie of the year, defensive player of the year, and most improved player

MVP:

1.  Breanna Stewart

Stewart is averaging 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, on 61% true shooting. She is averaging 2 steals and 1.3 blocks. Even with Sue Bird missing a few games this Storm team has not missed a beat. Stewart has been the best player in the league. I would not rely on a single advanced stat to prove Stewart’s case, but when she leads in PIPM, win shares, and is in the top 3 in the WNBA’s player impact estimate, it helps make the case. 

Her versatility is key to the Storm. She can effectively play the point guard on offense when the team is short handed, while still providing above average rim protection on the defensive end. Good luck having your power forward try to run the offense out of the high post. Damiras Dantas had the ball stripped multiple times by Stewart. She is a key part of the Storm’s trapping scheme, with her speed and long arms.

The big wing who can provide some rim protection while also offering shot creation on the other end is the most valuable type of player in modern basketball. With Elena Delle Donne and Maya Moore sitting out, Breanna Stewart is the best version of this player in the WNBA.

2. Sylvia Fowles

Fowles does not have the shot creation burden that other top MVP candidates do, and that in some ways can hamstring the Lynx. The flip side, however, is the Lynx can afford to play more limited defensive players around Fowles and still end up with a top defense. Crystal Dangerfield is 5’5”, if that. Dantas, Napheesa Collier, and Lexie Brown know where to be, but none are shut down defenders at this point. It is mostly because of Fowles that the Lynx are top 4, and were top 2 before Fowles missed a couple of games, in defense. In particular, her ability to combine being 6’6” near the basket and effectively defend in space makes her the front runner for DPOY.

While it may no longer be the most efficient play to throw the ball into Fowles when she is guarded by a decent post defender, she is still very effective in the pick and roll as a screener. She also will punish any switches, such that teams have to fight to get through her screens, leaving space for Dangerfield and Brown to excel. The one knock is she does not pass, with a negative assist to turnover ratio. Passing is not a necessary skill for a center like Fowles, but it does limit how she can be used a bit, along with her lack of shooting. Hopefully her calf injury is not too serious and we get to see more of Fowles this season soon.

3. A’ja Wilson

Apologies to Candace Parker, who I had penciled in here before looking closely at both players. Either one would be a fair choice here. Wilson has been a dominant scorer in the face of double and triple teams this year. She is third in the WNBA in usage among starters who have played 7 games, behind two ball dominant guards in Chennedy Carter and Arike Ogunbuwale. She has managed a TS of 55%, even though she has yet to shoot a 3 this season. That is a middling efficiency number,  but given how starved the Aces are of shooting and Wilson’s lack of a 3 point shot herself, it’s frankly amazing she has been even that effective.

Defensively, Wilson is not as airtight as a help defender as one would like from someone with her physical gifts. However, she is a very good on ball defender both in the post and when switched onto smaller players. She has been a key cog in one of the best defensive teams in the league this year. 

The main area in which Candace Parker is leaps and bounds ahead of Wilson is passing. Parker is a great passer, whereas Wilson has an assist to turnover ratio below 1. One day hopefully we will see Wilson play with more than 1 shooter in a modern offense, because that would give us a more accurate read on her passing. As it is, the few times she does pass, she is passing to players close to her who can’t shoot. 

Others Considered:

As mentioned, Candace Parker and A’ja Wilson are basically a coin flip at this point. I went with Wilson because the Aces have been slightly more successful, with a better net rating, but it has been great seeing Parker be so effective. She also provides more spacing than Wilson, allowing for LA to play a wider variety of bigs successfully. 

Angel McCoughtry stands out in advanced stats. I’m not sure the rest of the Aces are so limited to justify 2 MVP candidates, but she has been very good. Still a bruising force slashing to the basket, and she is even canning just enough threes to force teams to at least somewhat guard her out there, which is great for Vegas. 

Rookie of the Year:

This year the rookie of the year race looks like it’s going to be somewhat a battle over how to define best. In particular, how to balance a player who plays a lot of minutes for a bad team, and puts up ok numbers, vs. a player who puts up excellent stats on a good team, but only plays limited minutes. The Chennedy Carter vs. Ezi Magbegor conundrum, if you will. For now, I value contributing in large minutes at an ok level.

1. Chennedy Carter

Carter has been as advertised on offense. Her ability to get to the rim is already among the best in the WNBA. She is shooting it better than expected, 42% from 3 on 2.4 attempts per game and 88% from the free throw line. Her turnover rate is high, but paradoxically that is a good sign for a young point guard, as that generally improves with experience. Guard is the toughest position to play for young players, and she is already excellent.

Chennedy Carter’s defense has been poor, which drags down her rating in advanced stats like pipm that look at defense. However, her team is the worst defensive team in the league and it is hard to pin the blame for their struggles on that end on her. Rookies are generally bad at defense, and point guards have more limited impact than bigs on defense anyways. Here is hoping Carter can come back and play more this year, as she is currently out with an ankle injury.

2. Julie Allemand

Julie Allemand will not continue to shoot 56% from 3, or lead the league in TS% at 70. However, even with some regression to the mean, she will likely still be a plus shooter. She is a good passer, who while she has had some befuddling turnovers, is still sporting an assist to turnover ratio of 2.0, second to Tyasha Harris among the rookie crop of point guards. 

Defensively she struggles against bigger guards, but has held her own against other point guards, and has even turned in some highlight blocks. The Fever struggle on defense, but that is more on their bigs and wings than on Allemand.

3. Crystal Dangerfield

Crystal Dangerfield is a rookie playing nearly 30 minutes per game for a team that is currently tied for third in the standings. Her numbers do not stand out, but rather she has simply been solid across the board. For a rookie point guard on a good team, that is impressive. She even has room to grow, as I bet that her 3 point percentage of 31% will go up as the season goes on. She was an excellent shooter in college. 

Her height is always going to be an issue on defense, but she competes hard on that end and has not been the negative that some expected so far. That will likely change in the playoffs, when teams have the time to focus on exploiting matchups, but for the regular season, she has been very good.

Others considered:

Satou Sabally still looks like she could be the best player from this draft, but her shooting has been so bad that she is not on this list at the moment. 35% from 2 and 15% from 3 just does not cut it. She has moments of defensive brilliance, but as with many rookie wings and bigs, is still learning the nuances of pick and roll defense. 

Ezi Magbegor and Tyasha Harris are putting up the best numbers in smaller minutes. Magbegor is shooting 67% from the field and has earned the first off the bench minutes as a big on the best team in the league. She just does not play that much, and benefits from consistently being surrounded by excellent teammates. 

I have no idea why Harris is not playing more, it’s like Moriah Jefferson is killing it. Harris has a ridiculous assist-turnover ratio of 3.88 and is shooting 43% from 3. She’s bigger than Jefferson and can guard a couple of positions. She definitely could leap into the top 3, if given more playing time. 

DPOY:

Sylvia Fowles. She is simply the player on one of the best defenses in the league who is crucial to that defense. The team falls apart defensively without her. Breanna Stewart also has an argument, but she is surrounded by Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark, who are all first team all-defense caliber players. If Bill Laimbeer started Hamby, which he should, and played her 30+ minutes, she might have a case as well, given her versatility on defense between the 3, 4 and 5. 

Most Improved player:

This is not my favorite category, as even compared to other awards the criteria are ill-defined. For my sake, I don’t vote for 2nd year players for this category, since they almost always improve simply because it is their 2nd year. I also tend to stay away from players whose  improvements are mostly related to playing more minutes. Good to earn minutes, but not always clear if the player is actually better or simply taking advantage of the opportunity.

For these reasons, I am going with Betnijah Laney. She is only playing 5 minutes more per game this year, but she went from being an offensive liability in Indiana, to being at times the entire offense for Atlanta. She has also done this while maintaining her strong defense. It’s not her fault the Dream can not stop anyone.  

Myisha Hines-Allen has been impressive, even after cooling off after her strong start. She likely improved, but the big change has been that she is no longer buried behind 2 of the best players in the WNBA in Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman. Meesseman starts next to her, given the lack of effective true centers on the roster, and EDD is still rehabbing a back injury. 

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.