Season preview: Dream look to keep building on recent success

After the Dream broke into the WNBA in 2008, the team made the playoffs in seven of its first 10 seasons.

In recent history, the Dream have struggled to make the playoffs, as they didn’t qualify for four consecutive seasons (2019-22) with a 37-87 record in that time. Before 2020, the Dream had never gone back-to-back seasons without a postseason berth.

As the Dream approach their 2024 season, which tips off Wednesday at Los Angeles, the team is coming off a 2023 campaign in which it recorded a 19-21 record, finished third in the Eastern Conference and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

Though the Dream were swept by Dallas in the first round, third-year coach Tanisha Wright has helped right the ship, coaching the team to 10-plus wins in her first two seasons. The former Storm star – who won a 2010 WNBA championship with Seattle – has a 33-43 record at the helm of the Dream.

Amid a surge in the popularity of women's basketball, the AJC went behind the scenes on the Atlanta Dream's 2024 draft night.

Recently, Wright evaluated her team after the Dream played its first preseason game – an 87-84 win over Washington.

“I saw us defend at a high level,” she said. “I think the opportunity to get back on the court and continue to work on things that we’re working on (is good). For us, we need to defend at a higher level if we want to be the team that I think we can be.”

The Dream were 1-1 in exhibition games after losing to Indiana 83-80 on Thursday.

Rhyne Howard, out of Kentucky, was the first overall pick in the 2022 draft and she has proved why in her young career. Howard was tabbed as an All-Star in her first two seasons and she was 2022 rookie of the year.

Howard averaged a team-leading 17.5 points per game and she added 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 2023.

“I feel like I’m always comfortable when I come back here and get ready to gear up for a season,” Howard said. “Another year under the belt is another year of seeing how intense this league can be. I’m super excited to get back on the court and super excited to put these pieces together that we have and show them what we can do.”

Rhyne Howard is set to begin her third season.

Credit: Adam Hagy

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Credit: Adam Hagy

Allisha Gray is in her seventh year in the WNBA and her second with the Dream. The 2017 rookie of the year earned her first All-Star selection last season after averaging 17.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

Last season, the Dream’s starting five was typically Howard (39 starts), Gray (38), Cheyenne Parker-Tyus (38), Nia Coffey (31) and Danielle Robinson (27).

Robinson, who was drafted in 2011, averaged 21.6 minutes and 5.8 points last season and is the only one of last season’s main starting five not returning. She has dealt with injuries and is a free agent.

In the Dream’s two exhibition games, the starting five consisted of Gray, Howard, Haley Jones, Parker-Tyus and Tina Charles.

Charles, who last played in the league with Seattle in 2022 and sat out the 2023 season, signed with the Dream in the offseason.

Charles is a seasoned veteran, as she was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Charles was rookie of the year that season, won MVP in 2012 and is an eight-time All-Star. In Atlanta’s loss to Indiana Thursday, Charles scored 10 points and had seven rebounds in 16 minutes.

Wright said Charles’ experience will be invaluable to the eight Dream players with less than five years of pro experience.

“(Charles has been) able to lend her experience to our younger (group of players),” Wright said. “She’s just getting out there and leading by example and not taking any plays off. She can go out there and dominate like she knows how to dominate. That’s our expectation. She’s a great piece for us to have.”

Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles (31) defends against Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston (7) on Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Jones is in her second season in the WNBA after being selected sixth overall by the Dream in 2023. The Stanford product played in 40 games last season, starting six. She averaged 3.7 points, 14.6 minutes and 2.4 rebounds.

Naz Hillmon returns for her third season in the league after she was drafted by the Dream 15th overall in 2022. Hillmon played in 40 games last season, averaging 15 minutes and 3.4 rebounds.

Laeticia Amihere enters her second season. She played in 20 games last year, averaging seven minutes.

Aerial Powers was an offseason acquisition for the Dream and she may have a big impact off the bench. After three seasons with Minnesota, Powers signed a one-year deal with the Dream. She played in 20 games last season, averaging 5.2 points.

Powers came off the bench in both exhibition games. Against Washington, she played 13 minutes and scored nine points, with two rebounds and an assist. Powers got 23 minutes off the bench Thursday and she scored 10 points and also had five rebounds and an assist.

“(Powers) has been a burst of energy,” Wright said. “Every day she shows up ready to go with her hard hat on ready to put in work. AP is just ready to get back on the court as well and get to playing. Her playmaking ability and her aggressiveness, all that will add to our team.”

On May 4, Dallas traded Crystal Dangerfield to the Dream for a 2025 draft pick. The guard, who is in her fourth season in the WNBA, was named 2020 rookie of the year and scored 8.2 points per game last season.

Destanni Henderson is another newcomer who played in 15 games with Los Angeles and Phoenix last season.

Aari McDonald joins Robinson as a notable departure. McDonald played in 24 games with nine starts and averaged 23.5 minutes and 7.9 points last season, but was traded to the Sparks in February for Jordin Canada.

Asia Durr and Monique Billings and Iliana Rupert are other departures from last season’s team.

Both Howard and Wright said team chemistry will be important for a team with five new additions.

“We have to make sure everybody is on the same page,” Howard said. “Sometimes it can get hectic but if I know that I can’t be going a million miles per hour and throw a pass and (Allisha) is not going to be there. Chemistry is definitely an important piece, especially with the newcomers coming in.”

Her coach agreed.

“Rhyne just hit on the chemistry and understanding what somebody is (going to) do in certain situations,” Wright said, “Once they get a better feeling for that and a better understanding, like ‘In this situation, we’re probably gonna cut. In this situation, we’re probably (going to) bounce back.’ It’s a chemistry thing and getting a good feel for what one another is going to do.”

Khadijiah Cave and Lorela Cubaj were training camp invitees. Cave played in both exhibition games, but Cubaj did not play in either.

The Dream will have 20 home games this season and the first contest at Gateway Center Arena will come May 21 against Dallas – a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff matchup.