Basketball

The Dream’s Clean-Slate Strategy Made Space for a Star: Rhyne Howard

The Atlanta Dream have been seeking to begin over.

After a couple of rocky seasons – participant suspensions, a number of losses, a revolt towards a group proprietor – it was time to attempt one thing new.

Nothing says clear slate like constructing a new roster.

Atlanta saved solely a few gamers from final yr’s group: Monique Billings, Aari McDonald, Tiffany Hayes and Cheyenne Parker.

Another piece fell into place when the Dream traded up for the primary decide on this yr’s draft and chosen guard Rhyne Howard from the University of Kentucky. Howard made historical past as the one former Wildcat to be chosen first total by a WNBA franchise. Despite the facility strikes Atlanta made to make sure Howard was a a part of their rebuild, she just isn’t feeling any strain to atone for the failings of previous Atlanta groups.

“I used to be conscious of what has been occurring, however we didn’t discuss that,” Howard mentioned in a cellphone interview earlier this month. “We haven’t, and we didn’t even earlier than the draft as a result of it is like, it is prior to now now. Everyone right here is principally new, so we’re simply seeking to rebuild, which we now have finished to this point. ”

The Atlanta Dream are in playoff rivalry because the WNBA nears the All-Star break, however simply barely. They are 8-8 after beating the Dallas Wings on Tuesday. Their 6-4 begin beneath first-time coach Tanisha Wright was promising for a franchise with fewer than 16 wins during the last two seasons.

Promising, sure, however not satisfying.

The Dream haven’t made it to postseason play since 2018, when Nicki Collen led Atlanta to a 23-11 file en path to profitable the Coach of the Year Award. It appeared as if the heyday of Dream basketball might need returned.

After profitable solely 4 video games as an enlargement membership in 2008, the Dream earned six consecutive postseason berths, together with three journeys to the WNBA finals.

However, by 2019 the Dream have been once more scraping on the backside of the standings and wouldn’t win greater than eight video games in three straight seasons. There was turmoil off the courtroom as nicely.

In 2020, the Dream caught the eye of the sports activities and political worlds when the group’s gamers publicly supported the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia who was operating for a Senate seat towards Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who co-owned the Dream.

Then final season, the Dream suspended guard Chennedy Carter after 11 video games for “conduct detrimental to the group.” That May, guards Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford have been concerned in a combat exterior of a membership in Atlanta. It was not till after the season, when video of the combat surfaced, that the WNBA suspended them. None are with Atlanta now.

Neither is Loeffler, who offered the group in February 2021 after dropping to Warnock. There are a number of new faces, together with Wright, Howard and General Manager Dan Padover, who was employed away from the Las Vegas Aces in October. A month earlier, the Dream employed a new group president, Morgan Shaw Parker. With each transfer, the Atlanta Dream have made it clear that there is no such thing as a trying again, solely trying ahead.

“It actually was a approach to get into one thing on the bottom ground that I’ve by no means been in a position to do,” Padover mentioned. He added: “I seen it as a problem, and I additionally knew I used to be going to be with actually good folks, and we have been going to usher in actually good gamers.”

Howard had averaged 20.5 factors per recreation within the 2021-22 season at Kentucky and left as a two-time SEC participant of the yr. She was named to the Associated Press first group three of her 4 years in Lexington.

Her transition to the skilled ranks has been easy. Through 16 video games, Howard is averaging 16.3 factors, 4.3 rebounds and a pair of.7 assists per recreation. She was named the WNBA rookie of the month for May.

She leads the Dream in factors and minutes (31) per recreation and is a prime candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. So far, she has validated all that it took for Atlanta to get her.

Five days earlier than the draft, Atlanta traded its first-round (third total) and second-round (14th total) picks to the Washington Mystics for the No. 1 total decide. Additionally, the Mystics can swap their 2023 first-round decide for the 2023 first-round decide the Dream acquired in a commerce with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“When we appeared on the commerce, we have recognized within the W that it is actually, actually laborious to get elite-level gamers,” Padover mentioned. “And whenever you get a chance to get one, you need to actually contemplate it.”

He continued: “For us to get a participant of Rhyne’s caliber to start out this rebuilding course of, we didn’t suppose we might go it up. And I believe the opposite factor that we checked out was not simply the 2022 draft – we appeared on the draft from 2020 to 2023, and there weren’t a lot of gamers that we might evaluate to Rhyne. ”

Although there may be a lot of pleasure for the trail forward, Padover is beneath no illusions that it will likely be a simple street. No one on the group has gained a championship besides for Wright, who gained in 2010 with the Seattle Storm.

“We do must get to the place we need to get from a aggressive standpoint,” he mentioned. “We need to be a constant playoff group for years to come back. We’ll see what occurs this yr, however I’m undecided we’re there but. ”

Atlanta had dropped 4 straight video games earlier than beating Dallas on Tuesday. Opponents scored no less than 90 factors in three of the 4 losses. In the earlier 11 video games, solely the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces had scored greater than 80 factors towards the Dream.

“Defensively, we have to get again to ourselves,” Wright mentioned after a 105-92 loss to the Connecticut Sun final week. Atlanta averages a league-leading 17.7 turnovers per recreation. The Dream have conceded 15.1 factors per recreation due to turnovers and one other 9.3 factors per recreation on quick breaks. But the defensive numbers aren’t all dangerous: Atlanta is tied with the Connecticut Sun for second-fewest second-chance factors allowed (9.2) per recreation.

Nia Coffey leads the group with 5 defensive rebounds per recreation, however Parker and Billings are proper behind her with 4.8 per recreation. Parker additionally leads the group with 1.3 blocks per recreation, and averages 11.8 factors per recreation.

“What we have been lifeless set on was that we wanted to verify we introduced in professionals who have been going to be respectful of each other and likewise make the town and this franchise proud,” Padover mentioned.

What will that seem like on the finish of the common season? Will a playoff berth or main league award present that Atlanta is transferring in the suitable course?

“A aim of mine is to be rookie of the yr,” Howard mentioned, “however simply with the ability to have an effect on this group repeatedly and persistently and simply main us to the place everybody desires to go is sufficient for me. I’m not going to get any accomplishments with out my group. ”

The Dream should combat to stay in playoff rivalry, however Howard leads all rookies in per-game averages for minutes, factors, steals, and 3-pointers and discipline targets made. Early returns say she could be the elite participant Padover and the Dream thought she could be.

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