The Atlanta Dream are on another streak!
Hopefully, these victories represent a sign that the Dream have discovered the consistency needed to rise above .500 and confirm their spot in the playoff picture. However, these contests certainly present an opportunity to join the Rhynestones and celebrate the excellence of Rhyne Howard.
Last Sunday, Howard learned that WNBA coaches did not select her as an All-Star reserve alongside teammates Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker. The snub sparked a righteous vengeance. While the shy Howard often exudes a casual coolness, a competitive fire burns inside her. It combusted the court on Sunday, when Howard exploded for a career-high 43 points to captain the Dream’s demolition of the Los Angeles Sparks, 112-84. After the game, she implicitly addressed her All-Star snubbing, asserting, “They need to put some respect on my name and see me.”
We see you, Rhyne.
Howard’s loud and quiet improvement
Although her output fell a point shy of matching Betty Lennox’s franchise mark, Howard arguably put together a more impressive scoring performance. Lennox dropped 44 points in an overtime loss in 2008, netting five 3s as she shot better than 53 percent from the field. In just over 32 minutes, Howard drove the Dream to a franchise-record 112 points, going an unblemished 8-of-8 from 2-point range, a perfect 9-of-9 from the line and a still-absurd 6-of-12 from three.
All 14 of Rhyne Howard's made baskets during last night's career high 43 piece performance pic.twitter.com/NC6XyTZihi— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) July 3, 2023
Following a fantastic rookie campaign, the assumed expectation was that the sophomore would soar into superstardom, demonstrably improving upon her already well-rounded offensive and defensive repertoires. Progress, of course, is not always easily discernible. Howard has improved, evident in her superior shooting efficiency from 2- and 3-point ranges. She also is earning more free throws and tossing more assists per game. Of late, her defensive activity has increased, as she has totaled six steals in the last three games.
All the while, Howard has had to figure out how to play most effectively with another high-usage perimeter threat in Allisha Gray, a partnership that might be beginning to meld at higher level.
The developing Howard-Gray dynamic
Howard’s seemingly more muted 15-point performance in Atlanta’s 90-79 victory over the Sparks in LA on Wednesday presents an opportunity to appreciate the nuances of her evolution, as well as her developing dynamic with Gray.
All 15 of Howard’s points came from behind the arc as she continued to scintillate from deep. In the month of July, she is 11-of-21 from three! Yet, Howard’s 3-ball fireworks should not distract from how she is emerging as Atlanta’s opener.
Her game on Wednesday night resembled her effort against the Washington Mystics last Friday. In both contests, Howard was a first-quarter flame thrower, scoring 11 of her 20 points in the first frame last Friday and nine of her 15 points in Wednesday’s opening period. On Sunday, 17 of her 43 buckets came in the game’s first 10 minutes. For a Dream team that has struggled with consistency, Howard’s early scoring salvos serve as important tone-setters. And because of her proven ability to continue to pour in the points, the defense must direct extra attention to an aggressive Howard, which then opens up easier scoring opportunities for her teammates.
Howard’s opening efforts also indicate the offensive role rapport she has established with Gray. Howard is the opener and Gray is the closer. Whereas Howard has come out firing in the Dream’s three recent victories, Gray has drained fourth-quarter daggers. Against Washington, she tallied 13 of her 26 points in the fourth. In LA, she dropped 10 points in the final period.
These roles make sense for the pairing. Although Howard oozes elite potential, her overall inexperience still shows in her sometimes spotty offensive decision making. In contrast, the more experienced Gray has crafted herself into an unflustered offensive operator who remains measured even as the pressure rises.
Howard, Gray and Co. blow into the Windy City
The duo can continue to iron out the details of this promising dynamic in Chicago, where the Dream will meet the Sky for two games.
If Atlanta can win the first contest, they will notch the franchise’s first four-game winning streak since the early, halcyon days of the ultimately disastrous 2021 season. A sweep in Chi-Town would give the Dream their longest winning streak since the 2018 season, when that squad reeled off winning streaks of six and eight games on their way to the best record in the Eastern Conference.