The Atlanta Dream have had a busy offseason.
They’ve signed Cheyenne Parker. They’ve signed Tianna Hawkins. Yvonne Turner. Kaela Davis. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. And veteran guard Renee Montgomery retired from the league earlier in February.
All these moves signal one thing to me: the Dream are building around dynamic second-year guard Chennedy Carter, which is undoubtedly the right thing to do. The Dream might not be ready for a playoff run yet, but they’re putting together a team that can excel in the future, with Hollywood as the centerpiece.
Why Build Around Chennedy Carter? Because She F*cking Rules!
Let’s keep this simple: the Atlanta Dream need to build around Chennedy Carter because she’s a star.
She was a star in high school, when she took Mansfield Timberview to the state championship game and led them to a 70-4 record over her final two seasons. She was a star at Texas A&M, where her knack for hitting big shots helped her win Freshman of the Year in her first year, got her three All-American selections, and was just an unstoppable scoring machine in the NCAA Tournament.
And now, she’s a star in the WNBA. In 16 games last season, Carter averaged 17.4 points and 3.4 assists per game, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three. That last part is notable because Carter struggled from deep in her final season with the Aggies, but the limited sample size from her first season in the W showed that she’s got the ability to connect from deep.
The best example of why you build around Carter is her showing against the Storm last year, a game in which Carter scored 35 points and dished out seven assists. The Dream didn’t win, but a one-point loss to the eventual champs is about as close as you can get to a win:
Seattle is going to win this game, but I have to say: Chennedy Carter.
— Justin Carter (@juscarts) August 6, 2020
Look, I’ve got some bias here. I’ve been writing about Carter since she was in college. But I’ll just say this: you can tell when you watch Carter that she has It. She’s a magician when she has the ball. She can take and make any shot. She can run the floor with authority. She’s a much, much better passer than people give her credit for.
Carter forecasts to be a top-end combo guard in this league.
Bringing In The Bigs
Okay, now we’re going to start getting into the statistical stuff.
The Dream signed two notable bigs this offseason who’ll help as they try to take the next step. I love how both of them—Cheyenne Parker and Tianna Hawkins—fit with a Carter-led team.
For one, both can shoot the ball. Hawkins only connected on 29.8 percent of her threes last year but had been in the mid-30s the previous two seasons. Parker was a 46.9 percent shooter last year. By adding shooting at the four and potentially the five when Elizabeth Williams is on the bench, the Dream space out the court and allow Carter space to either drive inside or to find her open shooters. The Dream should also be able to push the pace when either/both of Parker and Hawkins are on the floor. The Dream were seventh in points per possession in transition last year but 11th in the half-court.
But maybe more important than that is that they now have a lot more options in the half-court. Chicago scored 1.02 points per possession on Parker’s half-court possessions last year, good for the 90th percentile. She was at her best spotting up and while serving as the roller/popper in the pick-and-roll. Having a strong roll option is something that the Dream needed, as they ranked ninth in PPP on rolls.
The pick-and-roll was something Carter excelled in at A&M, but she wasn’t quite as effective on those plays as a rookie. Having Parker—who was strong in both rolls to the basket and in pick-and-pop situations last year—really expands what Carter can do. Parker will bring a different kind of gravity on her rolls, which should help make it easier for Carter to take the ball to the hoop herself at times.
But enough about Cheyenne Parker, who I already wrote a ton about earlier in the offseason. What about Hawkins?
Back in 2019 when the Mystics were at full strength, Hawkins had an unbelievable season, though the one area of concern was actually her pick-and-roll:
Good thing she was effective at everything else!
Hawkins gives the Dream a four who can run the floor with Carter, something we’re not totally sure Parker gives them. Lineups with Hawkins, Carter, and Courtney Williams are lineups that are going to push the pace and generate fastbreak points. Hawkins can also score off cuts, giving Carter another weapon to play with. If Carter is the quarterback in Atlanta, Hawkins is going to be her slot receiver: a reliable option who can be a plethora of things for Atlanta. She won’t be the star weapon that Parker is—and won’t be as intimately involved in the on-ball action as Parker—but she’ll be able to make positive plays when on the floor.
How To Use The Draft To Keep This Going
I have two thoughts on this. The first, which seems counter-intuitive, is that I want to see the Atlanta Dream use that third pick on a guard. My personal preference is for Dana Evans, but Aari McDonald could work too, I suppose. I don’t really want to spend too much time specifically looking at who fits in Atlanta right now. I just want to explain why I think they need to go guard.
Courtney Williams is fun, and good at basketball, and is going to have a strong 2021 season. She’s also a free agent after this upcoming year and will be entering her age-28 season in 2022. That brings up a big question: will she want to stay in Atlanta if they miss the playoffs again this season? Maybe she will. Maybe she won’t. But it never hurts to have a backup plan, and bring in a top guard can ensure this team has a pair of young ball-handlers on the floor.
The other idea, which makes more sense on the surface and is probably the better decision, is that the Dream try to fill their need on the wing. Get a shooter! Put Rutgers wing Arella Guirantes next to Carter and just let her do her thing. Or take Alabama’s Jasmine Walker and let her shot the lights out of the ball at either forward spot. Or take Rennia Davis, though her struggles as a shooter this year make that a little less appetizing as an option, even though she has some nice size and can move and drive with the ball in her hands.
Basically, whichever option you choose, don’t go draft a big unless that big is Awak Kuier, who has the offensive ceiling to just be a monster. I’d hesitate on taking Texas center Charli Collier if she a) declares for the draft and b) dropped to third because I just don’t think that’s the kind of player Atlanta needs to add.
Whatever Atlanta does in the draft, it’s going to be something that the team thinks helps them build around Carter. There isn’t really a clear-cut star in this draft. There’s no Sabrina Ionescu or Rhyne Howard to make Atlanta say “oh, we’re adding someone who can be our best player.” They’ll go into 2021 with Carter being that best player, and they’ll continue to make moves that help optimize the team around Carter’s unique (and extremely fun) talent.