I tuned into the Phoenix Mercury and Atlanta Dream game with plans to write about the Mercury’s veteran core of Diggins-Smith, Taurasi, and Griner. I was particularly impressed with Griner and how noticeable the difference was when she was on and off the floor. Instead, I found myself enamored with the energetic, Atlanta Dream.

Their pace was frantic, and their defensive intensity was on full display. This new look team, with most of their core starters in their first few seasons in the league, have created a team high on the prestigious “League Pass Rankings” leaderboard. 

The Fearless Chennedy Carter 

Chennedy Carter was selected with the 4th overall pick in this year’s WNBA draft out of Texas A&M. With the spotlight squarely on Sabrina Ionescu as the star rookie, Carter may not yet be a household name yet. With blazing speed and fearlessness wrapped up in a 5’9 frame, Carter has already begun to put the rest of the league on watch. She had already put up 18,11,17 and 15 across her first 4 starts. Against age veteran Mercury backcourt of Diana Taurasi and Sophie Cunningham, Carter put up her best performance yet. 

On Tuesday night, we saw everything from Chenndy Carter that could make her a special player in this league

Chennedy attacked the basket relentlessly and finished with regularity. Her tenacity shined on the defensive side of the ball and rubbed off on teammates, who throughout the game pressed defenders with pace and aggression. Carter put out her best scoring output yet scoring 26 points on 21 shots, tacking on 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block. It’s clear that Carter is the center piece for this team moving forward and that Coach Nikki Collen should embrace her playing style and mantra. 

Pace, Space & More Pace

For a team with one of the quickest point guards in the league, the Atlanta Dream’s lineup runs an extraordinarily slow pace. Of the 20 lineups playing 15 or more minutes together this season, the Dream’s starting lineup are running the 5th slowest pace in the league. The team has a positive net rating of 7.6 over 55 minutes together this season, ranking 7th as a group over the start of the season. The team is truly unlocked when it replaces starter Shekinna Stricklen with Blake Dietrich, a spark plug off the bench who matches Chennedy’s desired pace.

The smaller lineup that replaces Stricklen with Dietrich leads the league thus far in pace with an estimated 98.4 possession per 40 minutes.

Not only does this lineup better match the play personality of its budding star, but it also outperforms the starting lineup by a significant margin by ranking 4th in Offensive Rating and 6th in overall net rating. The defense suffers slightly, but the overall 20.3 Net rating ranks as among the best lineups in the league.  The Dream should look to maximize the talent of their lead guard and embrace this 3 guard lineup moving forward. 

Embracing this lineup puts Shekinna Stricklen’s role with the team in a bit of a pickle.

Despite being the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft, Stricklen has not lived up to that pick’s billing. She provided solid bench minutes for the runner-up Connecticut Sun one season ago, but does not look like a starting caliber forward thus far. Stricklen is averaging 9 points on 8 shots and bogs down the offense as a ball stopper. Replacing Stricklen in the lineup with the lively Dietrich will maximize the best lineup for the Dream and give it significantly more minutes to gel. Most importantly, it will embrace the play personality and scheme of it’s rising star. 

Vote Warnock

The Dream, along with the rest of the WNBA teams playing on Tuesday, made a statement off the court as well with their pre-game attire. Each player across the WNBA, led by veteran star and general wonderful person Sue Bird, wore black shirts that plainly stated Vote Warnock in bold white text across the front. Raphael Warnock is the democratic challenger for Rep. Kelly Loeffler’s Senate seat in Georgia. Loeffler is a minority owner of the Atlanta Dream who has explicitly spoken out against the WNBA’s social messaging.

This was a particularly bold decision for a team owned by Loeffler and one that deserves to be commended. It was incredibly powerful to see the league’s response to the civil unrest across America in its opening weekend’s events. More impressively, it kept the fire burning with updated and relevant messaging. It is important to denote that the shirts did not explicitly call out or “cancel” the incumbent senator. Instead, the ladies used their platform to uplift and publicize a candidate who matched their views. 

Games to Watch this Week

8/6 Seattle Storm (4-1)  v. Atlanta Dream (2-3) 6pm on ESPN2

You should have known this one was coming! The Dream are my favorite team to watch right now, particularly with Sabrina sidelined, and are definitely worth your time. 

8/7 Las Vegas Aces (3-2) v. Los Angeles Sparks (3-2) 9pm on ESPN2

Two of the best Western Conference teams square off in a marquee matchup on Friday night. This should be a close one. 

8/8 Seattle Storm (4-1) v. Phoenix Mercury (3-2) 3PM on ABC

Sue Bird has been sidelined with a slight bone bruise, but there is no chance she misses Saturday’s spotlight matchup. There won’t be too many more chances to catch Sue Bird v. Diana Taurasi, so cherish each moment as these two all-timers clash on the court.