May 15, 2021
The Atlanta Dream have a size problem
Why the Dream's size is an issue and the plays that explain how to fix it
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The Atlanta Dream have two options this season: create trouble with their speed, or find themselves in trouble with their lack of size. They chose the latter in the season-opener, falling 78-67 loss to the Connecticut Sun.
When it clicks, Atlanta is a problem…
Let’s start with some defensive positivity: the Dream can still do some really, really fun things on the defensive end. For instance, take this first clip, where Atlanta’s two youngest players — Aari McDonald and Chennedy Carter — team up to award Dijonai Carrington with her very own “Welcome to the WNBA” moment:
If speed is more your appetite, let’s reintroduce you to McDonald in clip No. 2:
It was no secret that Atlanta’s defensive ceiling is through the roof, and we caught glimpses of that Friday evening. The Dream had opportunities to run, picking up 14 steals, and we shouldn’t take away from that — it is a very encouraging sign for their future.
…But the chemistry is still a work in progress
Yes, McDonald, Carter, Courtney Williams, and Odyssey Sims are a fun backcourt that will soon fold All-Star guard Tiffany Hayes into the mix. But that joy is repressed if they don’t have the chance to run with the ball. Before the game, Dream interim coach Mike Petersen said that Atlanta would have to play with speed if it wanted to win. Out of the four opening night games, guess which one had the slowest pace.
The Sun passed and posted throughout the season opener, with center Jonquel Jones dipping into her bag of tricks for 26 points and eight rebounds on 10-15 shooting. Let’s get this out of the way early — there isn’t a real path to stop a unicorn like Jones. But if Connecticut was a test for the Dream’s size discrepancy, Atlanta failed. At this point in the season, the Dream’s defensive chemistry doesn’t justify running a smaller lineup, especially against a lengthy roster like Connecticut.
“I mean, [Jones] is impossible to guard,” Petersen said. “She’s 6’6, she can post, she has long arms, and she can make threes. The problem we had guarding her tonight is that we didn’t block her out, she was just able to do so much damage close to the rim. What is she, one of the five best players in our league maybe? She played like it tonight.”
Let’s break down the Dream’s clunky defensive rotations. In the first clip, the 6’6 Jones bolts to post up against 6’0 Crystal Bradford, which Atlanta shouldn’t have allowed to happen. When it did, the rotations had to be quicker. When Tiana Hawkins doubled Jones — which is almost always the right read against a player of her caliber — Monique Billings should have picked up Stephanie Jones under the hoop. Instead, Connecticut gets an uncontested layup. That’s size and chemistry at work. If Atlanta wants to play a small backcourt, the frontcourt needs to be a split-second quicker.
Dream forward Cheyenne Parker certainly would have helped bolster Atlanta’s defense, but she was a late scratch from the lineup after testing positive for the coronavirus this past week. If Parker misses an extended period of time, the early season could be a rough patch.
Without Parker, Atlanta will struggle against teams that have unicorn bigs and wings. Unfortunately for the Dream, the WNBA schedule waits for no one, as two of their next three games come against the Chicago Sky. Atlanta will hope that she can return for the latter of those two games, eyeing a potential Cheyenne Parker vs. Candace Parker matchup.
It’s easy to neutralize speed on the boards
When Carter, McDonald and Courtney Williams are sharing the floor, Atlanta wants to run. But they need to have the ball first.
As we can see in the second clip above, the Dream’s temporary zone and speed were supposed to keep up with Connecticut and generate easy transition looks. But their biggest issue isn’t just that Shekinna Stricklen misreads the play — it’s that they can’t even rebound off of the miscue. Even with four Dream players in the paint, Connecticut gets an easy putback.
The Dream will have no issue generating points off of turnovers, but if they want to run and be a real threat in transition, they’ll need to step up on the defensive boards. On Friday, the Sun rebounded almost half (44.4%) of their misses.
“We had periods where we could disrupt and didn’t just get killed on the glass, but you get out-rebounded by 16, you know, you got problems,” Petersen said. “It’s gonna be a problem for us all year long. We’ve just got to address it.”
It isn’t as if Connecticut was doing all of its damage in the paint. But the Dream were undersized at almost every position. Billings and Elizabeth Williams have power in the paint, but Connecticut worked hard to keep them away from the rim.
It will be interesting to see if Kalani Brown gets more playing time moving forward. Brown was the only active Dream player who did not play in the opener, even though she is the tallest player on the roster at 6’7. Petersen understands the height disparity is an issue. We’ll see how he addresses it against smaller teams.
“Connecticut might be one of the hardest matchups in our league for us because they’re just so long,” Petersen said. “I mean, the player they’ve got at the three, DeWanna Bonner, is taller than anybody on our roster, basically.”
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