2017 WNBA Preview: How big can Atlanta Dream without Angel McCoughtry?

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 15: Tiffany Hayes
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 15: Tiffany Hayes /
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Over the past three seasons, the Atlanta Dream have compiled a record of 51-51. Last season, they finished 17-17, and won their first round playoff game against the Seattle Storm before losing to a Chicago Sky team playing without Elena Delle Donne. They’ve won enough games on the back of All Star guard Angel McCoughtry to make the playoffs in a weaker Eastern Conference, but never emerged as a prohibitive title contender since their 2013 WNBA Finals run.

Now, they’ll have to try to make the playoffs without McCoughtry, who is sitting out indefinitely to rest, citing a continuous year-round schedule for eight straight seasons. McCoughtry averaged 19.5 points per game last year and is a top ten WNBA player who can will a team to the playoffs. And it’s not just her offense. McCoughtry averaged 5.7 rebounds per game last season and just under two steals. Per Synergy, she allowed just 0.799 points per possession, good for 24th-best in the league among those with at least 100 possessions.

ATLANTA, GA – SEPTEMBER 15: Angel McCoughtry
ATLANTA, GA – SEPTEMBER 15: Angel McCoughtry /

It’s a devastating loss at face value. Additionally, McCoughtry could become an unrestricted free agent after the season if Atlanta doesn’t designate her as a core player, making it unclear if she’ll ever put on a Dream jersey again. Can the Dream somehow stay afloat without her, and steal one of the final playoff spots whether or not she comes back?

Coach Michael Cooper said the goal every single year is to win a championship, and guards Layshia Clarendon and Tiffany Hayes said their mindsets haven’t changed, even without McCoughtry.

“We’re going for a championship,” Clarendon told The Summitt this week in a phone interview. “We know we have enough talent to do it.”

The keys for Atlanta staying competitive without McCoughtry are defense, rebounding and reducing turnovers. Cooper believes this will lead to a more efficient offense. Although McCoughtry’s scoring is often the headline with this team, Atlanta’s identity is on the defensive end and on the glass.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 17: Layshia Clarendon
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 17: Layshia Clarendon /

“We’re a defensive team, we have a defensive coach,” Tiffany Hayes told The Summitt.

The Dream were fourth in defensive rating and second in rebounding last year compared to 11th in offensive rating and last in 3-point shooting and assists, per Basketball Reference. They were second in pace, but it didn’t translate into efficient offense. McCoughtry shot just 43 percent from the field last year on high volume, and led the league in usage at 31.2 percent. Although that’s a lot of usage to replace, it does leave more shots for Clarendon, Hayes and Elizabeth Williams, who all shot more efficiently than McCoughtry from the floor last year—though thanks in part to defenses keying in on McCoughtry. The Dream will continue to push the ball but put a greater emphasis on ball movement and balanced scoring.