As an abbreviated 22-game season tips off this weekend, Coach Nicki Collen looks to move forward and build a new brand of Atlanta Dream basketball – with quite a few new faces. Looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 season, the Dream are planning to have a much different 2020.
Last season, the Dream put together an 8-26 campaign while finishing at or near the bottom of almost every statistical category. Offensively, the Dream tallied 71.2 points per game and shot 37.1 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep. Atlanta was able to convert just over 75 percent from the charity stripe.
Tiffany Hayes and Brittney Sykes were the only two Dream players last season to average double-digits with 14.7 ppg and 10.2 ppg, respectively, but neither will suit up in 2020. Hayes has opted to sit-out the season, and Sykes was traded to the LA Sparks.
Remember those new faces mentioned earlier? This year’s roster will feature only two returning players in Elizabeth Williams and Monique Billings with the remaining players coming via the draft, free agency, trades, or medical hardships.
Williams and Billings are the most familiar with Collen’s system. Billings is expected to have a much larger role this season in terms of both leadership and on-court production. Speaking to the media recently, Billings stated that her goal in training camp was to, “Leave everyday empty and put everything I have on the floor and give it all I got.” On a young team, that will come in handy.
With veteran point guard Renee Montgomery opting to sit-out the season to focus on social justice and other initiatives, much of the 2020 offense and ball-handling responsibilities will be centered around early Rookie of the Year contender, Chennedy Carter.
Upon being drafted fourth overall, many expect Carter to provide an immediate impact to the offense. The current makeup of the roster just expedites that process and potentially increases the load – one that Carter is all too familiar with. In her final season at Texas A&M, she was good for 21.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 3.5 apg. We’ll have to see how those numbers translate in the pros.
Joining Carter to provide the offensive spark is Shekinna Stricklen. The eight-year vet totaled 9 ppg and shot just under 40 percent from deep for the 2019 Finals runner-up Connecticut Sun. With the Dream being a younger team, Stricklen should be looked at for more than just her veteran leadership, but to also produce offensively.
After this week’s preseason scrimmages against the Sun and Mystics, both teams referenced the Dream’s speed and physicality. Will that translate once the season starts? In a reduced season, one would say there’s minimal room for error. With there being such a quick turnaround from training camp to tip-off, much of the chemistry will most likely develop as the season progresses.
In those scrimmages, Collen praised another new face on the Dream roster: Betnijah Laney.
“She was the best player on our team today. She plays with a ton of energy, and right now she’s making her pull-up jump shots,” Collen said.
After a career year with the Indiana Fever, Laney looks to establish her footing in the league with the Dream. In 27 starts last year, Laney notched career highs in points (5.6 ppg), rebounds (4.2 rpg), and minutes (25.8 mpg). Her size, strength, and defensive intensity will be a bonus as she’s able to guard multiple positions. While still considered a young player, she brings nearly four full seasons of professional experience.
Success and any tangible improvements would be welcomed.
Collen has seen improvements with this year’s squad but also acknowledges the work that needs to be done.
“For the most part, we screened well. We did that against a team that’s really good in transition,” speaking on her team’s performance against Connecticut in a scrimmage. “We have to collectively get defensive rebounds. That was our one weakness – keeping them off the glass.”
*insert Erica McCall*
Due to recent developments surrounding player safety and wellness, Coach Collen has spent the majority of training camp with just nine available players. The Dream were able to sign Erica McCall by way of medical hardship to bring their total to 10 which according to Collen, “allowed Coach Darius to retire.” Coach Darius Taylor had been filling in as an available body during practices and drills.
Playing sparingly throughout her first few seasons, McCall provides an athletic presence and rebounding in the post. She averaged just under 7 rpg during her collegiate career at Stanford and recorded a career-high of 11 against the Dallas Wings in 2018.
While potentially undersized, the Dream look to bring aggressive play, speed, and a little bit of flare led by their young and dynamic point guard. Stats are only part of the story, and Atlanta looks to change that.
The Dream will tip-off the 2020 season Sunday, July 26th against the Dallas Wings.