Dream

2024 WNBA Season Preview Part 3: Lynx, Dream, Wings

on

The 2024 WNBA season tips off on May 14. Some teams have revamped their rosters from last season, while others have made few changes. Teams will be previewed from worst (Phoenix) to first (Las Vegas) based on the 2023 regular-season standings. Each team had defining statistics — one on offense and one on defense — that affected their level of success last season. How has each team addressed weaknesses or continued to build on strengths?

6. Minnesota Lynx (2023 Record: 19-21)

Defining Stats from 2023: TO% (9th), OPP eFG% (11th)

Minnesota was in a rebuilding phase last year. After 11-straight postseason appearances and four WNBA titles, the Lynx missed the playoffs in 2022 after going 14-22. Rising star Napheesa Collier only played in four games after giving birth to her daughter.

The Lynx, picking second in the 2023 draft, selected Maryland’s Diamond Miller. In the second round, they picked Dorka Juhász out of UConn. Remarkably, they hit big on both selections.

Miller started all 32 games she played, averaging 12.1 points per game. Juhász played in 38 games and started 27 of them. Although her numbers were not eye-popping (6.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG), Juhász was third on the team with 2.1 win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed to a player. Both Miller and Juhász were named to the WNBA All-Rookie team.

https://twitter.com/minnesotalynx/status/1708864405625008409

With the help of the rookies and with Collier back in the lineup, the Lynx battled their way to 19 wins and were back in the playoffs as the six-seed. Collier played 33.5 minutes per game and averaged 21.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. She earned first-team All-WNBA for her efforts.

https://twitter.com/minnesotalynx/status/1740804099745136991

The Lynx were busy in the offseason. They traded Tiffany Mitchell to Connecticut for Natisha Hiedeman. They signed Alanna Smith and Courtney Williams — both of whom played in Chicago last year — in free agency.

Then, they traded down one spot in the draft with Chicago. The Sky received 30-year-old Nikolina Milic — a role player for the Lynx — and selected LSU’s Angel Reese with the seventh pick. In doing so, the Sky gave up a lot.

The Lynx received Sika Koné, a 6-foot-3 forward from Mali who played in 20 games last season as a 20-year-old rookie. They also got Chicago’s 2024 first-round pick (Alissa Pili out of Utah), a 2025 second-round pick, and a 2026 first-round pick.

Passing on Reese and taking a gamble by drafting Pili signified Minnesota’s head coach and President of Basketball Operations Cheryl Reeve was confident in her roster heading into the 2024 season – and rightfully so.

Minnesota’s roster this season has a combined 253 starts from the 2023 season. Seven players started more than 25 games last season. The next closest is New York’s roster with 210 starts from last season.

The Lynx ranked eighth in offensive rating in 2023 at 101.4. They struggled shooting (ninth in eFG%) and with turnovers (ninth in TO%). That is a bad combination. If a team struggles shooting, they need more attempts. Offensive rebounding is one way to get more attempts; turning the ball over at a low rate is another way.

Of the players who played over 400 minutes with the Lynx last season, five of the bottom six in TO% are gone. New additions Williams, Hiedeman, and Smith will make a positive impact in that area right away.

Of the four factors, offensive rebounding was Minnesota’s biggest strength. They finished sixth in the league with 23.1% OREB%. With the addition of Smith, Minnesota (Collier, Juhász) joins Dallas as the only two teams with three players who had 65 or more offensive rebounds last season.

Defensively, the Wolves were one of the worst teams in the league. They finished with a defensive rating of 107.5, ranking 10th overall. They were especially poor in defensive effective field-goal percentage (47.5%, 11th).

The Lynx return their four best defenders (according to defensive win shares) in Collier, Juhász, McBride and Miller. They add two of Chicago’s best defenders, Smith and Williams, and a solid defender in Heideman. With Reeve’s defensive focus, this team should fit her values.

While still behind top-tier teams Las Vegas and New York, the Lynx will compete with fellow second-tier teams for a top-four seed this season.

5. Atlanta Dream (2023 Record: 19-21)

Defining Stats from 2023: eFG% (10th), Opp TO% (8th)

After four consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, second-year head coach Tanisha Wright got the Dream there last year. This year, they look to build on the foundation that was set.

Unfortunately, the Dream have not drafted well. The first-round draft picks since 2019 include Brianna Turner (11th in 2019 – traded to Phoenix), Chennedy Carter (4th in 2020), Aari McDonald (3rd in 2021), Rhyne Howard (1st in 2022), Haley Jones (6th in 2023), Laeticia Amihere (8th in 2023) and Nyadiew Puoch (12th in 2024).

Carter played two seasons with Atlanta before being traded. McDonald was traded earlier this year. Haley Jones struggled acclimating to the WNBA, shooting 33.7% from the field and averaging 3.7 PPG. Amihere played in 20 games last season, averaging 2.8 PPG in 7.4 minutes per game. Puoch is not projected to play in the WNBA this season.

Howard, however, was a home-run selection. The 2022 Rookie of the Year has been an All-Star in her two seasons in the WNBA. Atlanta hopes that adding Jordin Canada and Tina Charles to the core of Howard, Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker will take them to the next level.

https://twitter.com/AtlantaDream/status/1753131237693092229

The Dream ranked ninth in offensive rating last year at 101.1. Although they were able to live at the free-throw line (0.252 Free Throw Factor – first in the WNBA), their effective field-goal percentage of 47.5% ranked tenth. Of the 12 players who played over 100 minutes for the Dream last season, rookies Amihere and Jones were 11th and 12th, respectively. Aari McDonald (6th), Iliana Rupert (8th), AD Durr (9th), and Monique Billings (10th) are not on Atlanta’s roster this season.

The additions of Canada (41.6% career eFG%) and Aerial Powers (45.4% career eFG%) do not help solve the Dream’s shooting problem. Former WNBA MVP Charles, the surprise signing of the 2023-24 offseason in the league, is a wild card. She could help the Dream with her interior presence, but at the age of 35 and after taking last season off, her impact remains to be seen.

Newly acquired Crystal Dangerfield will help solidify the point-guard position. After winning the 2020 rookie of the year in Minnesota, Dangerfield has bounced around the league with stops in Indiana, New York, Dallas and now Atlanta. Atlanta may be the perfect team for her to gain some traction.

Defensively is where Atlanta shined the most. They were third in the league in opponents’ eFG% (48.2%) and second in DREB% (78.2%). Their overall size and length overwhelmed opponents at times.

Where they struggled was forcing turnovers and fouling. Although size and length are great, they usually have a downside – lack of quickness. This is where Canada, one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league, will help the Dream the most.

A two-time WNBA champion with the Storm, Canada was named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive Team in 2019, when she led the league with 2.3 steals per game. After leading the league with 2.3 steals per game last season, she was again named to the All-Defensive Team.

The Dream are in a great position to make it back to the playoffs again this year. They have an improved roster and will play stout defense again this season, but they have too many collective holes offensively for them to make a run at a championship.

4. Dallas Wings (2023 Record: 22-18)

Defining Stats from 2023: OREB% (1st), OPP 3P% (10th)

Head coach Latricia Trammell got the Dallas Wings to the semifinals last year before losing to the eventual champion Las Vegas Aces. The 0.550 regular-season winning percentage was the best in franchise history since the Bill Laimbeer-led Detroit Shock in 2008, a team that won the WNBA Championship.

This season, the Wings are running it back.

Six of the top seven leaders for Dallas in minutes played last season return. Not only does Dallas add Jacy Sheldon to this mix from this year’s draft, but two of last season’s first-round draft picks, Stephanie Soares (4th overall) and Lou Lopez-Senechal (5th overall), return after missing last season due to knee injuries.

Additionally, the Wings are very high on 25-year-old rookie Jaelyn Brown. After going undrafted in 2021, Brown found success overseas before signing with the Wings this offseason.

The 2023 Wings crushed opponents on the offensive glass. Their OREB% of 32.8% was by far the best in the league. The OREB% gap between the first-place Wings and the second-place Fever was more than second place was from ninth place.

Dallas’s 6-foot-7 twin towers Teaira McCowan and Kalani Brown partnered with 6-foot-2 Natasha Howard and 6-foot-4 Satou Sabally to combine for 329 offensive rebounds last season. Those four combined for more offensive rebounds than seven teams last season. With all four returning this season, Dallas will punish teams again.

The fact that Sabally, the two-time All-Star and 2023 WNBA Most Improved Player, and Howard can step outside and consistently nail three-pointers allows the Wings to play big.

Starting guards Arike Ogunbowale and Crystal Dangerfield finished with superb assist-to-turnover ratios last season, helping Dallas finish with the second lowest TO% in the league. On May 4th, Dallas traded Dangerfield to Atlanta for a 2025 third-round pick. Coach Trammell and her staff must have confidence in newcomers Jacy Sheldon out of Ohio State and Jaelyn Brown to replace Dangerfield’s production.

Ogunbowale will be given the keys to the Wings’ offense again this season. She finished fourth in the league in scoring with 19.7 points per game. She has been an All-Star the last three seasons and All-WNBA in 2020 and 2021. She played freely last year shooting a career-high 8.5 three-point attempts per game knowing that Dallas’s frontcourt would clean up any misses. She also led the Wings with 4.5 assists per game.

Poor team perimeter defense will continue to be a trade-off for playing with immense line-ups. The Wings gave up 36.0% from three last season, 10th in the WNBA. Although the length and athleticism of Jaelyn Brown and Sheldon will help, opponents will be able to drive and kick with spacing on Dallas.

The Wings were able to close the gap last year and gave the Aces fits throughout the season. With essentially the same roster, Dallas hopes the improvements in their young core will be big enough to sneak into championship contention. Unfortunately, Sabally isn’t expected to return from offseason shoulder surgery until after the Olympic break.

Will it give the rest of the roster much-needed experience, or will it be too late?

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

Recommended for you

Powered by themekiller.com