In a postgame media availability early in the 2023 season, Dream head coach Tanisha Wright was asked about the scant playing time for the team’s rookies. As Wright responded, Cheyenne Parker chimed in, “I didn’t play as a rookie at all. Just throwing that out there.” Wright then emphasized, “She’s nine years in.”
The exchange serves as an appropriate encapsulation of Parker’s progress toward her first All-Star honor. Although selected in the first round of the 2015 WNBA Draft, she was not a product of a Power 5 blue-blood program and, therefore, not automatically slated for stardom. She instead exemplifies how to carve out a career in the WNBA, exhibiting the persistence and malleability necessary to survive — and then thrive — in this cutthroat league.
As Atlanta’s other All-Stars — fellow first-timer Allisha Gray and second-timer Rhyne Howard (named as a replacement for the injured Elena Delle Donne) — have received frequent attention in our Dream updates, it is time to pause and praise Parker, not only for her career accomplishment but also for her essential contributions to the ascendant Dream.
Parker’s persistent career path
The fifth pick in 2015 out of Middle Tennessee State, Parker saw little on-court action for the Chicago Sky, averaging 2.2 points in just over nine minutes per game. In her second and third seasons, her points and minutes only upticked slightly, as she averaged around four points in over 12 minutes per game. In years four and five, she became a regular part of the Chicago rotation, approaching 10 points and six rebounds in almost 20 minutes per game as the Sky’s super sub.
In the 2020 wubble, she had her breakout season, eventually working her way into the starting lineup as she posted 13.4 points, 6.4 boards, 1.3 steals and almost one block in 24.9 minutes per game. Her raw stats were enhanced by her efficiency. She finished in the top five in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage in 2020, while also ranking in the Top 10 in total offensive rebounds. Parker also extended her game behind the arc, making more 3-pointers in 2020 than she had in all previous seasons combined.
However, the Chicago homecoming of another Parker (Candace) led Cheyenne to find to a new WNBA home in Atlanta. While her debut season with the Dream was cut short by maternity leave, she since has emerged as integral on both ends of the floor.
How Parker powers the Dream
Parker has been tasked with much responsibility under Wright, and she has responded by consistently rising to the challenge.
Often Atlanta’s only true big, Parker gives the Dream a forceful presence in the paint. She applies her athleticism and aggression to get buckets, boards and blocks. This season, she is averaging a career-high 7.5 rebounds per game, including 2.6 offensive rebounds per game, which is the second-best mark in the league. Off her o-boards, she is converting a career-best 3.5 second-chance points per game, which contribute to her 9.2 points in the paint per game, another career high. And add her 1.4 blocks per game to the list of career highs she is setting this season!
Through the first half of this season, she also has established new single-game highs in points and rebounds. She scored a hyper-efficient 25 points in Atlanta’s narrow loss to the Las Vegas Aces earlier this season. She grabbed 14 boards against the Connecticut Sun.
Parker’s career-best effectiveness in the interior is all the more impressive considering that, only a few seasons ago, it seemed that she was emerging as a stretch big due to her increased productivity from 3-point range. While she has not abandoned the 3-ball, she does most of her damage down low. This willing ability to shift roles — and succeed while doing so — is a crucial part of Parker’s All-Star case.
She also deserves credit for being an iron woman. Parker twice has played the maximum number of games in a season, including when she was coming off maternity leave last season. This year, she has yet to miss a game even as she is setting a new career high in minutes per game.
Cheyenne makes the Dream strong
Finally, it is worth appreciating Parker’s intangibles, particularly how she injects the Dream with passionate intensity. Whereas Atlanta’s other All-Stars both operate with a quiet coolness, Parker brings a feistiness and fieriness that a Dream team susceptible to lapses needs. She appears to be making an impact, as Atlanta has won six-straight games, settling into the fifth-place spot in the standings with an 11-8 record at the All-Star break.
During the broadcast of Atlanta’s Wednesday night win over the Seattle Storm, LaChina Robinson shared that Cheyenne means “strong.” Due the strength of her spirit and her play, Cheyenne Parker is an All-Star, and the Atlanta Dream are playoff contenders.