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Five Reasons To Watch The Dream Work This Season

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2016 Record: 17-17

Key Offseason Moves:
Re-Signed Layshia Clarendon
Acquired Aneika Henry-Morella from Connecticut for Reshanda Gray

2016 Season Highlights:

Atlanta Dream 2016 Season Highlights

 

Hayes’ Time To Shine

After having a bit of a down year in 2015, Dream guard Tiffany Hayes bounced back and enjoyed the best season of her career last summer. She was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Angel McCoughtry, averaging 15 points per game on 44 percent shooting. Hayes concluded her breakout season with a 30-point outing in Atlanta’s playoff loss to the Chicago Sky.

Now entering her sixth season in Atlanta, Hayes will be counted on more than ever as the Dream aim to get back to the playoffs. McCoughtry, the team’s go-to scorer for the last eight years, announced she will be resting during the upcoming campaign. There’s a chance McCoughtry could return at some point this summer, but it’ll be up to Hayes to shoulder much of the scoring load in her absence.

One aspect of Hayes’ game to keep an eye on is three-point shooting. The former UConn star has shot about 27 percent from deep each of the last two seasons after connecting on 36 percent of her triples in 2014. An improvement from downtown would be crucial for the Dream, who ranked last in three-point shooting a season ago.

Run And Gun

If you prefer an up-tempo team that thrives in transition, Atlanta is the one to watch, as the Dream have led the WNBA in fast break points for three straight years. They are traditionally among the best at forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, and their style of play remained the same after Michael Cooper took over as head coach in 2014.

Another stat that reflects their style is possessions per game: Atlanta has ranked first or second in that category for eight consecutive years. It remains to be seen whether McCoughtry’s absence will affect the team’s success in the fast break. She has always been among the league leaders in steals.

Most Improved

In addition to Hayes, another player that will need to step up with McCoughtry gone is forward Elizabeth Williams. She proved to be one of the WNBA’s brightest young stars last season, winning the league’s Most Improved Player award in her first year with the Dream. Williams had played limited minutes for the Sun as a rookie before arriving in Atlanta via trade.

As a full-time starter in 2016, Williams averaged 11.9 points, 8.1 rebounds (fifth in the WNBA) and 2.3 blocks (second in the WNBA). She finished sixth in defensive plus-minus and led the entire league in offensive rebounds with more than three per contest. If the Dream make another run at the postseason this year, it will likely be because Williams raised her game to an All-Star level.

Running The Show

Williams wasn’t the only new face on the squad last year, as guard Layshia Clarendon arrived via trade just before the 2016 season. Clarendon was originally drafted in the first round by the Fever in 2013, and she was a key contributor in her 20 minutes per game for the defending champions as a rookie. But for most of her time in Indiana, she was rarely able to crack the starting rotation.

That changed in her first year with Atlanta, when Clarendon started 32 of 34 regular-season games and had a career season. The 5-9 guard averaged personal bests across the board: 10.4 points, 3.5 assists, 4.3 boards and 47 percent shooting. Clarendon will be running the show for Atlanta once again after re-signing as a restricted free agent in the offseason.

Opportunity For Young Players

In the past two drafts, the Dream selected guards Bria Holmes (2016) and Brittney Sykes (2017) with their first-round picks. Holmes should be in line to assume McCoughtry’s place in the starting lineup after a promising rookie season. She appeared in all but one game for the Dream, averaging 7.5 points on 44 percent shooting in about 21 minutes per contest.

Sykes, the No. 7 overall pick in this year’s draft, has the potential to help Atlanta with its lack of outside shooting. She drained 39 percent of her three-pointers while producing 19.2 points per game this past season at Syracuse. A four-year starter for the Orange, Sykes helped lead her team to the first Final Four in program history as a junior.