With the Atlanta Dream owning the seventh pick in the WNBA Draft, their strategy could go any one of several different directions.
Trying to figure out who the Atlanta Dream will pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft is half-luck. You can read a dozen mock-drafts and none of them will be the same.
For example, do you pick for need or do you pick the best player available? I’ve concluded that only the first half dozen (or fewer) players are players that can really make a difference on most WNBA rosters. Years of observing the draft haven’t changed my mind. From the No. 7 position on down, you don’t really know if the player is going to stick in the league or not. You have to wait until they leave the bench and start playing in games before you know if you’re right.
Guess what position Atlanta drafts from in 2017? You guessed it. No. 7.
This leads me to conclude that the Dream will be drafting on need. By the time we get to the No. 7 spot, there won’t be any impact players left. Kelsey Plum is going to be wearing silver and black, not powder blue. That’s the only thing I know about the 2017 WNBA Draft.
So rather than try to guess from a short list which players will end up with Atlanta, let’s look at the current roster and a history of the Dream in the draft from 2014.
We’re not good
The new WNBA playoff system debuted in 2016 and it was a real break from the past. The Dream finished sixth, good enough to beat Seattle in McCamish Pavilion, not good enough to beat Chicago on the road. Atlanta scored 81.7 points per game but gave up 84.0 points per game. Don’t be fooled by the numbers, Atlanta’s WNBA offensive rating ranked 11th out of 12.
Angel McCoughtry has decided to take an extended break that could last the entire season. Three wins just walked out the door. That puts Atlanta behind a roadblock because you don’t replace players like McCoughtry.
Furthermore, the 2017 Dream roster faces some real question marks. Damiris Dantas was suspended for the entire 2016 season to prepare for the Olympics. I won’t believe she’s coming back until I see her in Atlanta and in powder blue. The Dream traded away Reshanda Gray to the Sun in exchange for Anieka Morello (nee Henry). For four years, Henry had been a dependable bench player for Atlanta. In Uncasville, she was a face on a milk carton as head coach Curt Miller couldn’t – or wouldn’t –use her. Morello is now back in Atlanta, but will she be the player she was previously?
The status of those three players add complexity to a draft projection. Is the roster going to be reinforced, or rebuilt? Only Michael Cooper knows for sure.
The 2017 roadmap
With the above in mind, I predict that the Dream road map is looking for three things.
A point guard. Is it our primary need? No, our primary need is offense but that means nothing. In the WNBA point guards are like socks, you can never have too many of them. During Cooper’s tenure with the Dream, he picked two first-round point guards. Cooper picked Shoni Schimmel in 2014, a fantastic point guard when she chooses to be fit. In 2015 he picked Samantha Logic who didn’t pan out.
The Dream has also picked other point guards in lower rounds. Ariel Massengale. Niya Johnson (you can argue about that one). If they don’t pick them, they get them elsewhere, like Meighan Simmons or Carla Cortijo.
There are certainly point guards from which to choose. It could be Tyler Scaife out of Rutgers, since the WNBA really loves players from Rutgers. (Cooper likes defense, and they teach it there.) It could be Makayla Epps from Kentucky or even Alexis Jones from Baylor.
Offensive punch. There are only so many point guards with offensive punch. The Dream needs an offensive playmaker. Since McCoughtry’s status is in limbo, the Dream might lean to the post side. After all, we don’t know if Dantas will be in training camp. There are serviceable names depending on what kind of post player you want.
How about Brionna Jones from Maryland, who led the nation in field goal percentage over the last two seasons? Alaina Coates out of South Carolina will be out for 2017 with ankle surgery? If her draft stock falls, it could be an easy pickup for the Dream. Maybe Nia Coffey from Northwestern, only the fifth player in Big Ten history with 2000 points and 1000 rebounds in a single season?
Someone who can stick. Whenever players came off the bench, Atlanta Dream fans held their breath. How long would it be before the starters came back?
One can estimate bench strength by looking at player Win Shares and removing the top five finishers. If the results mean anything, then Atlanta’s bench ranked 10th in the WNBA in 2016. (Minnesota was first with 6.2 bench Win Shares; San Antonio was -0.2. Atlanta was 0.7 bench Win Shares.)
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What if training camp players don’t impress and the Dream don’t trade for help? In that case, the Dream need to choose someone who can stay on a roster. Rachel Jarry can stay around but I’m not sure about anyone else.
Finding second or third-rounders that can make a roster is an art into itself. Cooper is 1-for-3 so far in that Rachel Hollivay made the team despite being picked in the second round. Hollivay provided an average of 8.9 minutes of adequacy per game in 32 games last year. You can’t patch a bench in one draft, but you can make a start.
One thing is clear: the Atlanta Dream has made fools out of naysayers before. In the nine years of Atlanta’s existence, seven of those years were playoff years. Dream fans hope that the 2017 WNBA Draft sets the table for eight out of ten.