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2019 Season Preview: Atlanta Dream

The 2019 WNBA season tips off on May 24. WNBA.com will be previewing every team in the league. See below for a breakdown of the Atlanta Dream.

2018 Recap

Record: 23-11; 2nd in league standings; lost to Washington in Semifinals (5 games)

Leaders: Points: Tiffany Hayes (17.2), Rebounds: Jessica Breland (7.9, 7th WNBA), Assists: Renee Montgomery (3.7), Steals: Montgomery (1.3), Blocks: Breland (1.9, 3rd WNBA), 3-Point Pct: Montgomery (37.1%)

Team Stats: Offensive Rating: 99.9 (10th), Defensive Rating: 97.1 (1st), Net Rating: 2.8 (5th), Rebound Percentage: 49.5 (6th), True Shooting Percentage: 51.4 (11th), Pace: 81.9 (2nd)

Offseason Moves

Free Agency: Re-signed Blake Dietrick; signed free agents Haley Peters and Mengran Sun

Draft: Selected Brianna Turner (No. 11, traded to Phoenix on draft night for Marie Gülich), Maite Cazorla (No. 23) and Li Yueru (No. 35) in the 2019 WNBA Draft

Trades: Acquired Nia Coffey from Las Vegas as part of a three-team trade that included New York, which received a 2020 second round draft pick from Atlanta; Acquired a 2020 third round draft pick from Dallas in exchange for Imani McGee Stafford

Players To Watch

Tiffany Hayes

How will Hayes follow up her career-best season in 2018 that saw her lead the Dream in scoring, earn All-WNBA First Team honors and All-Defensive Second Team honors? It will be a tough task, but may be necessary as the Dream enter 2019 without Angel McCoughtry (out due to injury). With McCoughtry expected to miss a significant portion of the season, the offense will rely more heavily on Hayes in 2019. She is coming off a campaign in which she averaged career highs in both points (17.2) and assists (2.6) – marks that will likely need to increase for Atlanta to stay near the top of the standings.

Renee Montgomery

Montgomery finished her first season in Atlanta in 2018 and put up her best numbers since her early seasons in Connecticut. As a full-time starter for just the second time in her career, Montgomery averaged 10.3 points and led the Dream with 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 37.1% (78-210) shooting from beyond the arc. Last season, Atlanta finished with the fourth-fewest 3-pointers made (5.8) and the third-lowest 3-point percentage (31.8%), as Montgomery was their only reliable deep threat. Hayes finished second in 3-pointers made (42) but shot just 32.1% from beyond the arc.

Jessica Breland

Not only did Breland make her first All-Defensive team in 2018, but she took home First Team honors as the anchor of the league’s top-ranked defense (97.1 points per 100 possessions allowed). Breland led the Dream in rebounds (7.9) and blocks (1.9) — averages that ranked seventh and third in the WNBA, respectively. The Dream ranked third in offensive rebound percentage and fourth in second chance points last season. Breland’s 1.7 offensive rebounds per game ranked second on the Dream, to Elizabeth Williams (2.2).

Alex Bentley

Atlanta acquired Bentley in a mid-season trade with Connecticut in exchange for Layshia Clarendon and a second round pick. Bentley paid dividends upon her arrival, averaging  8.7 points in 20 minutes off the bench in her 16 regular season games with the team. She nearly doubled that mark during Atlanta’s playoff series with Washington, serving as the Dream’s second leading scorer with 15.6 points per game in 24 minutes off the bench. Since her arrival on July 11, Atlanta closed the season ranked third in offensive efficiency (110.0) in their final 16 games.

Brittney Sykes

After coming off the bench for most of the season, Sykes started all five playoff games for the Dream, averaging 12.6 points on 47.6% shooting from the field and 41.2% from beyond the arc. Sykes underwent ankle surgery in the offseason, but looked solid in three preseason games with averages of 9.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.

Nia Coffey

A day after the WNBA Draft, Atlanta acquired Coffey from Las Vegas as part of a three-team deal that saw the Dream send their second round 2020 pick to New York. Coffey was the No. 5 pick in the 2017 Draft, but saw limited playing time during her first two professional seasons. She averaged 5.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in just 10.8 minutes per game for Las Vegas last season. She did start 10 games for the Aces, however, receiving more minutes (21.0 per game as a starter) and her production rose as she averaged 8.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in those games.

Monique Billings

Atlanta’s second round pick from 2018, Billings saw limited minutes during her rookie season, averaging 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 11 minutes per game. Billings spent her offseason playing in China and South Korea before returning to Atlanta. In two preseason games, she averaged 5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in just 9.5 minutes per game. She brought energy and athleticism off the Dream bench last season and will likely do the same in 2019. How many minutes she earns will be something to watch.

Three Questions

How long will Angel McCoughtry be sidelined with her knee injury?

After sitting out the 2017 season, McCoughtry returned to Atlanta in 2018 and looked like she never missed a beat. The 2018 All-Star averaged 16.5 points and a career-best 6.0 rebounds per game before her season came to an end on August 7 due to torn ligaments in her left knee. McCoughtry is continuing to rehab the surgically repaired knee in hopes of returning during the 2019 season. When she will return – or if she will return at all – remains unknown at this point.

“We are prepared to be without her for the entire ’19 season,” Collen said. “That is the approach I went into with free agency, that we couldn’t wait on her and we had to be prepared.”

Can the Dream establish a top five offense to go with their league-leading defense?

The Dream’s resurgence in 2018 was carried by their defense, which ranked first in the league all season long. While their defense was excellent, their offense, however, was not up to par as they finished the season ranked 10th in offensive efficiency.

On a positive note, the Dream offense was much improved during the second half of the season. Here are their offensive ratings by month (May: 92.4; June 89.6; July 105.5; August 112.4). If the team can improve their offense to top-five status and maintain their league-leading defense, they should be in great shape for another long playoff run.

Last season, the other three teams in the final four of the playoffs – Seattle, Washington and Phoenix – ranked second, third and fourth in offensive efficiency, respectively.

Can the Dream return to the Finals for the fourth time?

In their first season under coach Nicki Collen, the Dream set a franchise record for wins (23) and finished just one win away from a trip to the Finals. Despite being the youngest franchise in the WNBA – Atlanta joined as an expansion team in 2008 – the Dream have already made three Finals appearances, still in pursuit of their first WNBA championship.

After going 12-22 and missing the playoffs in 2017, the Dream made a huge leap in 2018 to join the ranks of title contenders. They are one of many teams that will begin the 2019 season without one of its star players. How well they can recover from McCoughtry’s absence will go a long way toward determining their ceiling in 2019.