Atlanta Dream Poised For Yet Another McCoughtry-Led Late Season Run

Angel McCoughtry's MVP-caliber play in the second half of the 2011 season helped the Atlanta Dream make their second consecutive WNBA Finals appearance. Without Erika de Souza prior to the 2012 Olympics, the Dream might need more of that to make another playoff run. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images.

Kris Willis of SB Nation's Peachtree Hoops has already described what made the Atlanta Dream's loss to the Indiana Fever on Saturday so disappointing.

After the Dream made improving their perimeter defense a priority for this season, a WNBA-record eight different Fever players hit threes. It wasn't quite the way a defensive-minded team would like to start a season and represents the Dream's significant weakness from the 2011 season.

2011 Season Review

Click here for an explanation of this framework and here for our statistics glossary.

eFg%

Tov%

Oreb%

fta/fga

Atlanta Dream

46.09%

0.15

32.10%

33.35%

Opp

47.21%

0.18

29.55%

29.58%

Weighted

eFg%

Tov%

Oreb%

fta/fga

Atlanta

-0.11

0.24

0.11

0.08

2011 Four Factors for the Atlanta Dream

Last year was a weird season for the Dream - they had almost no roster consistency at all, even into the playoffs.

Sancho Lyttle missed 12 games, Angel McCoughtry didn't start a few games, point guard Shalee Lehning missed half the season with a knee injury before deciding to retire, then Erika de Souza missed games in the playoffs to honor commitments to the Brazilian National Team, which was when Iziane Castro Marques finally woke up from a sub-par season to help carry the team to the WNBA Finals.

The coaching staff deserves enormous credit for being able to keep the team going through all of that, but their defense did suffer.

Not only did the Dream have the league's lowest 3-point percentage last season (26.1%) but they also allowed the fourth highest 3-point percentage in the league (36%). On its own, being outshot from the 3-point line might not seem like the biggest problem in the world, but it's tied to the fact that Dream opponents shot more efficiently than they did last season.

Given the relatively narrow margin between the Dream and their opponents in shooting efficiency, that's a problem that could work itself out. The larger concern for the Dream - especially in the first half of the season with Erika de Souza out - might be the loss of Alison Bales to retirement.

Key personnel departure

Wnba_dreampie_2011_html_ma9c323d_medium

Bales' loss is not huge simply because she'll be the biggest missing piece on the pie chart above; the real loss in Bales' departure is her rebounding.

Although they held an advantage over their opponents on the boards, they were the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the Eastern Conference. Bales' 21.1% defensive rebounding percentage last season was tenth in the league and second on the team behind reserve center Courtney Paris, who played less than 10 minutes per game. Just behind those two was de Souza, who had a defensive rebounding percentage of 20.7% and was tenth in the league in offensive rebounding (10.7%).

Certainly Iziane Castro Marques' departure is more significant than the statistical contributions chart above suggests - after a down regular season, she woke up in the playoffs and was a huge part of their second consecutive run to the WNBA Finals; in losing Castro Marques and Coco Miller - who they released prior to the season - the Dream lost their two best career 3-point shooters.

Yet the Dream don't have an immediately obvious answer to the rebounding issue whereas they did hit the 3-point shooting issue rather aggressively this offseason.

2012 New Veterans

New veterans

SPI Style

Min/G

VCR

TS%

Tov%

Oreb%

FTR

Usg%

Value Added

4-yr RAPM

Laurie Koehn *

S

4.83

57.4 >

13.9 <

3.30 <

3.28 <

22.3

-1.44

-1.2

Cathrine Kraayeveld

M

20.64

0.77 <

56.16 >

15.04 <

4.45 <

8.98 <

14.08

-0.35

1.4

Ketia Swanier

DU

14.81

0.46 <

44.75 <

24.75 <

1.70 <

20.25 <

13.74

0.37

-2.6

2011 Statistics for the Atlanta Dream's new veterans in 2012.
* Laurie Koehn did not play in the WNBA in 2011.

It might be safe to suggest that a relatively minor tweak in personnel might solve the shooting efficiency problem - they could either improve that perimeter defense or improve their shooting. They've quite clearly opted for the latter.

Cathrine Kraayeveld is coming off a 40.9% 3-point shooting season with the Chicago Sky in 2011 and although she's technically a "power forward", she was more of a spot up shooter last year than she had been in the last few years. But Laurie Koehn will be an interesting player to watch as she returns to the WNBA for the first time since 2008 when she played with the Washington Mystics - Koehn is a 44.9% career shooter and on a team that struggles to spread the court at all, she has a chance to make a real impact, particularly after de Souza returns from the Olympics and they look to unclog the paint for their posts to operate.

2012 Rookie Projections for the Atlanta Dream

Rookies

S

P

I

Projected WNBA Style

Tiffany Hayes

24.24

80.68

48.48

PU

Anneika Henry **

0

18.96

99.21

IU

Projected WNBA SPI Playing Styles for the Dream's rookies based on senior season college statistics.
** Henry's final season at Florida was in 2009.

The Dream also brought in Tiffany Hayes who was the most efficient scoring wing prospect in the draft and shot 40.7% from the 3-point line in senior year at UConn. She's also a solid defender.

But most interesting about Hayes is that she projects as more of a role player who can score when the opportunities come to her without dominating the ball, which is important when you look at the remainder of this roster.

2012 Outlook

Returners

SPI Style

Min/G

VCR

TS%

Tov%

Oreb%

FTR

Usg

Value Added

4-yr RAPM

Erika de Souza ***

IP

27.42

1.16 >

51.47 >

12.52 >

10.68% >

16.03% <

20.14

1.75

1

Lindsey Harding

DS

30.49

0.87 <

51.20 <

13.67 <

1.85% <

29.03% <

17.31

0.23

5

Yelena Leuchanka *

IU

10.6

0.52 <

53.7 >

25.28 <

9.20% =

40.95% >

24

-0.68

-0.5

Sancho Lyttle

M

26.24

1.20 >

49.07 =

13.92 >

8.02% >

27.36% <

19.43

3.00

8.2

Angel McCoughtry

SP

27.91

1.49 >

52.33 >

11.98 =

6.50% >

51.81% >

35.48 >

-4.53

4.5

Courtney Paris

IU

9.59

1.23 >

52.96 >

7.36 >

15.98% >

40.26% >

15.31

1.82

-0.3

Armintie Price

DU

23.43

1.11 >

55.41 >

12.07 >

7.23% >

57.69% >

16.20

2.61

1.6

2011 statistics for returning for the Atlanta Dream's returning players in 2010.
* Leuchanka did not play in the WNBA in 2011.
*** Erika de Souza will join the Dream after the 2012 Olympics.

Strengths:

  • Angel McCoughtry: The Dream will win games this year no matter who is on the court simply behind the force of McCoughtry's will at times. Even if nothing goes right for the Dream, there will be times against poor defensive team where McCoughtry is just overwhelming. And when you look at the Dream's roster, the underlying logic is very similar to that of the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers team that went to the NBA Finals in 2000 - one high usage scorer surrounded by players that complement what that player does (e.g. getting offensive rebounds, defending). McCoughtry arguably had the best season of her career last season, scoring 21.6 points per game with a league-high usage percentage of 35.5%. Most importantly, her scoring efficiency went up as her usage percentage went up, which shows that she's improving her scoring ability as a player. But that's why a player like Hayes appears to be such a great complement on paper: she projects as a high efficiency, low usage player that doesn't need the ball in her hands a lot but is capable of being enough of a scoring threat to take some pressure off of McCoughtry.
  • Forcing turnovers: The additions of both Hayes and Ketia Swanier, whose quickness and steal percentage is a great fit for the Dream, should only make the Dream better at forcing turnovers and doing so more consistently when they turn to their bench for help.
  • Point guard play: After a rough first half to the season, Lindsey Harding really took it up a notch in the second half of the season, was the most efficient point guard in the 2011 playoffs and peaked in the 2011 WNBA Finals. If she's as comfortable as she was in late 2011 this season, the Dream will improve as an offense, particularly given that they've added a few 3-point shooters. Swanier was not a terribly efficient point guard last season (-1.39 pure point rating), but her speed and ability to serve as a disruptive factor on defense fits with the Dream relatively well. But improved play by Harding over last season could be the biggest "addition" for the Dream this season.

Questions:

  • Will McCoughtry continue to become more efficient at such a high usage rate? If so, the Dream will be dangerous and you could argue that the team is built such that they're betting on it.
  • How many wins can McCoughtry carry the Dream without de Souza? James Bowman has written about this issue of "one women teams" a few times in reflecting on the Dream, most recently noting that there's no correlation between McCoughtry's dominant scoring performances and the Dream winning. Looking at the 2012 season without de Souza for half of it and Castro Marques' scoring flurries, that can't be comforting for Dream fans. But it will be interesting to see how further improvement from McCoughtry might change that narrative.
  • Can they hold their own defensively on the interior? The Dream allowed their opponents more second chance points than any team in the league last season (12.94 per game), a result of their relatively poor defensive rebounding. Now they're missing Bales and de Souza, at least until the latter returns from the Olympics. Having Lyttle for a full season might help, or at least help to mitigate those losses on the boards, but this has to be a major concern coming in.
  • Who will step up on the interior? I didn't list Yelena Leuchanka among the new additions because she's not really "new" to the Dream - she just took last year off, but her rebounding ability might help to make up for their losses on the interior. Then there's the question of how consistent players like Aneika Henry and Courtney Paris can be for the Dream on the boards.
  • Can Armintie Price continue playing the way she did last season? The reason Price is noted as a distributor is that she had an assist ratio of about 23% and a pure point rating of 1.88. When you think about putting together a roster that supports McCoughtry, having a second efficient distributor on the floor - particularly if Swanier remains inefficient - is a huge boost. The only question might be whether Price can continue to be so efficient.
Breakout player

Strictly by the numbers, Courtney Paris is the player who would be most likely to breakout - her VCR suggests that she'll be able to contribute more quality minutes than she has if given the opportunity and her rebounding ability could really help the team. Nobody else shows quite that potential statistically, but there are a number of players that could end up stepping up and improving over past seasons this year.

2012 projection: playoff contender

On one level, the 2012 season could follow a familiar narrative for the Atlanta Dream - a slow start to the season, a late-season run to make the playoffs, someone stepping up to help McCoughtry in the playoffs, and can we really rule out a WNBA Finals appearance after they've made it the last two seasons?

The main difference is just that we can't be caught off guard if it happens again. The rebounding problem could very well haunt them and dig them a hole early in the season, but anything is possible with McCoughtry on the floor late in the season and if they can just keep their heads above water early in the season they'll be ok.
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