December 21, 2021 

What we know about the Atlanta Dream’s plan following the WNBA Draft Lottery

Tough luck, but still a top-three pick. Now what?

Let’s say you’re the Atlanta Dream. You’ve gone through four head coaches in less than a calendar year, sustained injuries to nearly every player on your roster, handed out a half-season suspension to Chennedy Carter, one of the league’s best young talents and cut ties with two starters in Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford after they got into a physical altercation with strangers in a parking lot

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You can assume, correctly, that this didn’t translate to a winning season — instead, it led to the league’s second-worst record, and by proxy, a chance for your fortunes to change. Now, you have a 27.6 percent chance at the top pick (or 58.2 percent odds at a top-two pick) in the 2022 WNBA Draft.

But luck doesn’t come so easy in Atlanta. So on Sunday — when a random array of ping pong balls offered an opportunity for the team to strike gold, or even silver — it was a lot more fitting when they instead determined that the Dream would select third in a draft class that’s widely expected to hold just two top-end talents. 

Now, the Dream will have to create their own luck.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to have the third pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, we think that we’ll be able to get a quality player that can really help bolster what we’re trying to do here in Atlanta,” new head coach Tanisha Wright said Monday. “Somebody who is competitive, somebody who wants to be in Atlanta and wants to do great things with our organization.”

The Washington Mystics now hold the top overall spot in the draft after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016, while the Indiana Fever, Atlanta and Dallas Wings are slated to round out the top four picks. 

Since the draft generally arrives three months after the start of January’s free agency period, most teams are excited about its options come April but remain wary of growing overly attached to any singular prospect, or any particular fit on the roster. 

That’s an especially obvious judgment call in Atlanta, seeing as it rosters just one player (Cheyenne Parker) under a guaranteed contract next season. Even while Aari McDonald, last year’s third overall pick, seems like a lock to return, the same cannot be said of the rest of the team — for now.

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On Monday, Wright emphasized that both McDonald and Carter are still a part of Atlanta’s roster, adding that the team will look to add talented and high-character veterans on the roster during January’s free agency period to help the young core develop. 

Though multiple sources have told The Next that several teams inquired about trading for Carter last season, neither the Dream nor Carter have committed to a decision regarding her future.

Possibilities and philosophies ahead of the Draft

With cap room, the third overall pick and a new coach and general manager, it’s hard to infer much on what a good “fit” would look like on the Dream’s undecided roster. Will they keep a heavy guard rotation? Will they go big in free agency? Would they want to load up on wings? Would they wish to trade up or down, or trade the pick all together?

Thus far, not much is carved in stone, though the consensus view among league insiders is that Kentucky guard/forward Rhyne Howard and Baylor forward/big NaLyssa Smith will likely be unavailable by the time of Atlanta’s selection.

Recent pieces from Bleacher Report, The Athletic and ESPN have mocked Kansas State big Ayoka Lee and Ole Miss forward/big Shakira Austin to Atlanta. Iowa State forward Ashley Joens could be another player to keep an eye on at the third overall spot if the team is looking for a three-level scorer who is WNBA-ready at the onset of training camp. 

Michigan forward Naz Hillmon, Florida Gulf Coast guard Kierstan Bell and Louisville forward Emily Engstler are also prospects who Atlanta could target depending on how free agency shakes out.

Already immersed in the scouting process, Wright said that the nucleus of herself, new general manager Dan Padover and assistant general manager Darius Taylor is paying special attention to the soft skills that make up a player’s character and potential. That extends from observing prospects’ body language and habits to attending practices and communicating with a prospects’ cohort, to gauge how they might fit in Atlanta. 

“Culture is the number one thing we’re looking for,” Wright said on Monday.

When asked whether the front office brass is considering moving up, down or out of the draft, Wright said the team is keeping its options open for the time being, and added that it is too early in the process to make any sort of statement about how they’ll use the pick.

Since free agency comes before the draft and Atlanta possesses $836,241 in cap room (per Her Hoop Stats), the team will have to reevaluate its roster and priorities in February and March. Atlanta also holds the 14th pick in the upcoming draft but will not pick in the third round after trading the selection earlier this year. 

Padover, a two-time Executive of the Year, has historically shown little aversion toward bold draft-day decisions, trading two of the Aces’ picks for Liz Cambage during his first year in Las Vegas and selecting Jackie Young at the top overall spot the same year. According to Basketball-Reference, Young has accumulated the fifth-most win shares among players from her class.

Wright herself is no novice when it comes to the scouting process and had ample input in the front office during her time as an assistant in Las Vegas. Last year, she and Padover selected international player Iliana Rupert with the12th pick in the draft (who did not play in 2021) and later picked Destiny Slocum, who played six minutes per game last season, in the second round. 

“Obviously we have a long way to go,” Wright said of the draft process. “Right now we don’t have anyone in particular. There’s still a lot of college basketball left.”

Written by Spencer Nusbaum

Atlanta Dream and Big 12 reporter, breaking news and other things.

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