September 28, 2023
How did Atlanta Dream assess an up-and-down 2023 season?
Padover: ‘I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for this team and what’s to come'
ATLANTA — Despite a quick exit in the 2023 WNBA playoffs at the expense of a two-game sweep to Dallas, the optimism is high for the Atlanta Dream entering the 2023 offseason.
“Over the past four days, what [Tanisha Wright] and I heard from our group of players, led by Rhyne Howard, was how great of a time they had going through this season together and how excited they are to come back again,” Atlanta general manager Dan Padover told the media on Sept. 26. “I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for this team and what’s to come.”
There were a lot of positives for the Dream in 2023, marked by the first playoff appearance since 2018 and three players earning All-Star game bids for the third time in franchise history and the first time since 2017.
“We were able to produce three All-Stars this year, which was amazing to see both Cheyenne [Parker] and Allisha [Gray] be able to accomplish some lifelong goals,” head coach Tanisha Wright said.
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Additionally, when Wright spoke to local media for the first time since Atlanta’s 101-74 season-ending defeat to Dallas on Sept. 19, the second-year head coach reiterated a common focus for her entering the offseason — personal growth.
“I still have so much room to grow as well,” Wright said. “X’s and O’s wise, temperature-wise, all those things. Being able to give myself grace [and] my staff grace in how we grow is important. I need to learn to adapt to the type of players we have… learning who people are as individuals, what makes them go, and how to get the most out of them.”
What did playing in Atlanta mean to Gray? How did Howard fare in her second season? And where can Atlanta improve from here? Let’s dive into it.
Gray finds a home with the Dream
Atlanta’s leap from No. 9 to No. 5 in the WNBA standings was spearheaded by the offseason addition of 28-year-old guard Gray.
Gray was acquired by the Dream on Jan. 21 for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 draft and an unprotected 2025 first-round draft pick.
“Getting Allisha Gray into this fold,” Padover on his top highlight of the season. “I thought adding her to this team and getting a year to play with [Howard] and the rest of our group was a huge win for us.”
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In her first season in Atlanta, she averaged a career-high 17.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 46.5% shooting from the field and 35.6% shooting from the field.
“I feel like this season I was able to see the player I really am,” Gray said. “I can be myself and it was very refreshing and fun.”
Gray’s on-ball offensive role saw a significant boost in 2023 and that allowed her to display her full repertoire as a downhill driver. She was tied for fourth in the WNBA in free-throw attempts (5.4), tied for fourth in and 1s, and No. 18 in field-goal attempts within 5 feet of the rim (167).
“I’m at my best when I’m out there playing and not thinking,” Gray on her freedom in Atlanta’s offense. “When I think, that’s when I get in my [own] head, start missing shots, falling asleep and stuff like that.”
Howard continues to break records
Whether it’s becoming the fastest player in WNBA history to make 100 career 3-pointers, the youngest player to score 43 points in a game, or the youngest player to score 30 points in a playoff debut, Howard has a knack for breaking records.
“Probably the 43-point game,” Howard on her favorite moment of the season. “My teammates knew I was about to make something happen and they wanted me to show what I can after [originally] not being named an All-Star… it was an overall fun time.”
Howard saw steady growth from her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2022. The 23-year-old wing averaged 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists across 39 games of action.
“Just how much of a leader I can be when we don’t really have that presence on our team,” Howard on what she learned about herself in 2023. “Last season, we had Kia Vaughn and Erica Wheeler for us, so I learned a lot with having to step into that role for us.”
“I think she showed that she could step up and be a facilitator, she could be a defender, and she could get a rebound,” Padover on Howard’s growth. “That complete part of her game is special.”
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Rookie season recap: Haley Jones and Laeticia Amihere
“They came in willing to learn and listen, obviously this is the dream for both of them,” Howard on Jones and Amihere’s rookie seasons. “For them to come in and take everything in and use it accordingly was big for us.”
Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2023 draft, averaged 3.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 14.6 minutes per game while appearing in all 40 regular season games for the Dream.
“[Jones] made a lot of adjustments this year,” Howard said. “She had a lot of ups and downs, but you could tell she stayed confident in her own game.”
Ahead of the draft, Jones’ feel for the game and cerebral processing were key factors in her placement in the upper echelon of prospects. As a rookie, that aspect of her game immediately translated. Jones recorded 92 assists to 54 turnovers in her rookie season, including six games with more than three assists and less than three turnovers.
For Amihere, the long, athletic South Carolina forward saw her minutes come sparingly, logging more than 10 minutes in six games on the season. However, it was evident that Amihere appreciated each and every opportunity.
“Having opportunities to see [Amihere] get on the floor was really cool for her with this being a growth year,” Wright said. “The support she received from the team when she had her opportunities and the maturity she has shows she’s a pro.”
Amihere was always viewed as a long-term project for the Dream, but her role could see a significant boost in Year 2 with Monique Billings set to hit unrestricted free agency and Iliana Rupert expected to miss most, if not all of the 2024 season with Olympic obligations for the French national team.
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Where does Atlanta go from here?
Padover spoke on Atlanta’s key areas of focus entering the offseason, citing internal growth and an aggressive approach to both the draft process and free agency.
Entering the 2023 offseason, the Dream have $616,979 in available cap space, which is enough to add over two max salaries, according to HerHoopStats.
Of the three, Coffey is expected to command the most attention from opposing teams, following a career season and a borderline All-Defense campaign.
“Nia’s biggest area of growth was her confidence,” Padover said. “That’s a big credit to [Wright] for Nia finally finding a coach that believed in her, someone she could relate to, and someone she really wanted to go to work for.”
Atlanta is slated to hold the No. 8 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. One focus for the Dream is addressing the lack of a high-level pick-and-roll (PnR) ball-handler. Last season, it was No. 12 in the league in PnR frequency (9.7 possessions per game) and No. 12 in field-goal percentage (32.9%) out of PnR.
Notable prospects to watch for the Dream include Baylor’s Sarah Andrews, Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore, Washington State’s Charlisse Leger-Walker, TCU’s Endyia Rogers, and South Carolina’s Te-Hina Paopao.