July 15, 2021 

What Cheyenne Parker’s absence means for the Dream

Cheyenne Parker announced her pregnancy; Atlanta faces some questions

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Cheyenne Parker warms up. Photo: Kelsey Bibik/Atlanta Dream

The Atlanta Dream family is about to get a little bigger, even if the rotation is about to get a little smaller. In a piece for The Players’ Tribune on Wednesday, Atlanta forward Cheyenne Parker announced that she is pregnant with her first child and will miss the remainder of the 2021 season. In the article, Parker opened up about vulnerable aspects of her story, including her delayed decision to get vaccinated out of caution for her baby’s health and the support of the WNBA Player’s Union in securing fully-paid maternity leave and benefits.

Parker’s absence will invariably affect the Dream’s aspirations on the court, as the team loses its best interior scorer and one of its best defenders in an already-thin frontcourt. It also means that the team’s best starting lineup, which features Chennedy Carter, Courtney Williams, Tiffany Hayes, Elizabeth Williams and Parker, will not play a game together this season.

What Parker has provided, and who needs to step up

Although Parker missed the team’s first six games of the season due to COVID and health and safety protocols, she didn’t miss much of a beat upon return and has since been Atlanta’s best post player in the rotation. The seventh-year pro averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in her 13 games, and fit into the stretch big and two-way archetype that the front office had in mind when it signed her this offseason.

Though Parker’s efficiency and minutes both dipped this season, much of that can be accredited to the learning curve that a new offensive system and second trimester of a pregnancy presents.

In Atlanta’s final game before the Olympic Break, Parker said that she would be back to 100 percent after this season and for the final two years of her multi-year deal. Parker is the only player on the Dream with guaranteed money after this season, per Her Hoop Stats.

Until then, the team has some questions to answer.

The team’s remaining post rotation is chopped down to just three players in Tianna Hawkins, Monique Billings and Elizabeth Williams. None possess the all-around skillset that Parker does. Hawkins started eight games this season and will likely return to the starting lineup for the second half of the season.

While Hawkins has playoff experience and developed a reliable outside shot in Washington, she doesn’t provide the same creation on offense or size on defense that Parker can. And though both Billings (who leads Dream posts in +/-) and Williams (who leads the same group in minutes) have strong defensive track records, neither is able to stretch the floor for Atlanta.

That’s a problem for the Dream, whose otherwise-reliable shooters have struggled to create space for the slashers in Carter and Hayes.

Atlanta also has several bigger wings in Crystal Bradford and Shekinna Stricklen who should fill in at the 4-spot off of the bench and can make Atlanta a more dynamic offense. But neither can match Parker’s defensive talent around the basket, and that’s a heavy cost to pay for the worst defensive team in the WNBA.

The Atlanta Dream’s “Big 4” has struggled to stay on the floor in 2021.

The Dream are currently 2.5 games back of a playoff spot. Though interim coach Mike Petersen said he is hopeful that Carter and Hayes will return to the lineup after the Olympic Break, making up that sort of ground in the team’s 13 remaining games is a demanding goal. Since June 1, the Dream have the worst record in the WNBA at 2-11.

The road won’t get much easier, as other sub-.500 such as the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and Washington Mystics are expected to fold star players back in their lineups in August. Atlanta has proved it can win without Parker, so long as Hayes, Carter and Williams are on the floor. But the margin for error is razor-thin.

The Atlanta Dream’s record with each combination of players in their rotation. The team did not play a game with the entirety of its “Big 4.”

Next steps for the front office?

The front office has hesitated to make a splash this season, and without a general manager, it is unclear if the Dream will arrange a trade or signing with their two open spots. Since May 29, Atlanta is the only team in the WNBA that has not made a personnel move, per Kurtis Zimmerman’s Across the Timeline.

If the team wishes to sign a veteran big, Candice Dupree could comfortably fill that role in Atlanta. The Seattle Storm waived Dupree on July 2, and though she does not provide the same spacing Parker did, one of the league’s legends could provide a boost in the locker room and as a role player on the court, especially off of the ball.

If Atlanta is looking for a taller, true big that can space the floor, its options are thin. Joyner Holmes, who the Las Vegas Aces recently waived, is one possible player for the team to look at. In all likelihood, however, Parker’s absence signals more minutes for Bradford and Hawkins, especially if Atlanta looks to keep up its high-pressure scheme heading into the second half.

Written by Spencer Nusbaum

Atlanta Dream & Big 12 reporter, breaking news and other things.

1 Comment

  1. Roger on August 3, 2021 at 1:17 am

    Nice lede, Spencer.

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