If you had to pick a WNBA Coach of the Year today, who would it be? You could make an argument for Dan Hughes, who has taken the Seattle Storm to the top of the WNBA standings, after only making the eight-seed last season. However, I think the most obvious pick is Atlanta Dream’s Nicki Collen. She’s taken Atlanta from the proverbial basement in 2017 to the 2nd best team in the WNBA.
After a 12-22 record last season, The Dream decided to part ways with head coach Michael Cooper. As his replacement, they chose Connecticut Sun assistant coach, Nicki Collen. Hardly a wild card pick, as her move into a head coaching position was long overdue.
In addition to the Sun, Collen was an assistant at Colorado State, Ball State, Louisville, Arkansas, and Florida Gulf Coast. And now that she has been given the opportunity to be a head coach, she is showing the WNBA what she can do.
After an 8-9 start to the season, Collen’s Dream have kicked into high gear and have been a near unstoppable force. They’ve compiled a 20-10 record, good for 2nd overall in the league. The Dream have won 12 of their last 13 games and have been climbing the league standings since the start of their run. During the month of July, Collen led the Dream to a 9-2 record, including an 8-game winning streak with wins against Phoenix, Washington (twice), Connecticut, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
In an article for Atlanta Magazine, Collen said that the team’s success may not be immediate. However, even she may be surprised that the system she has put in place has come together so quickly. With a 2nd overall seed firmly in the teams grasp, Atlanta may be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
So what is she doing different this year that has dramatically improved the play of her team? DEFENSE.
Teams are only averaging 41.9% from the floor against Atlanta, which leads the league (they ranked 8th last year, when teams averaged 43.8%). They also force the most turnovers, 15.1, while only allowing 78.8 PPG the third lowest in the league (compared to last year, they gave up 82.7 points per game, which ranked 9th). They are also averaging the most blocks per game, blocking 10.3% of shots per game.
It’s an incredible improvement over last year’s team. While some may consider the return of Angel McCoughtry is responsible for the uptick in defense (it certainly doesn’t hurt), consider this: In 2016, the last year McCoughtry played before resting during the 2017 season, the Dream gave up 84.0 PPG (4th highest in the league) and forced only 13.9 turnovers.
But, unfortunately for Atlanta, McCoughtry has suffered a season-ending injury with torn ligaments in her knee. For Collen, the greatest challenge of her career lays ahead as she leads a McCoughtry-less Dream into the playoffs.
However, considering they beat the Sparks last night without their star forward/guard , it looks like she’s up for the challenge.