Matee Ajavon wasn’t supposed to be the Dream’s starting point guard this season.
But she was thrust into that role early and never looked back. While Shoni Schimmel, the MVP of the All-Star game last season, languishes on the bench Ajavon has become the Dream’s floor general.
Ajavon was a point guard in college and has played the position overseas, including at the end of last season, but the eighth-year player has primarily played shooting guard in the WNBA, especially the past few years. The transition hasn’t fazed Ajavon, though. She considers herself a combo guard, and she has grown more comfortable in the new role, coach Michael Cooper said.
“She’s kind of been pushed into that position,” Cooper said. “As a player who knows this league it’s not unfamiliar to her. It’s been an adjustment but it’s been a good one for her.”
Schimmel started the Dream’s first two games, both losses. While Schimmel struggled with conditioning issues, Cooper inserted Ajavon into the starting lineup. She has started every game since replacing Schimmel, and the Dream are 5-5 in that stretch.
In the WNBA the level of competition is high than overseas, Ajavon said. In Europe, Ajavon often faces young, inexperienced point guards.
With the position switch this year Ajavon had to adjust her mentality from scorer to distributor, Cooper said. The Dream’s offense features the second-highest scorer in the league, forward Angel McCoughtry, and her 21.1 points per game.
Cooper still wants Ajavon to attack the basket if there’s an opportunity, though. It’s a balancing act, but one Ajavon is improving at. About two weeks ago, Ajavon had 10 points, her first double-digit game of the season, and the Dream scored a season-high 96 points in an overtime loss to Chicago.
She followed that with a season-high 17 points in the Dream’s next game, a win.
“I was just (being) aggressive,” Ajavon said of her offensive explosion. “From the start of the game being aggressive, that was the difference.”
But Ajavon wasn’t inserted into the starting lineup for her offensive prowess. Cooper was looking for a defensive stalwart who could disrupt the flow of the opposing team’s offense.
Defense has always been a calling card for Ajavon. She played at Rutgers, which is known for its tenacity on defense.
“(Cooper) has also made it a point where if you can’t play defense out there you can’t contribute to the team,” Ajavon said. “You really got to be able to play defense.”
Cooper added: “The point guard is the head of the horse. They’re the instigators to everything you do defensively, and they’re the instigators to what you do offensively. She’s now been able to balance both of them, especially on the defense end.”
With Schimmel relegated to mop-up duty — she’s played three minutes in the past four games — Ajavon appears to the Dream’s point guard for the foreseeable future. Rookie Erica Wheeler is the backup, and Sydney Carter is the safety net, Cooper said Sunday.
While the point guard situation isn’t what Cooper envisioned at the start of the season, he’s happy with Ajavon’s play.
“She’s done a great job,” Cooper said. “We only expect her to get better and better.”