WNBA Facts & Figures: The Numbers Behind Atlanta's Slow Start

At 1-4, the Atlanta Dream are off to a disappointing start. The offense has been particularly poor; here's just how bad Atlanta has been and what it needs to do to turn things around.

What’s wrong with the Atlanta Dream?

It’s a question many people have been asking. Atlanta was a #2 seed and one win away from the WNBA Finals in 2018, relying on a stout, active defense and a dynamic transition game.

This year’s Dream doesn’t quite resemble 2018’s -- at least not yet. Atlanta is 1-4 thus far, and though it’s playing without franchise centerpiece Angel McCoughtry, such a poor start was widely unexpected.

Thanks to a recently overhauled WNBA.com stats page, we can take a much deeper look into this than we’d have been able to in years past. What’s wrong with the Atlanta Dream? Let’s take a look at some Facts and Figures.

39.9%: Atlanta’s eFG%

The first and most obvious reason why the Dream is struggling? Its shooting has been flat-out awful.

Granted, Atlanta hasn’t ever been known as an offensive juggernaut -- the last time the Dream ranked even in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency was 2014 -- but a 39.9% eFG% is unacceptable no matter which way you slice it.

Looking at WNBA.com’s shot distance data, we can see immediately that the Dream’s restricted area offense is not the problem; it’s the shooting from basically every other location that’s letting the team down. Of particular concern is Atlanta’s three-point shooting; once again, this was not projected to be a strength heading into 2019, but a 22.3% conversion rate from 20-24 feet is not going to get it done.

Atlanta Dream shot chart

If you’re a glass-half-full type of person, some of this can be chalked up to players missing open shots that they normally make. According to Synergy, the Dream are scoring .569 points per possession on unguarded jump shots, which is a figure that you’d expect to rise over the course of a season. Alex Bentley (.357 PPP on spot-up shots) and Jessica Breland (.333 PPP) are the main players to watch here.

100.2: Atlanta’s DRtg

Last season, the Dream was able to lean on its defense to keep games close. Atlanta led the WNBA in defensive rating, allowing just 97.6 points per 100 possessions. The Dream also led the league in blocks per 100 possessions (6.5) and ranked third in steals per 100 possessions (9.4).

This year, though, the Dream has been middle-of-the-pack in defensive efficiency. While players like Breland and Elizabeth Williams ensure that the team still blocks plenty of shots, Atlanta hasn’t been able to generate nearly as many steals relative to the rest of the league. This, in turn, has affected the Dream’s transition offense, which is reflected in its poor offensive showing; per Synergy, the Dream rank last in transition offense, scoring .783 points per possession. Not ideal for a team that’s having so much trouble shooting the basketball.

What does this all mean?!

OK, we get it. Atlanta has been mediocre on one end of the court and dreadful on the other. But will the Dream be able to turn it around?

That depends on whether you believe this roster is capable of grinding out another 20-win season using the same formula as it did in 2018. Yes, you’d expect the Dream to start shooting the ball a little better, but what does that look like for a roster that simply doesn’t emphasize shooting?

Consider this for perspective: last season, the Dream had the second-best record in the league at 22-12. Their Net Rating, however, was +2.4; good, but not really comparable to that of the league’s other top teams. The Dream won a lot of close games in 2018, and that was with both McCoughtry healthy and a team defense that was playing at an elite level and covered for a lukewarm offense.

In order to make another deep playoff run, the Dream defense needs to get back to that level. It’s entirely possible that Atlanta shoots itself out of this slump, but given how limited its roster is offensively, it would be unrealistic to expect a radical shift in identity without its top scorer and playmaker. 1-4 isn’t an insurmountable deficit, but Atlanta needs to get back to what it does best in order to climb out of that hole.

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