The WNBA returns from the Olympic break on Wednesday with teams reconvening before games return on Friday. The Atlanta Dream find themselves in the thick of the playoff race but need a fast start to nail down their postseason spot.
It was an up and down first half for the Dream who got off to a 6-1 start and then proceeded to lose eight of their next ten games. Atlanta closed the first half having won 5 of 8 but find themselves in a dog fight for positioning in the WNBA’s new playoff format.
Atlanta enters the second half with a 13-12 record and in fourth place in the WNBA’s overall standings. A Top-4 finish would guarantee the team a first-round bye in the new playoff format but Atlanta has just a half game lead over Indiana and are just 3.5 games better than eighth place Washington.
The biggest reason for Atlanta’s struggles during the first half of the season center on a failing offense that at times has struggled to put up points at a consistent rate. Saying they struggled might be a bit of an understatement.
Consider that the Dream are next to last in the league in offensive rating averaging just 99.1 points per 100 possessions. They are shooting 41 percent from the field which is 10th in the league and are dead last in three-point percentage at just 27 percent. They are next to last in assists and have committed the fourth most turnovers. Atlanta is also next to last in free throw percentage but have 56 more attempts than the next closest team.
This has been one of the things that has hampered Michael Cooper’s teams during his tenure in Atlanta. The team struggles due to a lack of spacing because there are virtually no consistent shooters on the roster. There is very little ball movement as their low assist rate shows and it often leads to them putting their heads down and attacking a packed defense in the lane. When they are getting to the free throw line, they have found a way to win games. When they are not, they haven’t been as fortunate.
Angel McCoughtry is once again among the league’s leading scorers but has seen her three-point percentage drop from a career-best 36 percent last season to just 23 percent this season. McCoughtry is still one of the league’s best at creating offense and getting to the free throw line but the Dream have been forced to over rely on her and that has led to some blown leads late in games.
Atlanta entered the break with the fourth best defensive rating allowing 101.9 points per 100 possessions. However, that number has been on the rise thanks to their offensive struggles and an injury to Sancho Lyttle.
Lyttle was diagnosed with a broken fifth metatarsal in her right foot on July 17 and the thought was that she would likely miss the remainder of the season. Four days later a re-examination showed that the injury was in fact not a break but instead just a bruise and that surgery would not be required. The hope is that Lyttle could potentially return in four or five weeks which would put her on track for Friday’s game against the Chicago Sky.
Lyttle has seen a sharp decline in her offensive numbers, but is still one of the team’s best rebounders and one of their most versatile defenders. If they can get her back healthy for the stretch run it would be a huge shot in the arm for their playoff chances.
New additions Elizabeth Williams and Layshia Clarendon have exceeded expectations. Williams is second in the league in blocked shots averaging 2.4 per game and is eighth in rebounding. The point guard position was an area of concern but Clarendon has put up career-best numbers and has shown a willingness to take and make big shots at the end of games.
Tiffany Hayes leads the team in win shares and has developed into a solid player for the Dream at both ends of the floor. Like McCoughtry she has a knack for finding creases in the defense and for getting herself to the free throw line. All that is missing for Hayes to take her game to an even higher level is a more consistent outside shot.
For the most part, Atlanta’s bench has been inconsistent. Players like Bria Holmes, Carla Cortijo and Reshanda Gray have shown flashes but little to no consistency on a night to night basis. That has left Cooper at times searching for a combination that works and Lyttle’s injurym has only compounded that problem.
Atlanta will play five of its eight remaining games at Philips Arena. Additionally five of those games are against teams currently in the playoff picture. Nothing is assured, but the Dream have every incentive to go for a Top-4 finish and a bye in the first-round of the playoffs. They need Lyttle back and need to find a way to score consistently, but they still look like a team that could make noise in the postseason and one that no team will want to match up with in the postseason.
Current WNBA Standings
|1. Los Angeles Sparks||21||3||.875||--|
|2. Minnesota Lynx||21||4||.840||0.5|
|3. New York Liberty||18||8||.692||4.0|
|4. Atlanta Dream||13||12||.520||8.5|
|5. Indiana Fever||12||12||.500||9.0|
|6. Chicago Sky||11||13||.458||10.0|
|7. Phoenix Mercury||10||14||.417||11.0|
|8. Washington Mystics||9||15||.375||12.0|
|San Antonio Stars||5||18||.217||15.5|
Remaining Atlanta Dream Schedule
|Friday, August 26||at Chicago||8:30 p.m.|
|Sunday, August 28||vs Connecticut||3:00 p.m.|
|Sunday, September 4||vs Seattle||6:00 p.m.|
|Tuesday, September 6||vs Phoenix||8:00 p.m.|
|Thursday, September 8||at Los Angeles||10:30 p.m.|
|Sunday, September 11||at Phoenix||6:00 p.m.|
|Tuesday, September 13||vs San Antonio||7:00 p.m.|
|Thursday, September 15||vs Washington||7:00 p.m.|
|Saturday, September 17||at Minnesota||8:00 p.m.|