June 19, 2019 Atlanta - Atlanta Dream forward Monique Billings (center) and teammates celebrate their victory over the Indiana Fever during WNBA basketball game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Atlanta Dream won 88-78 over the Indiana Fever. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Dream secure No. 4 pick in 2020 WNBA draft, shift focus to free agency

The Atlanta Dream will have the No. 4 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

The Dream finished 8-26 and at the bottom of the 2019 WNBA standings, so the team qualified for the lottery, which took place at halftime of the WNBA playoff matchup between the L.A. Sparks and Connecticut Sun on ESPN2. The Dream had a 10.7 percent chance of earning the top pick, since the draft lottery odds are determined based on a team’s two-year record, and the Dream made it to the WNBA semifinals in 2018. 

The Dream have not had a No. 1 overall pick since drafting Angel McCoughtry in 2009. 

On draft night in April, the Dream traded their 2020 second-round pick for Nia Coffey, so the Dream will pick again in the third round.

On potentially having the top pick, head coach Nicki Collen said on ESPN2, “It allows you to combine your good veterans with a young player, and allows us to fill a gap that we had this season.” 

The Dream’s 2019 starting lineup will return, with Elizabeth Williams and Tiffany Hayes having signed contract extensions in 2018. Jessica Breland and Renee Montgomery also have full protection contracts. Brittney Sykes is still under her rookie contract.

Without the top pick, the Dream will now shift its offseason strategy slightly.

“We'll be trying to figure out the best possible player that we can get at four and combine that with hopefully a really productive 2020 free agency,” Collen told the AJC.

The Dream has no restricted free agents, but has two unrestricted free agents in McCoughtry and Alex Bentley. The Dream’s offensive production was down as a team, but Bentley had the worst shooting season of her career, averaging 30.7 percent from the floor and 23.5 percent from three. She missed multiple games this season while competing in EuroBasket for Belarus. 

McCoughtry did not play a game in 2019, because of a knee injury she sustained in 2018. In June, McCoughtry was quoted in The Athletic saying that she did not receive enough support from the organization during the recovery process, which she said led to a second surgery, and that she heard rumors that she would be traded during free agency and felt the team wasn’t being patient with her recovery. Collen said on media day that the Dream went into the 2019 season preparing for Angel not to step on the court.

On Aug. 20, McCoughtry announced on Instagram that she had intentions to return to the court for the Dream’s season finale Sept. 8. Later that evening, Collen clarified that McCoughtry had not been cleared to play basketball. On Sept. 8, McCoughtry participated in a ceremonial start against the Liberty.

The moves the Dream make during free agency could be position based, if McCoughtry and Bentley are not re-signed.

McCoughtry has played both power forward and small forward for the Dream, and Bentley has served in the role of backup point guard. The Dream drafted guard Kristy Wallace in 2018, who is now in Australia, and Collen will go watch her play during the offseason to see if she’s WNBA ready.

As an effort to make up up for the physical loss of McCoughtry, the Dream traded for Coffey and signed Haley Peters, who was eventually cut during the season. Other than her rebounding and scoring ability, the Dream missed the “motor” and clutch factor that McCoughtry is capable of providing. Nobody stepped up consistently as the Dream struggled to score or close out close games throughout the season.

Since the season has ended, Collen has been watching potential 2020 picks on Synergy and top five plays from NBA teams and said she’s letting her players have their space. She did say that returning players have to “look in the mirror no different than I’ve got to look in the mirror” and make assessments heading into 2020. Atlanta looks to return to the type of success it had in 2018, or, ideally, better.

“We have a core group of players that will be back that are under contract,” Collen said. “And, you know, they have to have better seasons. Specifically, at both ends of the floor. If players start making open shots and making extra passes, then we'll get back to playing the way we want to.”

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