2024 WNBA Season Preview: Atlanta Dream

Atlanta Dream v Washington Mystics
Can Allisha Gray and Rhyne Howard be the dynamic duo that the Atlanta Dream need? | Photo by Kenny Giarla/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite making the playoffs for the first time since 2018, it was an up-and-down season for the Atlanta Dream in 2023. Can the Dream demonstrate more consistency in 2024?

Last season, the Atlanta Dream returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, a meaningful point of progress for the organization in its second season under general manager Dan Padover and head coach Tanisha Wright.

Yet, the step forward was a bit of a stumble forward. While Atlanta earned the No. 5 seed in the 2023 WNBA Playoffs, they finished under .500. After winning their seventh game in a row on July 18, they won only seven more games the rest of the regular season, going 7-15 over the second half of the season. The team’s stay in the playoffs also was short-lived, as they were swept by the Dallas Wings.

The muddle of positives and not-so positives is appropriate for a team that was consistently inconsistent, with flashes of promise too often followed by frustration. In 2024, consistency should be the primary priority for the Dream, establishing a foundation of game-to-game good basketball that, in future seasons, blossoms into great basketball. Because, despite the offseason additions of Jordin Canada, Tina Charles and Aerial Powers, it’s unrealistic to believe that the Dream can contend with the league’s super teams. However, it should be expected that the Dream take a demonstrable step toward becoming a team that, sooner than later, confidently can challenge the W’s best.

Three reasons it could be a Dream season in Atlanta

AU Allisha Gray

During the 2024 AU season, Allisha Gray was golden.

Competing in Athletes Unlimited for the second time, Gray appeared to arrive in Dallas intent on proving that she was the best player on the court, game in and game out. And she succeeded. Gray authored the best season in AU history, earning MVP honors as she played with discernible drive and determination. She was a two-way force who expected to dominate.

It’s that attitude, as much as the output, that should have Dream fans excited to see what Gray can do in the 2024 WNBA season. She’s a player who has gotten better every season of her career, and it seems like 2024 will be no different. Her sharpened sense of purpose, in particular, will be valuable to a Dream team that too often fell into listless stretches last season. When things get shaky and squishy for Atlanta, they need that AU-version of Gray to both stabilize and strengthen the team, playing with an assured authority that demands that her teammates similarly raise their play.

A refined Rhyne Howard

Rhyne Howard spent her offseason serving as an assistant coach for the Florida Gators, as well as participating in camps and competitions with USA Basketball. In tandem, those experiences—observing the game from a different perspective and being around some of the sport’s best—should equip Howard to inch closer to her sky-high ceiling in 2024.

Through her first two WNBA seasons, Howard has had a number of masterful offensive performances, highlighted by a 43-point explosion agains the Sparks last season.

However, an essential ingredient to her best offensive games has been the 3-pointer. It’s her ability to drain triples off-the-dribble or off movement that makes her such an enticing offensive talent. But, what about when the 3-ball is not falling? That’s when Howard’s offseason experiences hopefully will translate to improved process and results. It would be encouraging to see Howard more consistently apply her traits and talents—6-foot-2 with silky, shifty athleticism—to get to the basket and finish strong, in contrast to settling for off-balance, fading midrangers or weak, flailing drives. Expanding her drive-and-kick game also would juice a Dream offense that dried up down the stretch of the 2023 regular season. Howard is a special offensive talent—and she can be even more special in 2024.

Off-the-bench bucket getters

Presuming head coach Tanisha Wright rolls with a starting lineup of Gray, Howard, Jordin Canada, Nia Coffey and Cheyenne Parker, that leaves offseason additions Tina Charles and Aerial Powers as the first two players off the bench. The pair’s primary job? Get buckets.

A Charles-Powers duo should give the Dream a second unit with a defined identity—scoring. Since she sat out last season and enters the 2024 campaign at age 35, it’s hard to know what to expect from Charles. But her track record suggests she can still feast against opponent’s reserves. Powers also isn’t shy about getting her shots up. Sometimes, she can shoot you out of a game, but, more often than not, she can shoot you back into a game.

And as Wright emphasized at media day, the organization believes Charles’ extensive experience will benefit a still-young, unseasoned squad.

Two reasons Atlanta could fall short of their Dream

Gotta play Haley and LA

Last season, Atlanta’s two first-round draft selections, Haley Jones and Laeticia Amihere, received inconsistent opportunities, with Jones totaling 584 minutes while Amihere played just 147. Nevertheless, they showed more than enough encouraging flashes.

When she played with confidence, Jones pushed the pace, putting pressure on the defense and creating easy scoring opportunities. Although her defensive awareness needs work, her size suggests she can be a versatile, positive contributor on that end. Amihere is all energy, looking to make something happen every second she is on the court. Both players also competed with Gray in Athletes Unlimited this offseason, with Amihere, in particular, impressing as she made the AU All-Defensive team.

For Atlanta to emerge as a team capable of tangling with the leagues titans, they’ll need both players to approach their potential. And for that to happen, both need to play. However, considering that the Dream brought in three vets this offseason, the sophomores again might see limited time.

Was Canada’s leap real?

During the 2023 offseason, Jordan Canada re-signed with the Los Angeles Sparks on a training camp contract, an indication that her place on the Sparks, and even in the league, was far from secure. From there, she turned in the best season of her career, emerging as LA’s starting point guard and a contender for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award. But, such a leap raises questions about the sustainability of her improved play. Was it an outlier season? Or, did the real Jordin Canada arrive in year six of her WNBA career?

Canada both attempted and made the most 3s of her WNBA career last season, firing more than three per game and hitting around 33 percent of them. Those numbers are not extraordinary, but were a vast improvement over her 2022 output, when she made 14 percent of her 1.6 3-pointers per game. This offseason, she played in the WNBL, where she was named MVP for her play as the engine of the Melbourne Boomers. Yet, she shot 27.3 percent from 3.

It is the threat of her shot that made Canada a more effective point guard last season, requiring opponents to guard her more closely, which then created opportunities for the lightning-quick Canada to dust her defenders and drive to the basket or kick out a pass to a teammate. If opposing defenders sag off of her and dare her to shoot and the shots do not fall, the Dream offense, which Canada’s acquisition is supposed to help supercharge, threatens again to stall out into stagnant halfcourt sets.

Canada’s value is not limited to the offensive end. She’s one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the league. But if she back slides after last season’s offensive leap, it will be cause for concern.

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