August 7, 2020
The Atlanta Dream are Chennedy Carter’s team now
Carter scored 35 in Thursday's narrow loss to the Seattle Storm
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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. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Two words Chennedy Carter said after Atlanta’s one-point loss to Seattle stuck out above all the rest.
My team, the rookie point guard said.
Those two words carried the weight of a player who knows what she means to her team and knows what she’s capable of. Point guards largely have to be in control of what their team is doing, and Carter is stepping up to that responsibility.
She isn’t even 22 years old yet. She left Texas A&M a year early and was immediately thrown into what Dream coach Nicki Collen calls the hardest position for a rookie to play in the WNBA — and she had to be the starter with Renee Montgomery opting out to focus on social justice efforts.
“[We’re] teaching her how to be a pro on and off the court,” Collen said at Atlanta’s media day in July. “Teaching her how to lead. There’s a difference between leadership because you’re a captain and leadership because the ball’s in your hands and you’re a point guard. She’s probably not ready to be a leader walking in the door in terms of off the court or being overly verbal, but she’s still got to command her team.”
Thursday night, Carter commanded her team and she commanded attention. Her 35-point, seven assist outing gave her a new career high in points and she’s the first rookie in WNBA history to have 35 points and seven assists in a single game — and the youngest player in WNBA history to score 30+ points in a game.
With 3.1 seconds left, Carter received an inbounds pass from Betnijah Laney after Storm guard Jordin Canada hit two free throws to give Seattle a four-point lead. Carter brought the ball up the floor and launched a 28-foot 3-pointer so quickly she didn’t even have time to get her feet set.
When the ball swished cleanly through the hoop as the buzzer sounded, Carter leapt into the air. With Atlanta down four points, it wasn’t enough to send the game to overtime, but it capped a 53-point second half for the Dream that brought them from down 15 at the half to losing by just one.
They call her Hollywood for a reason.
Despite the loss, Carter had a message for her team — her team — in the locker room.
“I just told our team that that shows how good we really are,” Carter said. “We were this close. Everyone came in and gave us something that we needed. Plus shots, plus minutes, rebounds, boards. I think when we’re all on the same page, we can do something special.”
There are no moral victories, but if there were, Atlanta would’ve gotten one Thursday night. The Dream were down 31-16 after the first quarter, and they’d been up 15-8 in that quarter before Seattle went on a run.
From the second quarter and on, though, Atlanta woke up. The defense, particularly on 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart, got tighter and more consistent. The offense started to come alive. In the end, it wasn’t enough — but just barely.
“A lot of positives to take from it, but I think we’re too good to start talking about moral victories,” Collen said. “I hope that us coming back and some of the good things we did builds confidence in our players that they can do this, but we’ve gotta put four quarters together. We were up 15-8 and then before you knew it, it was 31-16. You just can’t give up and claw your way back from a team that’s this good.”
Carter is one of the players Collen has mentioned needing to put four quarters together, and she played her most complete game yet on Thursday. As Atlanta continues to work through its longest stretch of playing games every other day, Carter’s continued development is essential.
As her name starts to come up in conversations about rookie of the year, particularly after Sabrina Ionescu suffered an unfortunate ankle injury last week, Carter is remaining focused on her improvement. She comes back after every game and dives straight into the film to see what she can do better and get ready for the next opponent.
Atlanta is, after all, her team. That’s a big responsibility for a rookie, but one it’s clear she’s ready to take on — perhaps even quicker than Collen expected back in July.
“I’m still trying to focus on getting us more wins,” Carter said. “Really getting out there and getting my legs wet and me and my team going on a run. That’s the biggest thing. Not so much worried about awards. I’m worried about getting those wins and really starting to find myself and my teammates.”