August 1, 2020 

What we’ve learned so far about the Atlanta Dream

Through three games, the Dream are 2-1, with wins over the Wings and the Liberty and a loss to the Aces

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Chennedy Carter #3 of the Atlanta Dream shoots the ball against the New York Liberty on July 31, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

In any other year, three games wouldn’t be enough to make statements about how a team is going to look throughout the season. You might be able to get an idea, but in a 34-game season, three games is only 8.8% of the season.

But this isn’t any other year, and three games is almost 14% of the 22-game season. So, after the Atlanta Dream’s first three games, here’s what we’ve learned and what we can expect going forward.

Not overreacting to the Aces loss

Wednesday night’s 100-70 loss to the Las Vegas Aces was, to put it lightly, not pretty. Atlanta shot 40% from the field and only made five of its 28 attempts from beyond the arc, and the Dream didn’t make free throws either. They also got out-rebounded, 47-25. Dream coach Nicki Collen summed it up pretty succinctly after the game.

“We didn’t play well,” Collen said. “It’s a simple as that.”

But despite the ugliness of the loss, there are a lot of reasons not to overreact. First of all, the game was at 10 p.m. Collen said she didn’t think the late hour would affect her team very much, but rather the shortened warmup if the previous game on the court went long, and that’s exactly what happened. Atlanta ended up with only about 35 minutes to warm up before the game, which messed with its normal pregame routine.

Second, Glory Johnson was cleared to play Wednesday morning and then was scratched at the last minute before the game. But because Johnson had been cleared and activated, the Dream had to waive Erica McCall who they’d signed under a hardship exemption, so Atlanta ended up with only nine available players and was forced to give a lot of minutes to rookies Brittany Brewer and Jaylyn Agnew, who Collen has said need some more time to adjust to the WNBA.

“I think we were dealt a blow before the game ever started and I’d like to say it didn’t affect us but I think it probably did,” Collen said. “I think Vegas came out and they did the things that we knew they were going to do. They offensive rebounded. They got in transition. We didn’t do a good job getting the ball stopped. … We just have to get better.”

Offensive outpouring against Dallas yet to be repeated

When Atlanta dropped 105 points in the season opener against the Wings, those around the league were more than a little surprised. The Dream’s offense was worst in the league last year in nearly every statistical category, and while they worked hard in the offseason to bring in new personnel to address the issue, few expected the impact to be so immediate — especially without Courtney Williams, who hadn’t yet been cleared.

Three days later, Atlanta mustered just 70 points against Las Vegas. The shooting regressed to what we saw in the 2019 season and star rookie Chennedy Carter went 3-for-11 to finish with 11 points.

In Friday night’s game against New York, the offense looked better, but the Dream still only scored 84 points and shot just 37.3%. Carter’s efficiency was once again an issue, though she finished with 17 points and has scored double-figures in every game of her career so far.

“We didn’t make a whole lot of shots tonight,” Collen said Friday. “We made some late, but we missed certainly a lot of good opportunities. When [Shekinna] Stricklen gets an open three, I pretty much am ready to count it. She missed some key shots.”

Carter still figuring things out

In the first edition of Chennedy Carter vs. Sabrina Ionescu, the win went to Carter, but that may be by default as Ionescu left the game in the second quarter with an ankle sprain.

But in the first 15 minutes of the matchup, there were signs of how that rivalry will develop over their careers. Carter was more locked in on defense in the first quarter than she’s been all season and she clearly took the matchup personally.

As Atlanta opened the game on a 13-0 run, Carter made shots and came up with stops at the defensive end of the floor. But as New York got itself back in the game, Ionescu began to heat up and scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting despite only playing 12 minutes. Carter picked up three fouls in the first half and ended up fouling out with 85 seconds left in the game while the Dream were clinging to a three-point lead.

“I thought our energy to start the game, our intensity [was good],” Collen said. “Obviously Chennedy was really engaged on Ionescu and having Betnijah [Laney] on Layshia [Clarendon], those were really good matchups for us. Then it wavered.”

Atlanta still came away with the win, and Carter made some key shots down the stretch to keep her team in the game. But it was a reminder that she’s still a rookie and still only three games into her career. She doesn’t have everything figured out yet — but that’s to be expected.

Betnijah Laney’s exactly what Atlanta needed

In Laney’s first few seasons in the WNBA, she developed a reputation of playing excellent defense but not adding a ton on the offensive end of the floor. Then she came to Atlanta.

Through the first three games of the year, Laney has set a new career high in points twice — first with 19 points against Dallas in the opener and then Friday night with 30 against the Liberty. She leads the Dream with an average of 19 points per game.

Atlanta was without Courtney Williams for training camp and the first two games of the season, and while she’s now active and available, it’ll take some time to bring her up to speed. Without that kind of go-to scorer, the Dream needed someone to step up, and Laney’s done just that.

“She plays hard,” Collen said. “It’s not complicated. She’s skilled. A lot of it’s her effort. She cuts hard, so she gets open on cuts. She’s prepared to catch it and score. I’ve said since we did individual workouts in Atlanta and watched her shoot and watched her shoot her jump shot that she clearly is better than I thought she was. I’ve said it since camp started as well.

“It’s an amazing thing when the light bulb goes off or that ah-ha [moment] or whatever that is where all of a sudden, us not having Courtney to start the season and not having Tiffany [Hayes] and needing Betnijah to do what she’s doing in order for us to be successful, it’s just flipped a switch.”

Added Laney: “I’ve worked really hard in the off-season. [It is] just me having the opportunity, and Nicki having the confidence in my offensive abilities and just giving me that freedom has really set me free.”

Courtney Williams and Glory Johnson need some time

Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 during the initial quarantine period at IMG Academy, and though she was asymptomatic the entire time, it took almost three weeks to be released from isolation and cleared to rejoin the team. In the time she was away from the team, Johnson wasn’t allowed to do any kind of workout. Not just any kind of basketball workout, but any kind of workout at all. She had one practice with the Dream on Thursday before playing in her first game Friday night.

Williams also tested positive and was asymptomatic, though she tested positive before joining the team and thus joined Atlanta late. She arrived at IMG Academy late last week and went through the quarantine and testing process before joining the Dream for her first practice on Thursday and also made her first appearance in an Atlanta jersey on Friday night.

One practice is hardly enough time to learn a team’s systems, and that’s exactly what Johnson and Williams showed Friday night.

“Part of the problem with our bench tonight is as good as Courtney and Glory are, they’ve had one practice,” Collen said. “We were very simplified in what actions we could run.”

Williams played just over 16 minutes and went 2-for-10 shooting to finish with six points. Johnson played a bit more than seven minutes and didn’t appear to be fully comfortable on the floor, which is to be expected after not working out for multiple weeks.

Atlanta is now in the heart of its longest stretch of having games every other day. The Dream will play eight games in the next 16 days before having two days off in a row. There likely won’t be much practice time for Williams and Johnson to get up to speed, but Collen plans to take advantage of the time they have.

“We’re gonna have to keep figuring things out,” Collen said. “I already told them in [the locker room], tomorrow’s gonna be a five-on-0 day. Courtney needs to learn our plays, like really learn our plays. Glory needs to run our plays because the playbook shrunk when we put them in the game. Once they’re up to speed, which is hard to do when you’ve been in one practice, we’re gonna hit our stride eventually.”

Written by Bailey Johnson

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