Angel McCoughtry's stellar freshman campaign was a major factor behind the Dream's success in 2009.
David DowNBAE/Getty Images

Season Outlook

It didn’t take much – perhaps just an Angel -- for the Atlanta Dream to go from the bottom to nearly the top in just one season.

It is no secret that the Dream were the worst team in the WNBA in 2008. Their 4-30 record featured six less wins than their closest basement-dwelling competitor. If there were facets of the game to lack, they lacked them. What turned out to be a miserable season, however, could have been the best thing to happen yet for the now three-year-old organization. By finishing with the league’s worst record, the Dream secured the top pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft, which they used to grab guard Angel McCoughtry out of the University of Louisville.

McCoughtry had little trouble transitioning from the college to pro game her freshman season. The 23-year-old’s numbers (12.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.2 spg) were some of the best from that draft class, and she was recognized for her efforts with the league’s Rookie of the Year honor. It’s important to note that it was not just her offense that had opposing teams worried, but her defense, as well. Dream head coach Marynell Meadors believes McCoughtry’s upside is tremendous.

“Angel was one of the best, if not the best, rookies from last year. I think she’s gotten a lot better since last year, too,” Meadors said. “Before she didn’t know what to expect, but now she’s got the experience. She’s been successful in college, here and in Europe. I think she’s really coming along.”

Truth be told, McCoughtry is one of several reasons why the Dream improved by 14 games over the previous season to finish 18-16 last year. That record also assured them of their first trip to the postseason, which ended in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after being swept out by the Detroit Shock. Meadors believes her squad may have faired better if not for a season-ending shoulder injury to starting guard Shalee Lehning before the Detroit series.

Lehning, a rookie last season who finished 10th in the league with 3.7 assists a night, is now fully recovered and will resume her duties running the point. She’ll be paired for a second straight season with the Dream’s leading scorer in 2009, Iziane Castro Marques. In 33 games, the seven-year WNBA veteran dropped 14.4 points per game, a career best, from the shooting guard slot. Castro Marquez was one of five Atlanta players to average double-figure scoring last season, the main factor behind them being one of the league’s top offensive units. With Lehning dealing the ball out again, her backcourt partner can expect to be on the receiving end plenty of times.

Meadors has a few options behind Lehning and Castro Marques, including twins Coco and Kelly Miller, as well as Armintie Price, who can also play a small forward. Kelly Miller comes to the Dream after running the point in Minnesota last year. She was also the ball handler for the 2007 WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury. Coco Miller is entering her third season with Atlanta, where she’s mostly served in a reserve role. The Miller sisters haven’t played on the same team since 2000-01 at Georgia. Price, meanwhile, may be the not-so-secret weapon on this Dream team. After being named Rookie of the Year in 2007 with the Chicago Sky, Price has shifted into more of a top-of-the-rotation player. She was only with Atlanta for 11 games last year after being acquired mid-season, but impressed Meadors enough to garner some praise.

“Price has done a great job,” the third-year Dream head coach said. “She’s probably one of the most underrated players in the league. She’s so fast, jumps well and defends. All of that is just propelling her upwards.”

McCoughtry, who started just 10 games last season, will assume a starting forward role this campaign. She’ll supplant WNBA great Chamique Holdsclaw, who is entering her 11th season to which she’s averaged 17 points and 7.9 rebounds. Holdsclaw proved last year she can still play at a high level, but her benching is the only way to get McCoughtry into the lineup. On the other side of the court, Meadors will pencil in 2009 All-Star Sancho Lyttle. The league’s sixth-leading rebounder (7.5 rpg) was a beast on the boards for the Dream, and more importantly, was just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor, posting averages of 13 points with 1.5 assists. The collection of McCoughtry, Holdsclaw and Lyttle will serve as excellent mentors to this year’s first-round draft pick, Chanel Mokango, a 6’5” forward out of Mississippi.

“I think we have a good mix of rookies and veterans on this team,” Meadors said. “The rookies and young players bring an enthusiasm and come to play hard, which helps a lot. Our veterans work hard too, and they’re showing good leadership.”

In the middle will be a fellow All-Star of Lyttle’s, Erika de Souza, who was the only member of the Dream to start all 34 games last season. The center averaged a league’s second-best 9.1 rebounds a game, while also dominating in the blocks department with the fifth-best total (44). De Souza is a threat all over the court, as her defensive skills take away opposing teams’ in-the-paint opportunities and offensively she can score (11.8 ppg). With Yelena Leuchanka not expected to join the team until after the season starts, de Souza will share minutes with third-year center Alison Bales.

After experiencing a full season together, the chemistry created last season could be all that’s needed for the Dream to separate themselves from the pack of Eastern Conference teams fighting for the four playoff spots.

“We definitely have a whole new confidence level,” Meadors said. “They’re definitely motivated to do better than last year and raise the bar.”

Scott Stanchak

Player on the Spot

It’s impossible to deny the fact that McCoughtry has the potential to be a superstar in the WNBA. In fact, with the type of stats she was able to put up her rookie season, there’s no telling how good she can be – on both ends of the floor.

This season, she’ll be stepping into a starting role after coming in off the bench for 24 of 34 games last year. In doing so, McCoughtry will take over for the six-time WNBA All-Star Holdsclaw. While this doesn’t have the same effect as say Aaron Rodgers taking over for Brett Favre – Holdsclaw only spent one season in Atlanta, but her numbers (13.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) were impressive, especially for a 10-year veteran -- it does show the faith that the Atlanta organization has in McCoughtry. Interestingly, the two share an honored connection: Both were former number-one picks who also won Rookie of the Year.

One of the biggest signs that Meadors has full faith in her young forward came during the playoffs, when she wrote McCoughtry into the starting lineup for both games against Detroit. The Louisville product did not disappoint, posting an average of 19 points, three rebounds and two steals. It’s evident that this high-pressured situation didn’t affect the 23-year-old.

McCoughtry must be counted on as one of the leaders on this Dream roster in 2010. This team has the potential to advance past the first round of the playoffs, but the eyes will always be on her as to whether she can get the job done. That’s the way it always is for the top player. With a strong supporting cast though, her job is made slightly easier. She’s already helped push this team up the standings in one season. It’s going to be exciting to see what happens in season two.

Scott Stanchak

Projected Lineup

G.Shalee Lehning
G.Iziane Castro Marques
F.Angel McCoughtry
F.Sancho Lyttle
C.Erika de Souza

Players Added

F.Demetress Adams
F.Alison Bales
G.Dalma Ivanyi
G.Kelly Miller
F.Chanel Mokango
G.Brittainey Raven

Players Lost

F.Michelle Snow
G.Ivory Latta
F.Jennifer Lacy
G.Nikki Teasley
G.Tamera Young

2008 Leaders

PPGIziane Castro Marques14.4
RPGErika de Souza9.1
APGShalee Lehning3.7
SPGAngel McCoughtry2.2
BPGErika de Souza1.2

Team Stats

Points Scored84.1(2nd)
Points Allowed82.3(3rd)
Field-Goal Percentage.449(2nd)
Opponents’ FG%.421(5th)
Rebounding Diff.+2.5(4th)