The Atlanta Dream enter the 2014 WNBA season fresh off of another Finals appearance and more lofty expectations. Despite saying goodbye to head coach Fred Williams during the offseason, the Dream made a splash by hiring former L.A. Sparks head coach and NBA Champion Michael Cooper. The Dream retooled their roster somewhat but held on to its successful core with the hope of returning to the Finals and bringing a championship back to Atlanta.
One of the things that has been successful for the Dream over the last several seasons was their aggressive style defense along with their fast paced offense. With Cooper at the helm expect that style of play to continue as Atlanta will try to push the pace and hopefully has improved its outside shooting enough to really open up their offense.
Despite the addition of Cooper, the engine that makes the Dream go has been Angel McCoughtry since her arrival from Louisville in 2009. She is one of the most dynamic players in the WNBA and transcends gender with her athletic ability. She did a bit of everything for Atlanta in 2013 averaging career bests in rebounds (5.3) assists (4.4) and steals (2.7) while captured her second straight scoring title at 21.5 points per game.
McCoughtry is a huge part of Atlanta's success but if they want to once again reach their lofty goals then Cooper would do well to lessen the load on his superstar. Angel's shooting percentage dropped to 41 percent in 2013 and she averaged more than four turnovers per contest which given her usage aren't terrible numbers. However, a more balanced attack makes McCoughtry even more dangerous to her opponents.
One place Atlanta can find balance is with the rest of their frontcourt as Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza will once again man the Dream's frontline. Lyttle was limited to just six games in 2013 due to injury and her commitment to the Spanish National Team. De Souza averaged 12.9 points and 9.9 rebounds in 2013 and was re-signed by the club during the offseason. The Lyttle/de Souza tandem has a unique blend of size, strength and athleticism that gives opponents headaches at both ends of the floor. Having both healthy for the majority of the 2014 season will be a big key for the Dream.
Atlanta added several new faces during the offseason. First they were part of a three-team trade that saw Alex Bentley shipped out in exchange for Matee Ajavon who could give them some firepower off the bench. Ajavon hasn't shown much efficiency in her career but has proven durable and is a player that teams must account for. She may fit nicely into Atlanta's uptempo attack.
The Dream fortified their point guard rotation when they signed Celine Dumerc to a contract this offseason. Dumerc is a well respected veteran from Europe. She is an excellent floor general who understands how to set up teammates but can also knock down an open shot when called upon. Players like McCoughtry and Ajavon will benefit from Dumerc getting the ball to them at the appropriate times.
Atlanta spent its first round pick on Louisville's Shoni Schimmel. While she spent a lot of time at Louisville at the shooting guard spot, Cooper has spent a lot of time with her at the point. She knocked down over 380 three-pointers in her career with the Cardinals and should give Atlanta more shooting on the perimeter than they have had in recent seasons.
Finally, Atlanta shored up its frontcourt rotation by acquiring Swin Cash from the Chicago Sky in a trade for Courtney Clements. Cash's best years are probably behind her but she brings championship experience and is a solid addition to the locker room. She also is an accomplished defender which could give Cooper more flexibility to go with smaller and faster lineups.
It will be interesting to see how all of the pieces mesh early in the season. One area of concern for the Dream centers on the point guard position. Dumerc will miss the start of the season due to her commitment with her French club which is in the Euroleague final. She will be in Atlanta by the time the season gets in full swing and shouldn't have trouble getting acclimated but it leaves Atlanta a little thin early on.
Jasmine Thomas is the likely starter and averaged 8.5 points and 3.1 assists last season. Schimmel is potentially the backup which as a rookie could be interesting. Thomas shot just 21 percent from three-point range last season so she does little to help stretch the defense. The quicker Schimmel is ready the better off Atlanta will be.
Friday's opponent San Antonio was decimated by injuries in 2013 to starters Becky Hammon and Sophia Young-Malcolm. Hammon was limited to just one game in 2013 before suffering a torn ACL. She played in both of the Stars' preseason losses but did not travel with the team to Atlanta due to a sprained left ankle that she suffered in practice on Wednesday.
Young-Malcolm missed all of the 2013 season with her own knee injury but averaged 16.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 2012. The Stars selected former Notre Dame star Kayla McBride with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Draft after she averaged 17.6 points and 3.8 assists for the Irish.
Game Date/Time: Friday, May 16, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta Georgia
TV: SportSouth, NBA TV
Streaming: WNBA Live Access (Subscription)
Other WNBA Games
Minnesota vs Washington 7:00 p.m.
New York vs Connecticut 7:00 p.m.
Indiana vs Chicago 8:30 p.m.
Los Angeles vs Seattle 10:00 p.m.