They are the last remaining players from the Dream teams that advanced to three WNBA finals in four years.
Mention that their window for winning a title might be closing, and Angel McCoughtry, one of the two along with Sancho Lyttle, cocks her head, slightly purses her lips as part of her why’d-you-call-that look reserved for game officials and asks, “Why would you think that?”
“The door’s always open,” she said. “We will work hard to always accomplish that.”
McCoughtry, in her eighth season in the WNBA, and Lyttle, entering her 12th, have logged hundreds of games in Europe and the WNBA. Add their games together, and the sum likely will surpass the totals of everyone else on the team. They will play two more when the Dream play at Indiana on Friday and then host Chicago at Philips Arena on Sunday.
So, while still very skilled players, their careers are plateauing while the careers of the rest of the players on the Dream are just starting.
“Not until you hang up your shoes can you say it’s done,” Lyttle said.
The Dream’s possible path to a championship can go down either of two paths: One is where they don’t make the playoffs because the team is young, and as a result plays poor defense and turns over the ball too frequently. The other is where they make the playoffs, giving them a chance to win a championship, and their inexperience is made up for with more playing time, their poor defense is fixed with improved quickness and their turnovers are solved by better play at point guard.
So much will depend upon how quickly the young players can mature.
Though the Dream aren’t on the same level of rebuilding as the Braves, they are a very young and very inexperienced squad.
McCoughtry’s backup is a rookie, Bria Holmes.
Lyttle’s backup is Rachel Hollivay, a rookie, or Reshanda Gray, a third-year player who has started one game.
The starting center, Elizabeth Williams is in her second season. Her backup is Hollivay.
The starting point guard, Carla Cortijo, wasn’t drafted. Her backup, Layshia Clarendon, is in her fourth season and has made only 19 starts in the first three seasons.
And backing up starting shooting guard Tiffany Hayes, who was drafted in 2012 and played in the Dream’s final trip to the WNBA finals, is Meighan Simmons, who was cut by two teams before joining the Dream.
“The only disadvantage I see is the experience,” McCoughtry said. “They have all the physical abilities, the drive, the mentality.”
They will need them to fix a defense that last season allowed an average of 79.8 points per game, the most in the league. McCoughtry thinks this team is much quicker, which will enable them to play better defense.
Lyttle likes that most of the players can guard multiple positions, which will reduce the number of isolations the team faced on defense last season. If the Dream do have trouble scoring, Lyttle said they have to make sure the other team has trouble also. That seemed to be true during the season-opening win over San Antonio. The Dream limited their opponent to 63 points on 35.1 percent shooting.
“Defensively, we will be the team like we used to be, getting out, creating steals, getting offense,” McCoughtry said.
The team also averaged 16 turnovers, the most in the league. Cooper brought in new point guards, and McCoughtry said the offense is much better in half-court sets, which was a weakness during the runs to the finals. The Dream had 15 turnovers against San Antonio, but did have 16 assists.
Like those squads that went to the finals, this team is deep. It remains to be seen if it’s quality depth.
Cooper used 11 players in the season-opening win against San Antonio, which like the Dream is considered two of the weaker teams in the league this season. The Dream’s bench finished with a plus-41, compared with the plus-9 of the starters.
After a long season in Europe with just a one-week break, McCoughtry said she is fine with playing fewer minutes so that the less-experienced players can gain more experience.
Gaining that experience will be key.
Lyttle and McCoughtry have won titles in their leagues in Europe. Now, they want to win one in the NBA.
“Everybody here has potential to be somebody,” Lyttle said. “We just have to go and play.”
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