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Dream’s 1-1 start reveals potential problems and paths to improvement

Trailing the Minnesota Lynx by 19 points midway through the third quarter, the Atlanta Dream appeared on the brink of a disappointing 0-2 start to the 2023 WNBA season.

But then Naz Hillmon, flashing some of the star-level scoring he showed at Michigan, whittled Minnesota’s margin down to nine points by the start of the game’s final period. While Hillmon stormed his way to nine points late in the third quarter, Elisha Gray showed why Atlanta was so eager to get to him in the fourth, tying his career-high in assists to secure the comeback win. Scored eight of 26 points.

Formerly elusive hot shooting by Dream, along with Nafisa Collier with 2:23 remaining, also aided Atlanta’s efforts. Once Collier exited, Minnesota failed to score, allowing Atlanta to get away with some sloppy play down the stretch, yet completing a franchise-record comeback.

The Dream’s overall performance against the Lynx, in combination with their opening loss against the Dallas Wings, highlighted some underlying issues that Atlanta must be deliberate about improving if it is to live up to expectations. At the same time, Dream also demonstrated reasons to be optimistic about their ability to reach those high expectations.

Here are more details about the Dream’s first two matches:

Although Arike Ogunbowale’s absurd 3-point shotmaking stole the highlights, the Dream didn’t drop their season opener in Dallas last Saturday because of Ogunbowale’s step-back spree. While the Dallas All-Star scored a game-high 27 points, he did so on 25 shots, including going just 4-for-14 from deep.

Instead, 23 personal fouls committed to 22 Dallas points from the line compared to 11 for Atlanta contributed to the Dream loss. Satou Sabally earned nine of these freebies, converted eight of them, and scored an efficient and effective 25 points.

Due to their lack of size, it should come as no surprise that the Dream could be a foul-happy team. Still, it was not Cheyenne Parker, working the center, who was the culprit; Rather, the player at the 4 position, who is often tasked with guarding Sabli, struggles. While Raine Howard was bodyed by Sablee on several occasions, Nia Coffey worked hard to stay in front of her.

Yes, it is understandable for any defender to have issues when facing a talent like Sabli. This wouldn’t be considered a potentially obvious problem, except for the fact that many of W’s best players also play 4. If Atlanta is to prove itself a legitimate playoff threat, it will need to find a way to handle the likes of Breanna Stewart, Aja Wilson, Elena Delle Donne and Alyssa Thomas. In short, Sabli is just a preview of what’s to come during the course of the season.

On the other end of the floor, Atlanta also frequently displayed poor offensive process. The half court offense was expected to be a work in progress, but Dream’s decisions didn’t make things any easier. (It’s also worth giving credit to the defense that new head coach Latricia Trammell had Dallas playing.)

It seems clear that Atlanta intends to take more 3s to create spacing. Tried 32 threes representing more than the Dream attempt scored in any game last season. But Atlanta only converted nine 3-balls, which is good for 28.1 percent. So while taking more threes may be a smart strategy in a vacuum, the Dream lacks the shooting hazards needed to create space by simply firing. Driving and kicking shooters can affect the Atlanta attack more effectively. For example, Ryne Howard raised 12 matchsticks, making four. All four of his conversions were assisted by built up actions or movement.

As discussed in the dream season preview, driving in Howard Hooper could also help the Atlanta offense. The sophomore had only one (unsuccessful) drive to the rim at halfcourt. He didn’t get any help from the drive either.

Nevertheless, Sapna performed well in this game. Atlanta had 17 offensive rebounds, with the irrepressible Parker grabbing nine of them. These efforts led to 21 second-chance points. As Atlanta looks to optimize the halfcourt attack, scoring points through dirty work can serve as a sustainable, floor-enhancing source of offense.

Trailing Minnesota 24-10 in the fourth quarter on Tuesday, Atlanta showed it can find more sustainable halfcourt scoring through improved offensive process, even if not always shooting 46.7 percent from the field, including 3 -off-5 is also included. From three

Unlike most of Atlanta’s long range attempts against Dallas, Minnesota had three open and set attempts in the fourth quarter, which produced paint touches that drew an extra defender.

Atlanta also increased its overall offensive aggression in the fourth, driving towards the rim and committing fouls. For the game, Gray moved to the basket more often in transition and halfcourt scenarios, giving him eight trips to the foul line, three of which came on crucial fourth down. Although going 3-of-6 from behind the arc helped Gray achieve his career high, he was also able to put up points, and lead Atlanta to steal the win, due to his ability to keep his head down and Because of his willingness to get to the basket, something Howard, with his size and skill, and Ari McDonald, with his speed, should emulate.

It should also be noted that Atlanta benefited from some good luck in the fourth, headlined by Collier earning his sixth foul. Prior to that, she had been Minnesota’s only source of positive offense, scoring 14 of her 20 points in the second half. Just as the Dream, especially Howard and Coffey, struggled to contain Sabelli, they were ineffective against Collier.

Howard, to her credit, flashed the lockdown defense she was capable of last season when she forced a 3-point miss from Kayla McBride with just 15 seconds remaining, all but sealing the win for Atlanta. Gave.

In the coming week, the Dream will have two opportunities to show off better practices on both ends of the stage, hosting contests against the Indiana Fever (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET) and the Chicago Sky (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET).

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