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What the Dream can learn from the Aces

In my final Swish Appeal article, it’s only fitting that I would talk about the Las Vegas Aces’ championship and what my team, the Atlanta Dream, can pick up from how that team was built.

Atlanta Dream v Las Vegas Aces
Rhyne Howard (left) and Chelsea Gray
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The 2022 WNBA season has now wrapped up with the Las Vegas Aces as your champions. I decided that for my final article here at Swish Appeal, I will attempt to parse what the team that I covered all year, the Atlanta Dream, can learn from the champions. The Dream have enough potential as a franchise that they can truly become a perennial title contender if they embrace these points.

Gradual build around building blocks

I talked to a good friend of mine about what the Dream can learn from the Aces. He made a few good points and I’ll add in my own as we go along. He said that the Dream must gradually build up their team. The Aces drafted A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. They built around those three through pieces added in the draft and in free agency.

The Dream are in a similar situation with Rhyne Howard. They have a strong building block in the Rookie of the Year that they can surround with pieces that fit her skillset. It will all depend on where the Dream land in the draft lottery. If they get the No. 1 pick, they’ll have another building block in Aliyah Boston.

The thing that has made both the Aces and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors so successful is that they have their core players and then they add the right players around them that complement their games perfectly. Dream general manager and former Aces general manager Dan Padover must do the same thing with Howard and potentially Boston if they do land her.

Playing team basketball

The second point that my friend made is honestly the same point that I made in my preseason predictions. Aces head coach Becky Hammon was always going to take that team to the next level. Hammon was an assistant with the San Antonnio Spurs, who are known for playing a team brand of basketball, and she successfully brought that system to Vegas.

Honestly, one of the big problems that I had with the Dream this year is that they often played way too much iso ball and that resulted in some very poor shot selection. The Aces were near the top of the league in the regular season and playoffs in both points and assists.

This offseason, Dream head coach Tanisha Wright will need to find a way to install a more team-based offensive system that emphasizes really passing the ball and passing up good shots for even better shots.

Emphasizing defense and closing games

Defense was the third point that my friend made. The Dream were actually a pretty solid defensive team this year, being fourth in steals with 7.8 per game. However, they could be pretty inconsistent. Contrast that with the Aces, who were a pretty good defensive team, anchored by the Defensive Player of the Year in Wilson.

Multiple times in the playoffs we saw that the Aces were able to get stops when they needed them. For example, in the overtime of Game 3 against the Seattle Storm after the end of the fourth quarter was basically a back-and-forth.

Too many times, I saw the Dream fail to close out games when they had the lead because they couldn’t consistently get stops on defense and make shots when they had to. The Aces did both of those things and that is why they currently hold the trophy. If the Dream want to take that next step as a franchise, they must do the same thing.

Dominant post play

One of the biggest problems for the Dream is that they have too many guards on their team and not enough bigs. They have eight guards on a 14-women roster. Their problem got even worse with the retirement of center Kia Vaughn. Of course, Wilson is probably the best player in the league right now, winning a championship, MVP and Defensive Player of the Year this season.

I’ve beat this drum a lot since the season ended, but the best-case scenario truly would be for the Dream to win the No. 1 pick and draft Boston. With her ability to control the post with her scoring and rebounding, I believe that she would perfectly complement Howard.

We see that in Las Vegas, as Wilson is perfectly complemented by not one, not two, but three elite guards in Plum, Young and Gray. Padover could set up something similar in Atlanta with Howard, Hayes and McDonald. Even if it’s not Boston, it could be Elizabeth Kitley, Tamari Key or someone else.

Those are all the points that both I and my friend were each able to come up with. This offseason is going to be a very interesting one as Padover attempts to recreate the team that he built in Las Vegas. Even though he wasn’t there when they won, he does deserve a lot of credit for the Aces’ championship because they are the team that he built. Let’s see if he can do the same thing in Atlanta.

Anyways, I am now officially finished with my time here at Swish Appeal. It was truly a great one and I am extremely blessed to have been able to write here. I enjoyed being able to learn more about women’s basketball while writing about it at the same time. I will always value my experience here deeply and will take the skills that I acquired while here later into my career. So long everybody and may God bless you.