Coach of the Year? Collen Shines in Year One

Atlanta Dream have recorded a franchise-best 22 wins in 2018

When Nicki Collen took the reins of the Atlanta Dream franchise on Halloween Day last year, the team was coming off a tough 12-22 season, its worst since its inaugural campaign in 2008. Who would have thought that in less than a year, the Dream would be +10 wins and sitting in second place in the WNBA with a game to play.

The groundwork began in the offseason as the first-year head coach wasted no time in free agency to bring in Renee Montgomery, a point guard coming off a championship run in Minnesota, and Jessica Breland, a long athletic forward that would help the Dream get younger up front. Collen also received a commitment from five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry to return after taking off the entire 2017 season to rest.

With the pieces in place, Collen had to change the culture around the Dream franchise. All season long she has preached making the extra pass and creating offense from defense. It took a while for the team to mesh, after 17 games, the Dream were 8-9 and looking at a fight for the bottom two spots in the Playoffs. But then everything started to fall in to place. The Dream have 14 of the last 16 games on the way to a franchise-record 22 wins.

Since July 1, the Dream have averaged an impressive 87.6 points per game after averaging only 74.2 points over the first 15 games of the 2018 season. Seven players on the roster have recorded at least 40 assists and six players are grabbing at least 3.0 rebounds a game. The Dream recorded a franchise record 109 points against the Las Vegas Aces on August 7.

Atlanta has seen the meteoric rise of guard Tiffany Hayes, who has played at an MVP level for the Dream. She is averaging a career-best 17.4 points a game and has played locked-down defense against the opposing teams most effective guards.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dream have allowed only 79.6 points a game, which is good for third-best in the WNBA, and leads the league in defensive rating at 96.7. The Dream are also leading the league in blocks per game at 5.3 behind incredible play from Breland and Elizabeth Williams.

Atlanta has played through some injuries, losing McCoughtry and forward Damiris Dantas for the remainder of the season, and had to play without Brittney Sykes for five games and Hayes for three. But this has led to the manta “Next Man Up” and the Dream have stuck to that.

The Dream are the only team to defeat No. 1-seeded Seattle twice this year and have earned multiple wins against Washington, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Indiana.

Nicki Collen has shown that a breath of fresh air and the ability to lead is the recipe for a Coach of the Year award.

The Dream close the regular season TODAY at the Las Vegas Aces at 6 p.m. ET. A win or a Washington Mystics loss will give the Dream the second seed and double-bye in the 2018 WNBA Playoffs.