July 5, 2023 

How ‘familiar face’ Iliana Rupert bolsters Dream bench

Rupert's 3-point shooting and size will be major add to Dream rotation

Atlanta Dream head coach Tanisha Wright and general manager Dan Padover have been familiar with French center Iliana Rupert‘s game, dating back prior to the 2021 WNBA Draft.

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Padover, formally the general manager of the Las Vegas Aces, and Wright, a top assistant under former Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer, were a part of the contingent to select Rupert with the No. 12 pick in the 2021 draft.

“Me and Dan [Padover] had the opportunity to be in Vegas when she was drafted, so we did a lot of research on her game, and her ability to stretch the floor definitely helps in our system,” Wright told The Next. “We’re excited to add someone with her background and skillset to our team.”

Rupert was waived by the Las Vegas Aces on Feb. 6, and soon thereafter, she was signed by Atlanta on a waiver claim.

Rupert is joining the Dream at the conclusion of EuroBasket and her season with Virtus Bologna in Italy, where she starred alongside fellow Atlanta teammate and All-Star center Cheyenne Parker

“I’m really happy to get to play with CP again; when she heard the news about me coming to Atlanta, she was so happy,” Rupert on playing with Parker again. “She told me a lot of new things and as a player, I know how great she is, but she’s also a really good human being. It’s nice to come to a new team and know someone like CP.”

Rupert is available for the three-game road trip, beginning with a matchup against the Los Angeles Sparks Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. ET. 

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Let’s dive into the film and numbers to see what the Dream is getting in the 6’4, 21-year-old post.

Shooting versatility off the bench

Rupert is the fourth post player on Atlanta’s bench, joining Monique Billings, Naz Hillmon, and Laeticia Amihere, though Rupert’s skillset is the most unique of them all.

“It’s great, I feel like we all bring something very different to the court on offense and defense,” Hillmon said on Atlanta’s frontcourt depth. “It’s nice for game-to-game situations, [depending] on whoever has the better matchup, so the depth there is great… and it’s awesome for us and tough for teams to deal with.”

This past season, Rupert averaged 11.8 points on impressive efficiency across 47 games of international competition – 51% shooting from two, 42.4% shooting from three, and 85.9% shooting from the free-throw line. 

Before now, Atlanta didn’t have a stretch big who can effectively work out of pick-and-pop actions and consistently draw closeouts on spot-up jumpers like Rupert.

“She’s a great shooter, she’s able to stretch the floor and she has great size,” Hillmon said. “She’ll help with giving [Cheyenne Parker] some rest, but we’re really excited about her.”

Defensive growth

The post position is the deepest, most talented crop of players in the world, so it’s typical for defense to be the lengthiest adjustment period for youngsters.

As a rookie, Rupert’s defense left a lot to be desired. She recorded zero blocks in 223 total minutes of action and struggled to position herself in general rim protection assignments.

In Europe this past season, she recorded 43 total blocks, including a two-block performance against Ezi Magbegor and Australia and a three-block outing against Sika Koné and Mali in the World Cup.

Though Rupert is still prone to defensive lapses and unlikely to bolster Atlanta’s No. 10 ranked defense, she is making quicker tags as a help defender on rollers and improving her technique as a drop defender.

“This year, I tried to put focus on my defense because I know it was a little hard for me last year,” Rupert said. “Throughout the season, I thought about it and didn’t want to come back on the same level, you know, I always want to be better… I’ve tried to be more consistent.”

Rupert’s offensive versatility will give Wright the flexibility to play her at the four in lineups with defensive specialists Billings and Amihere and jumbo lineups with Nia Coffey and Parker.

Another piece to Atlanta’s promising young core

Rupert joins a promising Atlanta young core of Rhyne Howard, Aari McDonald, Haley Jones, Hillmon, and Amihere.

Additionally, Rupert is the sixth-youngest player in the WNBA and the second-youngest player on the Dream’s roster, behind Amihere.

She has a team option for the 2025 season but doesn’t hit restricted free agency until 2026.

Written by Hunter Cruse

Hunter Cruse covers the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA Draft for The Next.

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