The WNBA regular season begins on Saturday and the Atlanta Dream will be looking for a bounce back in 2016. Atlanta finished with a 15-19 record last season and snapped a streak of six consecutive playoff appearances. The Dream open the season on the road in San Antonio at 8 p.m.
Michael Cooper returns for his third season as the Dream's head coach in 2016. The team parted ways with General Manager Angela Taylor in September and presumedly expanded Cooper's role in Basketball Operations.
Atlanta's struggles in 2015 could be summed up by the performance on the defensive end of the floor. The Dream finished dead last in scoring defense allowing 79.8 points per game. Scoring certainly wasn't the problem. Atlanta was second in the league in scoring offense averaging 77.8 points per game but wasn't very efficient as their ninth place finish in offensive rating suggests.
Turnovers were a major problem for the Dream. Atlanta turned the ball over 520 times in 34 regular season games. To put that in perspective, the New York Liberty had the second-most turnovers in the league with 479. Cooper wants to play fast but the frantic pace worked against his team in 2015 as live ball turnovers led to easy run out opportunities for the opposition.
Atlanta keeps core intact
The Dream kept their Big 3 intact with the return of Sancho Lyttle, Tiffany Hayes, and Angel McCoughtry.
McCoughtry played in all 34 games last season and led the Dream in scoring at 20.1 per game. McCoughtry knocked down a career-best 36 percent of her three-point attempts in 2015 and somehow managed to cut her turnovers from the previous season. She is an All-Star at both ends of the floor and will represent the United States as a member of the 2016 U.S. Women's Team in the Olympics.
Lyttle returns for eighth season in a Dream uniform. She battled some nagging injuries but still managed to average 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 24 games. Lyttle is the team's veteran leader in many ways and the Dream will need another healthy season from her if they are to make it back into the playoffs.
Hayes has quietly emerged as nice complement as a scorer and defender with McCoughtry. She averaged 12.9 points in 2015 but saw her shooting percentage drop to just 39 percent. Her three-point shooting also took a big dip dropping from 35 percent in 2014 to 27 percent last season.
Hayes is a warrior who is not afraid of contact or of throwing her body around. Atlanta needs her to be an offensive threat and her shooting returning to her career levels would be a huge boost.
Will a point guard emerge?
A lot of the Dream's struggles at both ends of the court last season can be traced back to the point guard position. In fact, the team has been searching for an answer at the point for multiple seasons and the position in 2016 appears to be a big question mark once again.
Carlo Cortijo started all four preseason games at the point for the Dream but shot just 27 percent from the field. She averaged a team-best 3.8 assists but turned the ball over at a high rate averaging 2.5 per game.
Matee Ajavon is much more of a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body but gives Cooper a veteran option. The team traded a second round pick for point guard Layshia Clarendon at the end of camp and could figure into the point guard picture as well.
The Dream traded away long-time center Erika de Souza last season and pulled off another deal to address the position this offseason. Atlanta traded the No. 4 pick in the draft to the Connecticut Sun in exchange for forward/center Elizabeth Williams.
Williams averaged 8.8 points and 7.0 rebounds during the preseason but should be a big boost to the team on the defensive end of the floor. Atlanta spent their second round pick on Rutgers center Rachel Hollivay in hopes of solidifying the center position.
The team traded third-year guard Shoni Schimmel to the New York Liberty during the preseason. Schimmel showed up out of shape in 2015 and got off to a slow start. Atlanta will miss her scoring, but her defensive shortcomings really hampered her ability as a point guard.
The team announced earlier this week that forward Damiris Dantas would be suspended for the entire 2016 season while she trains with the Brazilian National Team as they prepare for this summer's Olympics. The Dream acquired Dantas in the de Souza trade. She averaged 8.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season.
2016 Atlanta Dream Roster
|32||Bria Holmes||G||6-1||170||R||West Virginia|