The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, August 21, 2019

A pathway for the Atlanta Dream — Seimone Augustus interview — Must-click women's basketball links

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This is the complimentary issue this week, but there is so much more to come from Annie Peterson on soccer, along with continued tennis from Lindsay Gibbs, basketball from Howard Megdal, golf from Carly Grenfell and hockey from Erica Ayala. Only way to make sure you don’t miss all the latest news, interviews and deep dives across women’s sports every week is to subscribe! Five different women’s sports in your inbox, five days a week, just five dollars a month! And if you’ve already joined us, share this with someone you know who cares about women’s sports the way you do!

How Dream comes true in Atlanta

Dear reader, if you are here, I don’t need to tell you that things have gone awry in Atlanta for the Dream.

A year after reaching a deciding game in the WNBA semifinals, Atlanta is just 5-22, the first team to clinch a lottery spot, and have somehow faltered in a new way of late — five straight games the Dream have entered the fourth quarter with a lead, five straight games they’ve lost.

The question is: how do they fix it? It’s complicated, with a trajectory that doesn’t provide easy comparisons.

If 2019 is an anomaly, the pathway is to embrace what went right in 2018. If 2018 is the anomaly, the path forward requires bigger changes. But even 2018 represented a new start, with both head coach Nicki Collen and GM Chris Sienko in their first season. No serious attempt at long-term team-building would give that pair just two years, even without the success they enjoyed in season one.

And then there’s Angel McCoughtry. The league was abuzz over her decision to announce her return without a clearance from doctors or the Dream, a decision that both confounded many observers who noted that Atlanta paid McCoughtry a max salary and kept her active all season, leading to a roster of 11, out of essentially professional courtesy. In return, head coach Nicki Collen needed to shoot down the idea of McCoughtry’s return in a postgame press conference Tuesday night, even as the current physical condition of McCoughtry is the real culprit.

What role McCoughtry’s absence plays in the disappointing Atlanta season defies easy measure as well. That 2018 team made its playoff run without her, and even a look at the on/off numbers from the campaign reveals a greater positive contribution from Tiffany Hayes, Elizabeth Williams, Renee Montgomery and a nearly equivalent one from Brittney Sykes.

McCoughtry turns 33 in September. She’ll be coming off a knee injury. Her efficiency from three has dropped in each of her past three seasons, her defense is more limited as she gets into fewer passing lanes. Her greatness and legacy are undeniable. But do the Dream really want to bet their 2020 season on her as the star?

Hayes, Williams and Sykes are all younger than 30 (Hayes turns 30 this offseason). The Dream have a chance to add a lottery pick this April, which could be a plug-in star if the ping pong balls bounce right (Sabrina Ionescu, Lauren Cox) or underclassmen come out (Chennedy Carter, I’m looking at you). Picturing Bella Alarie in Nicki Collen’s offense makes for an optimistic trajectory, too.

But many around the league believe that McCoughtry may have made this decision for the Dream with her latest bit of freelancing, with one league source calling it “a crazy scenario” to have declared herself playing without clearance.

Another team bringing in a McCoughtry with something to prove could score big. The Dream moving on seems like the logical decision, too.

Announcing The IX’s Civil Boost!

We’re extremely honored that Civil chose us for its first Boost, a fundraising pathway to help fund vital newsroom projects. This one is straightforward: travel costs to send me to the WNBA Finals. You’ll get daily podcasts, behind-the-scenes extras and both original reporting and the amplifying of others doing the good work on the scene. More details, and how to give, are available here:

This Week in Women’s Basketball

Terrific Jenn Hatfield piece on how the Aces are sharing the ball.

Doug Feinberg wrote about how Napheesa Collier has blossomed.

Huw Hopkins sounds the alarm about the Connecticut Sun on the road.

This is an ugly story about how UC-Riverside responded to multiple reports of abuse.

PJ Brown is here with your Aari McDonald fix.

Ava Wallace captures the night the Mystics clinched their playoff berth.

Kellen Becoats explains how dominant Elena Delle Donne has been.

Hailey Salvian followed Kia Nurse around for three days!

Lindsay Gibbs has the Aerial Powers story we all deserve.

Bria Felicien broke down the Dream day on Tuesday.

Katie Davidson looks into her crystal ball for the Lynx.

Justin Carter breaks down Tina Charles’ resurgence.

Madeline Kenney has the story of Courtney Vandersloot’s loyalty to Chicago.

I wrote, not to brag, the definitive story of how WNBA players feel about Disney.

Get well soon, Tiana Mangakahia. Everyone is rooting for you.

Stat of the Week

Let’s look at the incredible post-all star gains by Tina Charles.

Five at The IX: Seimone Augustus, Minnesota Lynx

(I spoke to Seimone following Lynx-Liberty last week in Westchester.)

HOWARD MEGDAL: I want to talk to you about Syl and just the fact that she has made a significant change in where she’s catching the ball, where she’s shooting the ball this year. What are you seeing from her and how much of it is Syl developing herself and how much of it is responding to the league calling fouls differently?

SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: I think it’s a little bit of both. Obviously all of it big post where, like even Brittney (Griner) is shooting threes, shooting fifteen-to-19 feet out, but I think it’s suggesting to the league, the big girls are tired of getting beat on. They don’t get the consistent calls in the game so they started to settle. I don’t know how you can fix it if you don’t get the consistency in the calls.

HOWARD MEGDAL: What’s interesting to me is that, even so, [Syl’s] numbers are as strong as ever.

SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: She just adjusts, she evolves. Obviously there’s work on that side [shooting from distance] as well — but that’s not something we want her to take consistently, but if she has to, if it’s available then we expect her to knock it down. That’s when she’s consistent, being confident and taking the shot.

HOWARD MEGDAL: By win shares, Syl is not just the best in the league over the last three years, it’s by about twenty percent better than anyone else. Do you think there is a lack of appreciation for Syl because she is the same great player day after day?

SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: Of course. Syl reminds me of myself, like no one recognizes her greatness. But she continues to just get better year after year. I mean, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done and she retires, I think people are going to look back and go “wow”. It’s amazing the work on her body and work that she’s had over the course of her career, it’s consistently getting better and helping our team whichever way we can.

HOWARD MEGDAL: And just want to make sure, you’re going to play forever, right? Just so we’re clear about that.

SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: No. I have the rest of this season then one more then I’m done.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.