August 11, 2020 

Carter’s injury creates uncertainty at point guard for Atlanta

Chennedy Carter went down in the first quarter with a left ankle injury and did not return to the game

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PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 6: Chennedy Carter #3 of the Atlanta Dream handles the ball against the Seattle Storm on August 6, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. 

Barely three minutes into the first quarter, with the game tied at 9, Chennedy Carter drove to the basket and stepped awkwardly with her left foot. She fell hard, and after she was helped up, she limped off the court with a trainer. Carter was putting weight on her foot and received X-rays and an MRI at the hospital Monday night.

But while Carter was away getting her ankle looked at, her team looked lost and struggled its way to its fourth straight loss, falling to the Connecticut Sun, 93-82.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the loss.

Point guard is a question mark without Carter

Carter was averaging 28.7 minutes per game coming into Monday’s game against the Sun and had played 30+ minutes in Atlanta’s last three games. While Dream coach Nicki Collen would prefer not to be starting a rookie at the point in a normal season, with Renee Montgomery opting out, Carter had her number called and looked very comfortable with the role right away.

Behind her on the depth chart is Blake Dietrick, who played 23:30 after Carter went out, mostly at the point guard spot, and finished the game with just two points. She did dish out five assists and she’s a valuable defender, but filling in the hole of Carter’s scoring abilities will have to come elsewhere.

Courtney Williams is another option, but Collen has said they like Williams better at the ‘2’, so her running the point for an extended period of time isn’t optimal.

“It made us run Courtney some at the ‘1’, which we’ve tried to avoid,” Collen said after the game. “We’re going to have to work on it because I don’t know if we’ll get her back or how quickly. I just don’t have any idea at this point.”

Williams missed training camp and the first few games of the season after testing positive for COVID-19 before joining the team, so, as is to be expected, it’s taking her some time to get up to speed with the Dream’s playbook. She played almost 24 minutes and finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench Monday night.

With the timeline of Carter’s injury still unknown, the Dream will likely use a committee approach at the point guard spot while Carter works to return.

“We’re going to turn it over probably more if Chennedy’s not on the floor because Chennedy, even though she will sometimes turn it over, she puts pressure on the defense,” Collen said. “When we’re relying on ball movement and player movement and things like that and we’re maybe out-athleted at a certain position, we had trouble at times initiating offense and getting open. I think that that was a lot of [the loss].”

Kalani Brown’s return to the court

When asked about a timeline for when Brown might see game action before Monday’s game, Collen said Brown still had work to do to get in game shape after suffering from COVID-19.

“She’s gotta get in shape,” Collen said. “She knows it. I’m looking forward to the time when she just buries people two feet from the rim and gives us a lift around the rim. She’s an incredible athlete for her size. She’s just got a lot of work to do to get herself ready to be able to compete with the pace that the games are being played at here. When I feel like she’s capable of playing a two-minute stretch and not be so winded that we can get effort at both ends out of here, I’ll be ready to throw her out there. I think she’s going to be super valuable to us. I just don’t know how long it’s gonna take to get us there.”

Just a couple hours later, with the Dream trailing 70-50 in the third quarter, Collen put Brown in the game. Atlanta had been bullied in the paint all night, and as the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-7, Brown provided — if nothing else — a larger body to try to slow Connecticut down.

Brown ended up playing almost 11 minutes and finished second on the team in points with 13 after a 5-of-9 effort from the field.

“I felt good,” Brown said. “I lasted longer than I actually thought. It’s only my fourth day out [on the court], so I’m just working back in, trying to get back in shape. Just taking it one day at a time.”

“She’s hard to guard, I can tell you that,” Collen added. “We very quickly found different ways to throw it into the post. … She’s gotta get in shape. There’s no doubt. She had a couple fouls that I thought were fouls of just tiredness. … Proud of how hard she played. Wasn’t sure we could play her that many minutes without getting her a sub, but when you get in that kind of game, it gives you a chance to work on stuff.”

Brown probably won’t play 11 minutes in the Dream’s next game, but it was an encouraging sign for both a player that’s working to come back from illness and a team that can use that kind of presence in the paint.

Good minutes from bench players

In Atlanta’s last few games, Collen hasn’t gone deep into her bench much, if at all. Jaylyn Agnew hadn’t played since getting two minutes against Seattle (8/8), Brittany Brewer hadn’t played since getting three minutes against Indiana (8/2) and Alexis Jones hadn’t played since the second game of the season.

But late in the game, after the chance at a win had slipped away, Collen went to her deeper bench players. In the fourth quarter, Collen gave Brown, Brewer, Jones and Agnew more minutes than they’ve typically seen, and they took full advantage of the opportunity.

Atlanta outscored Connecticut 21-12 in the fourth quarter and held the Sun scoreless over the last five minutes of the game.

“I thought that last group, that group I was in, even though we hadn’t played together and didn’t [do] much in practice, we were just like, ‘OK, we’re going to get out here and do it and play hard,’” Brown said. “I thought we played really hard toward the end and didn’t let the score bother us.”

“I think we were just trying to figure it out on the court,” Jones added. “Sometimes when a big player goes down like that, sometimes it’s hard to get back on the focus because you have to change the whole game. Chennedy is definitely our majority ball handler. I think we were just trying to figure it out without her. [Collen] has been playing her a lot of minutes, and it’s different when you don’t have your main ball handler to attack the rim, get you the things that the offense has shown. I think the second group, we just came out and we did what we did best.”

Again, while the extent of Carter’s injury is unknown at this point, getting good minutes from the players deeper on Atlanta’s bench is a positive sign moving forward. It’s worth noting that most of that group’s success came against Connecticut’s bench, too, so it’s no guarantee that they could carry a larger load against another team’s starters, but game experience is good experience and it should still be a confidence builder for those players.

Atlanta has a tough stretch coming up — its next three games are against Seattle, Phoenix and Chicago — and losing Carter or having her at less than full strength will undoubtedly hurt in those games. And while there are still numerous questions about how the Dream will look in their next game, the added experience for each player on the roster can only be a benefit.

Written by Bailey Johnson

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