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WNBA 2015 Season Recap: Atlanta Dream

Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire

2015 Regular-Season Record: 15-19 (T-5th in Eastern Conference)

Postseason: Did Not Qualify  

To say that 2015 was a disappointing season for the Atlanta Dream would be an understatement. After a first-place regular-season finish just one year ago and representing the Eastern Conference in the WNBA Finals in three of the previous five seasons (2010, 2011 and 2013), the Dream missed the playoffs entirely for the first time since their inaugural season in 2008.

Atlanta spent most of 2015 playing at its usual breakneck speed. As has been the case for years, the Dream hung their hats on pushing the tempo and aggressive defense, so this was one feature of their season that wasn’t so surprising: the Dream led the WNBA in pace with a blistering 77.6 possessions per 40 minutes, and they forced turnovers on 17 percent of opponent possessions (a very close second to Indiana’s league-leading mark of 17.1 percent).

The problem for Atlanta was that they weren’t very efficient with all those extra possessions. Though they totaled the second-most total field goals attempted in the league (2,320 over the entire season), they rated poorly as an offensive unit, scoring 99.6 points per 100 possessions, which was below league average. What this means is that even though the Dream looked to push the ball at every opportunity, their half-court offense left much to be desired, and its shortcomings more than offset all the easy buckets they got in transition and from offensive rebounds.

This actually wasn’t anything new, as the Dream led the WNBA in total FGA in 2014 and 2013 while also being below league average in team ORtg for those two seasons. So what changed? Why did this style of intrusive, athletic basketball fail Atlanta when it led to playoff berths in each of the previous six seasons?

It could be argued that the Dream’s preferred style of play was never really a winning formula, and that the rising level of competition in the Eastern Conference exposed it for all its flaws. I don’t think I’d be able to come up with many solid counter-arguments for that.

The fact of the matter is, though, that in 2015 the Dream were almost constantly in a state of roster flux. Of course, the conditioning of Shoni Schimmel was made to be quite the issue (and I won’t say that it shouldn’t have been; for as short of a season as the WNBA has, you need to report to camp in shape), and her minutes were heavily affected because of it.

What shouldn’t be forgotten, though, was the odd five-game stretch in which starting guard Tiffany Hayes and quality backup center Aneika Henry left the team to participate in a 3-on-3 tournament in Azerbaijan. Michael Cooper was forced to play a very short rotation, fielding a patchwork guard corps that had very little chemistry and whose minutes were rarely consistent. Atlanta went 2-3 in this stretch, and even after Hayes and Henry returned to the United States, the Dream were a mess, the lowlight being a six-game losing streak that put them in too deep of a hole to recover from.

The Dream were featured in the biggest trade of the season, and though their end of the deal was questioned at the time, they were able to both shed a large contract in Erika de Souza and add a pair of young post players in Damiris Dantas and Reshanda Gray. While it may turn out to be a good move for the Dream in the future, it wasn’t enough to save the job of President and GM Angela Taylor, who will not return to the team in 2016.

Biggest Need Heading Into 2016: Point Guard, Outside Shooting

Star wing player Angel McCoughtry remains the Dream’s best player and one of the best in the league, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Her ability to break down defenders off the dribble and create shots in the paint is unrivaled, and she once again did her part by finishing near the top of the WNBA in scoring and leading the league in total free throws attempted.

McCoughtry also led the WNBA in turnovers, however (25 more than second-place Tina Charles) and overall USG%. Was she being asked to do too much?

Yes and no. While she’s been criticized for shooting the basketball too often in the past, the Dream’s offensive system doesn’t exactly make her job easy. All too often she was put in bad situations with the shot clock winding down and with the defense already keyed on her, so McCoughtry was forced to hoist up plenty of difficult and low-percentage shots. While she’s more than capable of making tough shots, McCoughtry remains at her best when she’s attacking the rim, when she can create easy looks for herself and others.

So, I’d argue that the Dream actually aren’t giving Angel a large enough role on offense. In Schimmel and Roneeka Hodges, they have a pair of guards who took over half their shots from three in 2015 and shot at least 36 percent from distance. Given Atlanta’s unstable situation at point guard, they might benefit from sticking each of these sharpshooters in the corners and let McCoughtry simply go to work.

Of course, McCoughtry can’t play every possible minute, so the Dream still need to shore up their point-guard situation. In Schimmel, they have a flashy playmaker and outstanding shooter who’s a liability on defense. The jury is still out on if she can become a star in this league, but until then, Atlanta could use more depth at the position for situations in which Schimmel hurts the team more than she helps.

Regardless, if they have better luck with roster continuity and health, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dream right back in the mix next season. The question will be whether or not the trademark style of Atlanta basketball can make a resurgence. If not, some bigger changes will likely be made.

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