We’re back again for another year, and with the 2015 WNBA season tipping off on Friday night it’s time for the usual slate of WNBAlien team-by-team previews. As tradition dictates, we go in alphabetical order, with the Eastern Conference up first. Please enjoy, and feel free to comment, argue, praise or criticise. You can use the comment section below, or tweet at @RichardCohen1.
PG: Shoni Schimmel/Samantha Logic
SG: Tiffany Hayes/Matee Ajavon/Erica Wheeler
SF: Angel McCoughtry/Roneeka Hodges
PF: Sancho Lyttle/DeLisha Milton-Jones
C: Erika de Souza/Aneika Henry/Nadia Colhado
Significant additions: Logic, they hope, and a little shooting from Hodges.
Significant losses: Jasmine Thomas, Celine Dumerc (at least for a while) and maybe Lyttle for a few weeks.
Amid a surprisingly eventful and newsworthy WNBA offseason elsewhere, our previews begin with a team that have done very, very little. The Dream have created some question marks around who’s going to be running the offense and how well it will be done, but otherwise they’ve essentially brought back the group that finished 19-15 last season atop the Eastern Conference, before being upset in the first round of the playoffs by Chicago. In some ways it’s understandable, because the Dream have been one of the most dangerous teams in the East ever since Angel McCoughtry arrived in town. But it’s a little disappointing that they didn’t do more to strengthen their squad and excite their fans for the 2015 season.
The core of the team that’s still in place means Atlanta should remain one of the best teams in the East, assuming they stay healthy. McCoughtry’s the driving force, an athletic rim-attacker who still forces too many shots under pressure from outside, but can often carry the offense herself. Tiffany Hayes has developed into a strong running mate for McCoughtry on the other wing, while the post pairing of Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza remains one of the strongest in the league (albeit starting to look a tiny bit long in the tooth). Last season under Michael Cooper they pushed the ball even more than in previous years, leading the league by a mile in pace, and there’s no reason to expect them to change. They’ll be aggressive defensively, flying around for steals and trying to break out, and they’ll run the other way at every opportunity.
The point guard spot alongside those four established pieces is where the Dream can’t be quite sure what they’re going to get. Jasmine Thomas was essentially given away in a strange draft-day trade (for the swiftly-cut Brittany Hrynko), and Celine Dumerc will either miss the start of the season due to EuroBasket Women 2015 or skip the WNBA entirely this year (the Dream have said nothing on that topic). That leaves last year’s exciting but unreliable Shoni Schimmel, and rookie first-round pick Samantha Logic. Schimmel has lots of flair and sees passes other players could never even conceive of, but looked in terrible shape at the NBA All-Star game. Considering movement and defense were major issues for her as a rookie, that could be a big problem. Cooper lost confidence in her for much of last season after her early break-out but he may have little choice but to let her play this year. Some of that will depend on the play of Logic, who comes out of college with solid credentials but relying on rookie point guard is always a dubious proposition. This team doesn’t need exceptional play from the point – as we’ve seen in several previous years – but a little composure and solidity would be nice. Even Cooper couldn’t honestly say he’s sure what they’re going to get from that spot right now.
The bench is pretty thin as well, although that’s nothing new. Roneeka Hodges is an addition who will hopefully add some outside shooting, which the Dream have been in desperate search of practically since Atlanta was awarded a WNBA franchise. Aneika Henry is a solid backup post, although she may be pressed into service as a starter if Lyttle joins Spain at EuroBasket Women (which again, the Dream have said nothing about). Beyond that they’ve got the aging limbs and diminishing skills of Matee Ajavon and DeLisha Milton-Jones, undrafted rookie guard Erica Wheeler, and de Souza’s Brazilian teammate Nadia Colhado (who underwhelmed while spending most of last season on Atlanta’s bench). As with every team in the league, health of the starters will be vital, but that may be even more true in Atlanta than in many other cities.
With all the turmoil elsewhere, maybe the Dream had the right idea in sticking with continuity. Chemistry between established players can be very valuable in the WNBA, where a short season and minimal practice time makes it hard to come together on the fly. We know how good this core can be, and if they’re that good again then they’re at least a solid playoff team, and likely to be challenging at the top of the East again. There’s just that nagging feeling that it would’ve been nice if they’d done a little more to deepen the squad and add some fresh help for the players they’ve been relying on for years.