Tuesday, July 21, 2009
We've finally reached the halfway point of the 2009 Atlanta Dream season. My poll question will be a good starting point for this post. The Dream is 7-10. Is this record a cause for celebration, or concern?
For anyone who lived through the horrible 4-30 season, there must be some relief that it won't happen again in 2009. Very likely the Dream will win at least ten games this year. My prediction at the beginning of the year was a 15-19 record, and the Dream are not far off that mark - they need only go 8-9 the rest of the season to get there.
One fact: the Dream is definitely better than last year, and as a matter of fact, they have become a stronger team as the season has progressed. The loss of Nikki Teasley doesn't appear to have adversely affected the team, and the only question might be why the Dream let Ivory Latta go instead of Teasley.
Furthermore, there doesn't appear to be a lot of variance in the Dream's losses - at least in terms of final score, the Dream doesn't seem to be a wildly inconsistent team. Let's look at each of these losses:
June 6: 77-71, @Washington
June 12: 81-73, @Chicago
June 21: 93-81, New York
June 23: 99-98, Chicago
June 27: 82-68, @Connecticut
June 30: 91-85, Minnesota
July 5: 78-74, @Indiana
July 11: 71-69, @New York
July 17: 84-79, @Indiana
July 19: 89-86, @New York
The first item should stand out is that seven of those losses are road losses. Another is that the 20-point losses of the past aren't there. The worst loss this year was a 14-point loss to the Sun on the road; the next was a 12-point loss to New York in Philips. After that, all of our losses are single-digit losses.
And furthermore, seven of those losses are by six points or less - essentially, those are two-possession losses. Three are by three points or less. If things had swung the other way just a little bit in some of those games, the Dream could be 10-7 instead of 7-10.
As of this writing, the Dream are still in the playoff hunt. They're in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but it is a three way tie for last with New York and Detroit - all three teams are 1 1/2 games out of that fourth playoff spot.
So looking at the season, why are we 7-10? Is it the fault of the players or the fault of the management? There are some egregious weaknesses in the 2009 Dream. The first among many is the 3-point ball. As we've all known, the Dream can neither shoot the three, nor can they defend it.
The Dream hit 29.5 percent of the 3-pointers they take - only the Los Angeles Sparks are worse. In defending the three, we're the third worst team in the league - opponents shoot 37.8 percent. In terms of the gap between values - we're #1 in the WNBA. Our hope was that Nikki Teasley would take that on that job, but nothing came of that.
As a result, we don't take a lot of 3s and our opponents are emboldened. We also can't take 3s if our players are not 3-point shooters. When we don't take threes we can't spread out the opponent defense. Generally, if you have no players that can take the three, the fault has to go to the player for not being able to shoot it - but it has to go to the management for not acquiring such players.
Furthermore, it seems that the Dream rarely contest the 3-pointer. There are too many times I've seen when the Dream lost a perimeter shooter, or stood back on the wing and watched the 3-pointer go in. We don't attack from the post and we don't attack from the perimeter. Is that the fault of the players, or it the fault of the coaching?
With Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza delivering high-accuracy shots from point-blank range, shooting percentage isn't a problem. In rebounding, the Dream is the second best rebounding team in the league, and we are fourth in rebounding differential. We used to get beat up under the glass; now, we deliver the beating to other teams.
Unfortunately, the Dream turn the ball over a lot. We're dead last in turnovers, turning the ball over 18.6 times a game. The good thing is that at least when it doesn't come to defending the three, we force a lot of turnovers ourselves- we're second best in opponent turnovers - but overall, we still turn the ball over more often than not.
We also don't have much control of ourselves. We're second in personal fouls in the league. We're third in foul differential. Combine that with the turnovers and at times we seem like a team that's unfocused and out of control. If it weren't for our post play, this team would be a lot worse than it is.
This gets back to the question of all questions - Marynell Meadors. On Dream message boards and on other boards, Meadors is seen as an impediment rather than a bonus in the Dream's goal to become a winning team. A few times this year, she's made dubious lapses. At times, she seems to forget the very presence of players on the bench, and her substitution practices have been condemned as being dodgy.
However, in terms of player acquisition, Meadors has been a plus. Picking Sancho Lyttle might have been a no-brainer in the Dispersal Draft - but at least we picked her. If McCoughtry isn't the best rookie in the WNBA, she's second-best. Coco Miller was a fine acquisition, an average point guard who can give some guidance (hopefully) to Shalee Lehning and Ivory Latta. Chamique Holdsclaw isn't the player that she was before, but for a person with a reputation as a headcase, she brings a lot of stability to the club.
The rumor is that Meadors will retire after the 2009 season and move into the GM spot. However, if we can make a run at the playoffs - should Marynell Meadors be in the driver's seat for that run?
In terms of the franchise's health as a whole - average attendance has dropped by more than 1000, the biggest drop in attendance of any team in the WNBA in terms of absolute numbers. This is disturbing. It could be that the new simply wore off the product. It could just be the economy. It could be that Ivory Latta was so much of a fan favorite that when she was released at the end of training camp, some fans stayed away. With the Dream making the biggest turnaround of any team in the WNBA, why are fans staying away?
Am I happy with what's going on? I would have to say a cautious "yes". Maybe a 6 or a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. Having two All-Stars would make anyone happy, but this team is definitely a work in progress. We're not even close to being a WNBA Championship team, not yet anyway. There will be lots of difficult choices that have to be made, and I don't know if our coach is the one that can make them. (If she's just the GM next year, it's a moot point.)
So to wrap up the mid-season review, I'm going to play a little game: I'll go over each player of the Dream roster, and we'll give an argument for that player staying on the Dream's roster - and an argument for why she should get out of town. The list, in no particular order:
Erika de Souza
Pro: De Souza is the secret weapon. She's "The Beast" and that bank shot of hers is unbeatable. You have a friggin All-Star on your hands here. She gets into position and gets the rebound. She's the height and the power. She's only 27 years old, and she gives the Dream an international following. Furthermore, no one seems to know how good she is. Can you believe the Sparks and the Sun let her go? What were they smoking?
Erika de Souza is the best player in the Eastern Conference. Period.
Con: Remember last year when Erika got hurt? That was part of the reason we sucked so bad - we didn't have a center. Furthermore, Erika is playing for Ros Casares, one of the best teams in Europe. That means she plays a lot - there's a full season of the Spanish league and a bunch of Euroleague games. And then the Brazilians want her on the national team.
She's good, but she is going get really old, really fast. There's an old saying from Branch Rickey in baseball that applies to the WNBA: "if you have to trade someone too early, or too late - trade them too early". Trade Erika for a good point guard, and watch us rise to the top.
Pro: Oh, Sancho! You are indeed blessed. You're a top ten WNBA player and you're an All-Star. And the amazing thing is that you haven't even played basketball competitively until you were 18. She's 25 years old - so believe it or not, we've not seen the best of Sancho. If you had to build a team around someone, build it around Sancho.
Con: Well...she fouls a lot. But...oh forget it. Who are we kidding? Trading Sancho would be a disaster. There is no argument for getting rid of Sancho. Unless Phoenix wants to trade Taurasi or Nicky Anosike thinks Minnesota is too cold.
Nikki, you weren't really that bad. I just wanted to get that in there.
Pro: That was a good acquisition. Frankly, we need as much help at the point as we can get, and Coco is decent. She's a Georgia girl, so she puts a handful of butts in seats. She's a first round draft pick. She might hit 31 in September, but we need all the help we can get, and Miller might be all the help we can get. She's better than her sister.
Con: The majority of the league is better than her sister. Coco isn't the future of the point guard position. Sometimes, she just has horrible games. I know she was the most improved player in 2002, but she's as improved as she's going to get. Let's find a real point guard.
Pro: Angel McCoughtry would be the best player in the WNBA if Meadors would just let her play. She's probably the best rookie in the league behind Bonner. Angel loves to win, and this is a player who will do whatever it takes to win. Her upside is tremendous. Can you imagine how good she will be in five years?
Con: McCoughtry tends not to follow orders, and because of that, she's ended up in Meadors's doghouse. It's easier to get out of the Siberian gulags than The Doghouse, and if the coach and the player aren't seeing eye to eye, you know who goes. The only reason Meadors didn't trade her is because she'd look dumb trading a #1 pick.
Angel wants to put the team on her back, but the WNBA don't work that way. Furthermore, she's trying to hit the 3-pointer to prove her worth to the team. Stop shooting the 3-pointer! You could use that "Can you imagine how good she will be in five years?" line and make an awesome trade with it.
Pro: I'm not going to condemn a player with a sample size of n=1 years. Everybody has a bad year. This is Michelle's bad year. She was awesome in Houston, but then again, she was starting in Houston. I don't think that Michelle has adjusted to her role as a bench player. Give it time, and if Sancho or Erika get hurt, you'll learn why they sang Michelle Snow's praises in Houston.
Con: Maybe so, but Snow has one fault - she's a fouling machine. You give her starters minutes and you'll never know how good she is because she'll have fouled out by the third quarter. Everyone following the WNBA agrees that she's a shadow of herself, anyway, why not just sell some other sucker Michelle's past?
Furthermore, Snow's fouls are really aggressive ones - elbows and all. Snow has no self-control. She wakes our opponents out of their stupor, and they regain their focus and try to shove the ball down our throats. Do we really need that kind of player coming off the bench?
Pro: who said that Marynell Meadors can't learn from her mistakes? It was a mistake to have cut Latta from this team, and now, Latta has started to show us why. She's good for 10 points a game and a few assists. Our points weren't providing punch, and she provides what was missing.
Furthermore, the fans love Ivory. Don't piss off the fans. Ivory has a potential to put up 20 point games, and she can shoot the 3-pointer.
Con: Latta might be the streakiest player on the Dream since Izi - didn't she disappear a lot in the 2008 season? Her height is a disadvantage, because 3-point shooters can just shoot over her. Ivory has been in the league for three years and is no one's first choice - Lehning is the future of the Dream at point guard. Besides, if even Marynell Meadors couldn't see her potential greatness and cut her after camp, then how good can Ivory really be?
Pro: Do you know why the Dream is so good in 2009? Two words: Chamique Holdsclaw. For all of her head problems, she has been the heart of this team. She never gives up. She moves the ball better than any player that I've ever seen. She's the real leader of this squad.
You can replace skills - but never leadership. When the chips are down, everyone looks in the direction of the Claw. She has the right answer. And her games recently have been amazing.
Con: Claw started slow. That hurt us. She admitted she wasn't 100 percent. Now that Teasley is gone, Holdsclaw has the worst knees on the club. Sooner or later, that knee will go and then, "bye bye Dream".
Do you know who has the most turnovers in the WNBA? Chamique Holdsclaw, with 53. Her fouls are pretty high as well - not Michelle Snow-high, but her tendency to foul to get to the basket has been increasing year by year because she doesn't have those rookie moves anymore. Holdsclaw belongs to the past, and is at best a stop-gap measure.
Pro: Face it, Young hasn't had it easy. She was the first round draft pick during a season where the Dream lost 30 games, and too much was expected of her. She's had an ankle injury this year which has kept her out of a lot of games. What Tamera needs is teaching and above all, minutes. You just can't yank a player like Young off the bench; she needs time to warm up. She has a lot of potential, but it just isn't being developed and Meadors doesn't know how to help her. Give her time.
Con: There's nothing to develop. What did Young shoot last year? 33 percent. What is she shooting this year? 30 percent. That boat sailed a long time ago. She's on the Dream for political reasons - Meadors made a bad first round pick on a mid-major player and doesn't want to admit it by trading Young. But Young is just taking up space on the bench.
Pro: When a rookie starts, you know they're good. They don't start rookies unless they're good, and Lehning is good. We know that she can dish the ball. She's leading the Dream in assists per game. If you watch her on the court, you can see that the veterans listen to her, and there is no question that Lehning runs the Dream offense. Shalee Lehning is the steal of the draft, a second round choice that turned out to be pretty damned good.
Con: The only thing Lehning is is "pretty" - she's the pretty white girl like Ann Strother was last year. The only reason she got the starts at point was because there were no other options and Ivory wasn't on the team. Lehning can't score. Even she admits that. You have to score in the WNBA if you want to play. Defenses don't agressively go after her and they gang up on the other players. She's a detriment.
Iziane Castro Marques
Pro: Marques provides the aggression in the Atlanta Dream offense - Holdsclaw moves the ball but Izi just drives the ball right down into the basket. She's not afraid of any defender - how many 1-on-3 fast breaks have we seen? - and if she can't get the bucket, she'll draw the foul. The Brazilian national team knows how good she is and are trying to get her back.
She might be streaky, but it's a good streaky - the kind of streaky that produces a 20 point game every week. I like that kind of streaky. I like it a lot.
Con: Yea, but when she's not scoring 20 points a game, she's scoring zero. She just becomes a black hole where the ball goes on the way to a missed shot and a defensive rebound. You could make the argument that she's the worst player in the W.
All of Castro Marques's great games? We lose all of those great games. She score points only when the Dream are looking shaky and when enemy defenses are on cruise control. If Meadors didn't like Izi personally, she would have never even been signed for the Dream. If Iziane Castro Marques is the best player on your squad, you're in trouble.
Pro: She was on the 2007 Mercury championship team. That has to account for something.
Con: Her shooting percentage has dropped in every year she's played. No one quakes with fear when facing Jennifer Lacy in the post. It's a good thing she has friends on the Dream, or she'd be playing in China or Eastern Europe.