On the surface, it looks like the Atlanta Dream’s 2023 season was a resounding success. Led by three All-Stars in Allisha Gray, Cheyenne Parker and Rhyne Howard, Atlanta finished the season fifth in the standings, earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2018.
Dig slightly deeper, however, and a murkier assessment emerges. Despite the trio of All-Stars and trip to the playoffs, the Dream were under .500 at 19-21. Over the second half of the season, in particular, they fumbled away more than a few winnable games before getting swept by the Dallas Wings in the first round of the playoffs.
Here’s more on what went right, what went wrong and what’s next for Atlanta:
What went right?
During the 2023 offseason, Atlanta aggressively pursued a trade for Allisha Gray, sending future draft capital to the Dallas Wings in exchange for the Georgia native. Gray quickly proved more than worth the cost. She played the best ball of her career as she earned her first All-Star honor. In her third season in Atlanta, and ninth overall, Cheyenne Parker also turned in the best season of her career, likewise notching a trip to All-Star weekend. Both players produced the highest scoring outputs of their careers, with their contributions in other statistical categories remaining around their career averages.
Neither Gray or Parker stole the shine from Rhyne Howard, who followed up her Rookie of the Year campaign with an All-Star-worthy sophomore season. Even as she experienced the up and downs expected of a young player with heavy burden on both ends of the floor, she authored several performances that further confirmed her superstar potential, including a 43-point tour de force against the Los Angeles Sparks in early July and a WNBA-record 36-point playoff debut.
In addition to leading Atlanta back to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, the All-Star trio helped the Dream secure their longest winning streak since 2018.
The Dream’s younger, supporting players also showed flashes during the season. Haley Jones, the No. 6 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, intrigued when given extended opportunity, as did Laeticia Amihere, selected with the No. 8 pick in the most recent draft. Only in her second year, Naz Hillmon played with the poise of a vet. Although hampered by an early-season injury, Aari McDonald remained a perimeter pest capable of popping off for a flurry of points.
What went wrong?
But for all the praise Dream’s stars deserve for standout seasons, Atlanta’s accumulation of individual talent did not translate into consistent team success. Of greater concern, Atlanta did not steadily improve over the course of the season, as might be expected of a still-young team. Instead, they regressed, with five wins and 10 losses in August and September. In a late-August postgame press conference, head coach Tanisha Wright insisted her team “has to grow up.”
Yet, Atlanta’s strategy, as much as their mentality, was responsible for their struggles. The offense was especially problematic as the season progressed, even with three All-Stars having career-best offensive seasons. Rather than developing an offensive system that amplified Atlanta’s talent, the Dream’s offense too often relied on Gray, Howard and Parker to create as individuals, with Gray and Howard alternating isolation efforts from the perimeter and Parker battling for points in the post. After the All-Star break, the Dream had a league-worst offensive rating of 97.0.
While many of the Dream’s other players are limited and/or still developing as scoring threats, the offensive system, or lack thereof, did little to put them in positions to succeed, therefore making Atlanta even more dependent on Gray, Howard and Parker. The approach also made the team more predictable. When the tough shots weren’t falling, the Dream suffered seemingly interminable scoring droughts, which contributed to the team blowing four leads of 10 points or more in the month of August.
Although Atlanta’s defense also was far from perfect, a middle-of-the-pack defensive rating of 101.5 was solid enough. With a bit more pop and precision on the other end of the floor, the Dream could have been in position to host a first-round playoff series, and possibly avoid marking their long-awaited return to the playoffs with a blown 20-point lead and two-game sweep.
While the Wings own the Dream’s 2025 first-round draft pick, Atlanta retains their 2024 selection. The organization should hope the majority of the most talented draft-eligible collegians elect to jump to the WNBA in 2024, as the Dream could add another high-upside player with the No. 8 pick.
Regardless of who is or is not available in the draft, Atlanta’s foremost priority should be finding a longterm starting point guard. Although McDonald began the season in the starting lineup, her extended injury absence resulted in Wright eventually turning to Danielle Robinson. An impending unrestricted free agent, Robinson does not provide the dynamic scoring or creation Atlanta needs from the position. An elite starting point guard, such as unrestricted free agent Skylar Diggins-Smith, could help solve many of Atlanta’s offensive woes.
If Atlanta is unable to expend some of an estimated $616,979 in salary cap space on a high-caliber show runner, then the team needs to further invest in McDonald or Jones, entrusting and empowering one of the two to serve as the Dream’s primary ball handler. Helping Jones flourish as modern point forward seems the surest path to the Dream discovering their ultimate upside.
Along with Robinson, Monique Billings and Nia Coffey are unrestricted free agents, while AD Durr is a restricted free agent.