WNBA Season Preview: Atlanta Dream

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Last season, the Atlanta Dream finally found somewhat of an identity as a strong defensive team. The brightest aspect of their season was unquestioningly Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard, though. Howard entered the league as the top pick and had lots of expectations around her game. Making the All-Star game in just her first season and quickly becoming the Dream’s focal point, she did not disappoint.

Unsurprisingly, Howard will take on the same role for the Dream again this season, while also hopefully taking another step towards basketball stardom. She proved herself last year but with such a stellar rookie season new expectations and pressures arise as well. Now, it is up to Howard to navigate all that and lead the Dream once again.

The Dream are bringing back most of last season’s roster with the exceptions of Kristy Wallace, Erica Wheeler and Tiffany Hayes, and acquired Danielle Robinson, Allisha Gray and Iliana Rupert. Out of those three, Allisha Gray is the biggest addition to the Dream’s roster. She came over from Dallas in one of the more underrated trades of the offseason to support Howard. Both of them are great shooters, disruptive defenders and can attack the rim well. Howard is, as mentioned, coming off a promising Rookie of the Year campaign and Gray just had a career season. Together, they could form a formidable duo now as well as in Atlanta’s long-term future. Danielle Robinson, on the other hand, is only under contract for one more year for now. In that year, she will provide valuable veteran leadership for a young up-and-coming team. After that, it remains to be seen which way the Dream decide to go, but for this season, Robinson will be a vital rotational player.

The rest of the roster mainly stayed the same. Cheyenne Parker, AD Durr, Nia Coffey, Beatrice Mompremier, and Monique Billings all signed extensions this offseason and youngsters Ari McDonald and Naz Hillmon are still under contract. From the first four we pretty much know what to expect, with the exception of AD Durr maybe, but McDonald and Hillmon could still make significant jumps. Hillmon is part of a frontcourt rotation that the Dream still have to figure out, especially when Cheyenne Parker is not on the floor. Billings is a better rebounder and more disruptive defender than Hillmon, but the 22-year-old showed potential last season and should get plenty of opportunities to develop.

McDonald similarly showed certain promise last season. With more opportunities as a sophomore, her production picked up and her confidence as a scorer grew. Now, this season is about her taking the next step, especially as a passer and outside shooter, to become a real starting point guard. Starting Robinson at the point guard position might be the safer choice but starting McDonald would be great for her development. Last season, she only got to start six games, but in those games, she was much better than when she came off the bench. Having Robinson come off the bench would also ensure that a stable veteran is running the second unit.

So, assuming that McDonald gets to start, the Dream’s starting five would be McDonald, Allisha Gray, Rhyne Howard, Nia Coffey, and Cheyenne Parker. That leaves AD Durr, Danielle Robinson, Monique Billings and Naz Hillmon as core rotation pieces and Iliana Rupert and Mikayla Pivec to pick up spare minutes. This rotation is better than last season’s Dream roster because certain core pieces are primed for significant individual improvements. At the same time, however, it also has several weaknesses.

Their frontcourt is small, lacks playmaking, and does not have much reliable scoring outside of Parker. They also do not have much floor spacing outside of Howard and Grey or any above average passers. That means that they will struggle to move defenses and score in the halfcourt. Furthermore, the Dream have pretty much no wing depth. They have two first-round picks in the draft that could allow them to address that issue, but with more and more top players returning to school, this year’s draft is somewhat of a mystery. Depending on who is available, the Dream might not get someone who can help them this season. Reportedly, they really like Stephanie Soares, but she would not be able to play this season due to an injury.

Thus, the draft could still change the end of the Dream’s rotation, but their core is set and has plenty of upsides. The Dream’s biggest strength this season will be their defense. They may not have any All-Defense players, but they also have no targets on their roster. As a team, they should be able to force plenty of turnovers, and Howard and Coffey are top shot blockers at their positions. They are a very athletic team on both ends of the floor and that will fuel their transition offense. Running the floor and scoring in the open court will be their bread and butter offensively.

The Atlanta Dream are one of the youngest teams going into the 2023 season and other than the expectations resting on Howards’ shoulders, there is no pressure on them to win anything. Their goal this season should be to develop, announce to the league that they are on their way, and maybe attract some reinforcements for next season.

Nevertheless, their defense and transition offense should be enough to catapult them to a sixth seed and into the playoffs. Depending on the matchup, they might very well exit in the first-round, but even if they do, it would not be a big disappointment.

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