June 5, 2020
2020 Season Simulation: Atlanta Dream starting to put things together
Introducing a season while we wait for the season
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We are proud to announce a collaboration with Pivot Analysis to bring you a simulated 2020 WNBA season, based on the schedule as originally written. We’ll be reporting on it, and speaking to league figures out the sim season, as we await the return to play. See the full results, box scores and standings, continually updated, here.
Nicki Collen thought she’d made the right improvements. After last year’s dismal season for the Atlanta Dream, in which the Dream finished with a league-worst 8-26 record and at the bottom of nearly every offensive statistical category, Collen and general manager Chris Sienko approached the offseason with a mindset of making things better.
But through the first nine games of the 2020 season, the improvements Collen thought they’d made haven’t always shown up on the court, though there have been signs of progress in recent games.
The Dream are ninth in the WNBA, per the standings provided by Pivot Analysis in their WNBA season simulation, with a 4-8 record. But after a slow start, the Dream have won four of their last eight.
The biggest issue Collen wanted to fix was the offense, and the Dream brought in players like Shekinna Stricklen and Courtney Williams — as well as first-round pick Chennedy Carter — to address the offensive woes of last season. But so far, Atlanta’s offense ranks ninth in the league, and the Dream have only shot above 40 percent from the field four times — and only once above 45 percent.
Three-point shooting percentage is a particularly sticky issue for Collen. Especially with the addition of players like Stricklen, who shoots 37.5 percent in her career from beyond the arc, Collen expected the Dream to be finding more success from long range. Instead, Stricklen is shooting just barely more than 30 percent this season and only averages two made three-pointers per game.
“Knowing we’ve got a new roster, and we know it’s going to be a process, I think the disappointing thing is we’ve built a roster that I think is capable of being a good three-point shooting team,” Collen said May 18. “And when you kind of look at those, and we certainly opened with a back-to-back, but only shooting 28 percent in the opener, and it wasn’t much better the second day. I think that’s the biggest glaring thing.
“If you look at what our weakness was this past year and then said, ‘Okay, how do we identify and fix that?’ And then we’re going to start opening weekend and shoot the same percentage we shot last year, then that that would be my biggest frustration.”
Efficiency for the Dream’s highest-volume shooters has also been an issue. Tiffany Hayes is averaging almost 15 points per game and has put up double figures in every single game thus far, but she’s only shooting 36.13 percent and averages 4.78 makes out of 13.22 shots per game.
“She’s truly emerging into a new role, even over the last couple of years as she’s become our go-to player,” Collen said on May 30. “… While she’s not the oldest player on our team, when it comes to her time in Atlanta, this is kind of her chance to continue to assert herself that she’s one of the best players in the league and going to be someone that can lead the Dream now and going forward.”
Carter, too, has struggled from an efficiency perspective, which could be due to her inexperience in the WNBA, but nonetheless is a point of concern for Collen, who drafted Carter because of her offensive track record.
“I think it’s just a matter of repetition and are we getting the shots that we want?” Collen said. “…Just really understanding where our good shots are at within the offense and then just repping those things in practice, whether it’s in shooting drills before practice or even live simulation during practice. It’ll come. I think it’s just a matter of getting that game under your belt where everybody shoots the basketball well, and then it’s a domino effect from there.”
The Dream’s offense has shown signs of life in recent games, and Atlanta just put up its highest point total of the season — 85 — in a June 5 win over Chicago. If the trend continues, Collen should begin to see the results of the offseason roster improvements on the offensive side of the floor.
The Dream have now won three of their last four games — though, again, two of those wins came over a rebuilding New York team — and could be starting to put some momentum together. Since the season-opening 88-66 loss, Atlanta has had only one game decided by more than eight points — the 85-73 win over the Sky.
“We’ve always competed well against Chicago,” Collen said. “I think they’re a team that’s incredibly hard to guard because their spacing is so good and they have the best point guard in the world in Courtney Vandersloot right now. You kinda have to, at times, make her a scorer because she’s so good at facilitating and getting people shots where they want them. It always comes down to, can you get back in transition and stop their wings from getting easy ones? Can you, to some degree, contain Courtney Vandersloot? That’s the big thing. They’ve always been a team that we’re able to score against.”
Then came an 88-76 victory over Seattle on simulated June 9, a Dream performance reminiscent of their 2018 campaign. Six Dream players scored in double figures, led by Tiffany Hayes’ 18.
As the Dream begin to gain momentum and find footing as a team, the offseason improvements and Collen’s overall goals for the team will come into focus. Atlanta only returned four players from last season, so despite the relative veteran status of the team, it’s a group of players that haven’t played together for very long.
It takes time for things to come together, but a couple of recent close wins and double-digit victories over Chicago and Seattle could be a sign of things starting to come together.
“Our identity is that we’re gonna compete on every night,” Collen said. “Win or lose, we’re gonna game plan for the next one and expect to go out there and compete again.”