By Sydney Gibbs
The Atlanta Dream’s 2020 WNBA season did not go the way it was typically supposed to go. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States it gradually forced all sports to immediately pause or delay their seasons. But that desire to play basketball was much bigger than the pandemic, and the WNBA made it work.
The Dream, along with the 11 other WNBA teams were whisked away to Bradenton, Fla. to take part in the shortened 22-game stretch in an isolated community at IMG Academy. It was an experience no one was prepared for but the Dream was ready to take on the task.
Atlanta had its fair share of ups and downs that resulted in them finishing the season with a 7-15 record and missing out on the playoffs. Here are some postseason takeaways on the Dream’s historic 2020 season.
Developing Chemistry Took Some Time
The Dream only had two returning players from the 2019 roster. They had the most active offseason transactions of any team in the league this year, picking up 10 new players through free agency, trades, and the draft.
Atlanta started from scratch and only had two weeks to piece it all together. After a fiery start on opening night, the Dream’s season looked promising –– that didn’t persist for too long. The Dream struggled to find a balance early in the season after losing 10 consecutive games.
The confidence and comfortability level were strongly evident as they improved game after game. After that long stretch of consecutive losses, the Dream won four of their last six games. That cohesive Atlanta team emerged out of nowhere and constantly showed everyone that they are true competitors.
Battling Through the Absences
Head coach Nicki Collen came into the “wubble” with only eight players and started the season short-handed. Glory Johnson, Courtney Williams and Kalani Brown were not with the team at the start of training camp and did not have a lot of time to fully adjust to their new team. All three players tested positive for the coronavirus and were stuck in quarantine for weeks.
Johnson and Williams were removed from the injury list on July 29 but didn’t make their season debut until July 31 against the New York Liberty. Both players struggled to find their stride in this new system and weren’t their usual selves on both ends of the floor.
Johnson didn’t have groundbreaking performances like some players, but she certainly made contributions when she needed to. Her most notable performance was against Los Angeles on Aug. 21 when she came off the bench scoring a season-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field.
Williams struggled to find her offensive rhythm, but later down the line, she was able to shake off the rust and became an explosive, offensive threat. Through the 19 games she played, Williams averaged 15.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists on the season. She led all WNBA guards in rebounding during the 2020 season, showing Dream fans what to expect next year.
Kalani Brown didn’t record her first minutes until Aug. 10 against the Connecticut Sun and didn’t see a lot of playing time. Brown didn’t reach her best this season and didn’t establish herself as the big, aggressive, and physical playmaker she is on the offensive and defensive end of the court.
It wasn’t an easy transition for these three players and not being able to participate in training camp clearly took a toll. As other teams steadily started connecting the dots and forming an identity, the Dream couldn’t fully get it together.
Hollywood is the Future
The Dream went into the WNBA draft with the fourth pick on the board. This draft class was overflowed with feisty guards and Chennedy “Hollywood” Carter was one of them. Atlanta secured a relentless and fearless guard in Carter and came into the franchise with high expectations.
She did not disappoint. She flashed her crafty ball-handling abilities and displayed her talent of powering to the basket game after game. Her nickname isn’t “Hollywood” for no reason.
Carter now holds the franchise record for points scored by a rookie in a single game [35 vs. Seattle, 8/6] and she is the first Dream rookie to score in double-figures in each of her first six games – a record that was set in just her fourth game as a pro. She is also the youngest player in WNBA history to score at least 30 points in a game at 21 years and 266 days.
She averaged 19.4 points and 4.3 assists in her first seven games. Carter was setting record after record and consistently added to her Rookie of the Year campaign until she went out with an ankle injury against the Sun on Aug. 10. She was sidelined two weeks, missing six straight games.
In her second game back from injury against the Los Angeles Sparks, she reminded everyone who really shines bright under the lights, scoring 26 points in 26 minutes.
The 21-year old reached numerous milestones this season and finished the season averaging 16.9 points, and 3.5 assists. Carter’s proven she’s a special talent and will be in the spotlight for many years to come. For her incredible effort, she was unanimously selected by WNBA coaches to the WNBA All-Rookie Team.
The Rise of Betnijah Laney
After Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes decided to opt-out for the 2020 season in June, Atlanta had open spots on their roster. The Dream picked up Betnijah Laney, who was waived by the Indiana Fever just a week prior.
Throughout her five-year career in the WNBA, Laney had been in the shadows and didn’t see a whole lot of playing time. Atlanta signed Laney because they believed she would make an immediate impact and contribute on both ends of the floor – she did that and much more.
Laney averaged a career-best 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. In previous seasons she had averaged only 5.6 ppg. She shot a career-high 40.5 percent from 3-point range, making more threes (30) in her fifth year than all the other years combined. Her 40.5% shooting (30-74) from three-point range was the second-best mark from deep in franchise history, only best by her teammate Blake Dietrick (26-58 | 44.8%) this year. She improved in a number of other statistical categories, but you get the point. She balled out.
The 26-year old forward had an outstanding season and received the recognition she rightfully deserved as she was named the 2020 WNBA Most Improved Player. She received 25 of a possible 44 votes for the award. She made a name for herself and will be a key piece to this Dream offense come next season.
Even though the Dream didn’t finish out the season like they wanted to, they have a lot to look forward to coming into 2021. With the amazing guard duo in Carter and Williams, and experienced post/perimeter players like Laney, Elizabeth Williams, and Monique Billings. This Atlanta team could be in playoff contention. Not to mention, Hayes and Montgomery will be available next season and contribute to their future success.
Atlanta will also have a lottery pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft to add to this young and talented roster.
Their season in the Wubble is over and what a rocky season it was. But, things are looking promising for this bright roster and the franchise will have a chance to get back on their feet.