Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen said the organization got exactly what it wanted in Friday’s draft, as they restructure the team.
All-American guard Chennedy Carter, Texas Tech forward Brittany Brewer, Oregon State guard Mikayla Pivec and Clemson forward Kobi Thornton are what Collen called the “missing pieces” on a revamped squad, as Atlanta works to rebound from a losing season in which they finished last.
“I like our roster,” Collen said. “You start with the pieces and put them together once you get them on the court, and figure out the combinations that work best. Now we have multiple players we can go to in late game situations. That will help us.”
The Dream took Carter, who finished seven points shy of the Texas A&M all-time scoring record before leaving after her junior year, with their fourth pick. A prolific scorer and a dynamic playmaker, Carter set her school’s single-game scoring record early in her freshman season, with a 46-point outburst on the road at USC. Last fall, in an exhibition game against the Women’s National Team, Carter put up 34 points – the most any collegiate player has scored against that group.
Collen said choosing the Texas native came after a year of scouting her.
“We’re excited about what Chennedy Carter is going to bring to the table,” Collen said. “She’s somebody we’ve spent a lot of time digging in and really getting to know well. We know she’s capable of being a great point guard in this league and learning to lead. We’re excited to welcome her here.”
Atlanta took Brewer in the second round, with their 17th pick, and scooped up Pivec and Thornton in the third round with the 25th and 27th picks, respectively. It is a necessary reload.
After falling one bucket short of the WNBA finals in 2018, the sometimes-injured and frequently-inconsistent Dream went a dismal 8-26 last year, which included a 12-game losing streak. Over the winter, the roster was overhauled.
All-Star Angel McCoughtry signed with the Las Vegas Aces, and Atlanta traded Brittney Sykes and Marie Gulich to Los Angeles for second-year forward Kalani Brown. A week later Atlanta signed Glory Johnson from the Wings and Shekinna Stricklen from the Sun, reuniting the former Tennessee Lady Vol teammates.
Their final move came in a three-team trade in which they dealt forward Jessica Breland to Phoenix, while acquiring high-scoring guard and Georgia native Courtney Williams from Connecticut. They also picked up Alexis Jones after she was cut from the Sparks.
The Dream returns only five players from last season – six if Alaina Coates is counted for playing in nine games in 2019 after being cut by the Minnesota Lynx. Atlanta signed her to a training camp contract last week.
Collen, who was the WNBA coach of the year in 2018, said the team’s reboot starts with Carter, whose complex skill set alone will add depth.
“We struggled to score the basketball last year,” Collen said. “The thing about Chennedy….is her ability to touch the paint. That’s key for us. She can find open people or take her own shot. She could take our transition game to another level.”
Carter’s ability to score against two or three defenders also made her attractive.
“She has great feet and is incredibly strong through her upper body,” Collen said. “She shouldn’t be screened if she makes up her mind not to be screened.”
“She’s an incredible passer off the pick and roll. She can throw the pocket pass, and she can throw it high. I think she’ll love playing with the versatility of (our) posts.”
Collen said Carter will need to look to returning veterans Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery for guidance, as well as seasoned pros Johnson and Stricklen. She also senses the senior athletes will be pleasantly surprised.
“I think they’re going to realize that she can really play, and the best way for her to help them is for them to pull her along as fast as they can,” Collen said.
Atlanta’s other draftees also met their needs. Collen said that Brewer was exactly the player they had hoped to get with their second pick.
“For her size, she rim runs well,” Collen said. “She’s got a really developed low post game. She’s working on her range, but shows three-point ability. We’re excited about the total package with her.”
Collen said she was pleasantly surprised Pivec was available in the third round.
“She’s just an intense competitor – there’s no one tougher in the game,” Collen said. “She’s the best guard rebounder in college basketball, and it’s not even close.”
Citing her athleticism, Collen said there are no ceilings for “big time” Thornton.
“There’s no guarantee in this league once you get past the first round, as second and third round (draftees) will have to battle for spots,” Collen said. “But we really checked off some boxes.”
The coronavirus pandemic forced the WNBA to make the draft remotely broadcast, for the first time in league history. Carter, who was expected to be chosen in the top five, sat smiling in a living room chair as family members yelled and patted her on the back when her name was called. She said that in the moment, she was at a loss for words.
“Draft day was something I’d been waiting for my whole life, and for A&M, I’ve been waiting since my freshman year,” Carter said. “That was ultimately the end goal for me. I wanted to continue to play at the highest level after my four or three years were done at the University. I’m really very honored and blessed to be here.”
She said she has been working out at her family’s home and sticking to a healthy meal plan because she is eager to begin her professional career.
“I can’t wait to get started with the Atlanta Dream,” Carter said. “I’m ready to get to work, get to practice, get going and start my WNBA career. I’m just excited to see what this journey and season has in store for me.”
“The team has a lot of great guards, a lot of great posts – lots of great teachers, and I’m looking forward to learning from them and playing with them.”
Training camp, scheduled to start April 26, has been postponed, as has the May 15 start of the season. Collen said she is remaining optimistic.
“I’m incredibly hopeful that this season happens, and sooner rather than later,” she said.