June 22, 2021 

What Tiffany Hayes’ injury means for the Atlanta Dream

Plus, updates on Chennedy Carter and the final roster spots

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Tiffany Hayes jogs back the court against the Washington Mystics on June 17, 2021. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

Well, more bad news for the Atlanta Dream.

On Monday afternoon the team announced that star guard Tiffany Hayes will miss the next four to six weeks with a Grade 2 MCL tear after colliding with Ariel Atkins in Thursday’s loss to the Washington Mystics.

Hayes replaces fellow guard Chennedy Carter on the sidelines, who has not played since May 29 with an elbow injury but is expected to return for Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Lynx. Atlanta was 1-5 in her absence.

Hayes’ loss is the next in a line of setbacks that have prevented the Dream’s Big 4 (Hayes, Carter, Courtney Williams and Cheyenne Parker) from playing at the same time. Atlanta has yet to play a game with all four stars in the rotation.

“Well, we’ve kind of been in the adjustment business all year,” interim coach Mike Petersen said. “Now we have to adjust offensively and defensively. Frankly, they’ve done an awesome job on offense, we just need to get a little better on defense.”

With the Olympic Break set for July 12 – August 14, Hayes is expected to miss the Dream’s seven games in June and July. Even with the benefit of the break, those seven games could make a world of difference in a league where 11 of the 12 teams still have playoff hopes.

Hayes was averaging 17.6 points, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game and anchored Atlanta’s offense in Carter’s absence. Hayes emerged as a three-level scorer within the first few games of the season, and her gravity as a spacer and a slasher will be missed before the break. The Dream’s offense is built to win based on the versatility of a three-guard lineup, and Hayes’ injury complicates that plan.

“You’re not going to just plug somebody in and say ‘Go be Tiffany’, that’s not how it works,” Petersen said. “We’ll adjust and make up for her loss with a group of people.”

That adjustment means the Dream will see even more of Odyssey Sims, who is peaking at the perfect time. Atlanta will desperately need her production to stay near the 21 points, 5.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game that she’s averaged over the team’s past two games. Petersen praised Sims’ on both ends of the floor and noted that she will regularly play alongside another point guard while Hayes is out.

“This gives us a lineup where we’re probably going to have two point guards on the floor, a lot of the time, and so it adds an additional ball-handler,” Petersen said. “She’s played fabulous last several games … we’ve had a lot of moving parts that have had to develop synergy with one another, and Odyssey has done a great job of that.”

Williams, too, has to step up in Hayes’ sabbatical, and Atlanta is long overdue to call consistent sets for her off of the ball. Few players in the WNBA are better at coming off of screens, and perhaps a more Williams-centric offense gets her back to the 20 points per game mark she was hitting earlier in the season.

All that is to say this: the absence of Hayes’ spacing, passing and shot-making will make it harder for everyone to maintain their peak performance.

Options as Hayes rehabilitates

The Dream now have a choice ahead with their two open roster spots. If they choose to sign two players, including one with a hardship exception, they may. Sources tell The Next, however, that a roster addition is not a guarantee — though the front office could change its mind.

If it does, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who participated in Atlanta’s training camp, is a potential match. Walker-Kimbrough’s creation schematically mirrors that of Hayes, who gets rolling in the pick-and-roll, off of spot-ups and in transition. Her outside shooting would bring extra space to an Atlanta roster that desperately needs it, as she shot 43.1 percent from deep in the bubble last season.

Kaela Davis and Mikayla Cowling are two other names that the Dream could call. Before departing for Baylor, former Dream coach Nicki Collen had dubbed Cowling as a player who was exceeding expectations in the pre-season. Davis showed promise during her first three seasons for the Dallas Wings but was relegated to a slew of DNPs in the bubble last year on Atlanta.

If the Dream wishes to sign a post player, the Dream could realistically make two phone calls: one to Kalani Brown, who was waived earlier in the season, and another to Natasha Mack, who has been in and out of the Chicago Sky’s roster throughout the year.

Written by Spencer Nusbaum

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

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