February 22, 2021 

Stretch fours and ‘security blankets’: Atlanta loads up for 2021

How Tianna Hawkins and Yvonne Turner fit the Dream, and what comes next

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Dream coach Nicki Collen felt her team needed to add a stretch four to its lineup in free agency and signed two of them: Cheyenne Parker and Tianna Hawkins. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nicki Collen has asked Mike Thibault for years if he’d be willing to trade Tianna Hawkins to the Atlanta Dream.

“My team will kill me if I ever trade her,” Thibault once responded. Hawkins was beloved throughout the Mystics’ organization for her professionalism and her attitude, in addition to her abilities on the court.

But when Hawkins became a free agent this offseason and decided she’d be willing to explore her options outside of her hometown Washington, D.C., Collen jumped at the chance to add Hawkins to the Dream.

“I thought she was always one of those players that was super effective and maybe didn’t get enough minutes just because of how crowded their backcourt was,” Collen said Friday. “…I think (signing Hawkins) solidified us in terms of what we can do with our front court, different lineups that we can play. Smaller lineups, bigger lineups but always lineups that can help us offensively stretch.”

Acquiring players that can help stretch the floor on offense was a top priority for Collen and the Dream heading into the offseason. On numerous occasions, Collen talked about how badly they wanted to find a stretch four who could help open up space for both Elizabeth Williams and the Dream’s ball-dominant guards like Chennedy Carter.

“We really thought a year ago that we needed a stretch four to make us good,” Collen said. “When you think about our spacing and our issues offensively, we just really have not put a player at that power forward position that can stretch the D, which makes the lane tighter for our guards, it makes the lane tighter for Elizabeth on rolls. Offensively, this league is about spacing and how you can create it…

“We went into last offseason thinking we needed players who were effective five feet (from the rim) and in and players who were effective from behind the arc. We identified (Shekinna) Stricklen as someone who could hit behind the arc, and we really thought Glory (Johnson) would be that four player that could do a little bit of everything. I think when you look at Cheyenne, she’s been a player that’s been developing little by little, year after year. Was one of the best in the league inside of five feet, her effective field goal percentage and really her ability to stretch the defense all the way to the arc. She gives you that bigger power forward that you can take advantage of on the block. She can shift and play the five and be a stretch five. We really targeted her in the offseason.”

With Parker and Hawkins, Collen is hopeful that the Dream have solidified a rotation at the four that will allow them to have a perimeter shooting presence on the floor at all times. Sunday, the Dream also re-signed Kaela Davis, who joined them late in the 2020 season and didn’t play much in the bubble. Davis is an intriguing player with a lot of versatility and should add depth in the frontcourt.

The trade for Yvonne Turner’s signing rights and subsequent signing of Turner didn’t bring as many headlines as Parker’s signing or even Hawkins’, but Collen identified Turner as someone who will bring valuable depth at point guard behind Carter.

The Dream originally expected to have Maite Cazorla in that spot, who backed up Renee Montgomery as a rookie in 2019 but sat out the 2020 season, but Collen anticipates that Cazorla will make the Spanish national team. Because this coming season will intersect with both Eurobasket and the Olympics, if Cazorla does make the Spanish team, the odds she’d be available to play in the WNBA for any meaningful length of team aren’t high.

Enter Turner, who Collen described as a “security blanket” at backup point guard.

“Yvonne Turner was someone that we felt like could provide off the bench and be a veteran and be a positive veteran that way,” Collen said. “It was kind of one of those security blanket things where we know she’s played valuable minutes in this league. She’s played in playoff games. She’ll play whatever role you need her to. That’s what that was really about, knowing Renee was going to retire and Maite’s situation, trying to solidify ourselves potentially before the draft in terms of what our bench would look like.”

This draft will be unique, with everything from the ongoing pandemic to the extra year of eligibility for all college players adding an extra layer of complexity. Collen and her staff don’t just have to decide what juniors they think might enter the draft; they also have to look at seniors that can decide to return to school for one more year.

With the uncertainty around the draft, Collen and her staff are planning to focus on free agency to add another player or two — perhaps backcourt depth, or a player who can shoot and brings “something different” off the bench, as Collen defined it — so they can go into the draft not needing to fill a specific hole on the roster.

“We don’t know who’s coming out and we’re not gonna know because seniors have to declare now as well with all the new rules. It’s a little hard to leave things up to the draft at this point. You put yourself in position that, regardless of what it looks like, you potentially have the ability to take the best player and not be pigeon-holed into, ‘We have to take a point guard’ or ‘We have to take a big.’

“You want to be in that situation where you feel like potentially you’re adding a player that can be a big part of your franchise for years to come as opposed to filling a hole that you need to fill right here and now.”

Written by Bailey Johnson

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