The Dream’s Clean-Slate Strategy Made Space for a Star: Rhyne Howard

The Atlanta Dream had been trying to begin over.

After a couple of rocky seasons – participant suspensions, a lot of losses, a revolt in opposition to a crew proprietor – it was time to strive one thing new.

Nothing says clear slate like constructing a new roster.

Atlanta stored solely a few gamers from final 12 months’s crew: Monique Billings, Aari McDonald, Tiffany Hayes and Cheyenne Parker.

Another piece fell into place when the Dream traded up for the primary choose on this 12 months’s draft and chosen guard Rhyne Howard from the University of Kentucky. Howard made historical past as the one former Wildcat to be chosen first general by a WNBA franchise. Despite the facility strikes Atlanta made to make sure Howard was a a part of their rebuild, she is not feeling any strain to atone for the failings of previous Atlanta groups.

“I used to be conscious of what has been happening, however we did not speak about it,” Howard mentioned in a telephone interview earlier this month. “We have not, and we did not even earlier than the draft as a result of it is like, it is previously now. Everyone right here is mainly new, so we’re simply trying to rebuild, which we’ve accomplished to date. ”

The Atlanta Dream are in playoff rivalry because the WNBA nears the All-Star break, however simply barely. They are 8-8 after beating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. Their 6-4 begin underneath first-time coach Tanisha Wright was promising for a franchise with fewer than 16 wins over the past two seasons.

Promising, sure, however not satisfying.

The Dream hasn’t made it to postseason play since 2018, when Nicki Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 file en path to successful the Coach of the Year Award. It seemed as if the heyday of Dream basketball may need returned.

After successful solely 4 video games as an growth membership in 2008, the Dream earned six consecutive postseason berths, together with three journeys to the WNBA finals.

However, by 2019 the Dream had been once more scraping on the backside of the standings and wouldn’t win greater than eight video games in three straight seasons. There was turmoil off the court docket as effectively.

In 2020, the Dream caught the eye of the sports activities and political worlds when the crew’s gamers publicly supported the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia who was operating for a Senate seat in opposition to the incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler, who co-owned the Dream.

Then final season, the Dream suspended guard Chennedy Carter after 11 video games for “conduct detrimental to the crew.” That May, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford had been concerned in a struggle exterior a membership in Atlanta. It wasn’t till after the season, when video of the struggle surfaced, that the WNBA suspended them. None are with Atlanta now.

Neither is Loeffler, who offered the crew in February 2021 after dropping to Warnock. There are a lot of new faces, together with Wright, Howard and General Manager Dan Padover, who was employed away from the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, the Dream employed a new crew president, Morgan Shaw Parker. With each transfer, the Atlanta Dream have made it clear that there isn’t any wanting again, solely wanting ahead.

“It actually was a approach to come into the bottom flooring that I’ve by no means been capable of do,” Padover mentioned. He added: “I seen it as a problem, and I additionally knew I used to be going to be with actually good folks, and we had been going to herald actually good gamers.”

Howard had averaged 20.5 factors per recreation within the 2021-22 season at Kentucky and left as a two-time SEC participant of the 12 months. She was named to the Associated Press first crew three of her 4 years in Lexington.

Her transition to the skilled ranks has been clean. Through 16 video games, Howard is averaging 16.3 factors, 4.3 rebounds and a pair of.7 assists per recreation. She was named the WNBA rookie of the month for May.

She leads the Dream in factors and minutes (31) per recreation and is a prime candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. So far, she has validated all that it took for Atlanta to get her.

Five days earlier than the draft, Atlanta traded its first-round (third general) and second-round (14th general) picks to the Washington Mystics for the No. 1 spot. 1 general choose. Additionally, the Mystics can swap their 2023 first-round choose for the 2023 first-round choose the Dream acquired in a commerce with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“When we seemed on the commerce, we have identified within the W that it is actually, actually arduous to get elite-level gamers,” Padover mentioned. “And if you get a chance to get one, you need to actually think about it.”

He continued: “For us to get a participant of Rhyne’s caliber to begin this rebuilding course of, we didn’t assume we might move it up. And I believe the opposite factor that we checked out was not simply the 2022 draft – we seemed on the draft from 2020 to 2023, and there weren’t a lot of gamers that we might examine to Rhyne. ”

Although there may be a lot of pleasure for the trail forward, Padover is underneath no illusions that it is going to be a simple street. No one on the crew has gained a championship besides for Wright, who gained in 2010 with the Seattle Storm.

“We do have to get to the place we need to get from a aggressive standpoint,” he mentioned. “We need to be a constant playoff crew for years to come back. We’ll see what occurs this 12 months, however I’m unsure we’re there but. ”

Atlanta had dropped 4 straight video games earlier than beating Dallas on Tuesday. Opponents scored a minimum of 90 factors in three of the 4 losses. In the earlier 11 video games, solely the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces had scored greater than 80 factors in opposition to the Dream.

“Defensively, we have to get again to ourselves,” Wright mentioned after a 105-92 loss to the Connecticut Sun final week. Atlanta averages a league-leading 17.7 turnovers per recreation. The Dream have conceded 15.1 factors per recreation due to turnovers and one other 9.3 factors per recreation on quick breaks. But the defensive numbers aren’t all dangerous: Atlanta is simply behind the Connecticut Sun with the third-fewest second-chance factors allowed (9.2) per recreation.

Nia Coffey leads the crew with 5 defensive rebounds per recreation, however Parker and Billings are proper behind her with 4.8 per recreation. Parker additionally leads the crew with 1.3 blocks per recreation, and averages 11.8 factors per recreation.

“What we had been lifeless set on was that we would have liked to ensure we introduced in professionals who had been going to be respectful of each other and in addition make the town and this franchise proud,” Padover mentioned.

What will that appear like on the finish of the common season? Will a playoff berth or main league award present that Atlanta is shifting in the correct course?

“A aim of mine is to be rookie of the 12 months,” Howard mentioned, “however simply with the ability to have an effect on this crew repeatedly and persistently and simply main us to the place everybody desires to go is sufficient for me. I’m not going to get any accomplishments with out my crew. ”

The Dream should struggle to stay in playoff rivalry, however Howard leads all rookies in per-game averages for minutes, factors, steals, and 3-pointers and subject objectives made. Early returns say she could be the elite participant Padover and the Dream thought she can be.

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