‘Dreamy’ addition: Stricklen joins Brown, Johnson in Atlanta

2019 WNBA Finals - Game Four The Atlanta Dream should be all smiles about adding 3-point sharpshooter Shekinna Stricklen. | Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After acquiring Kalani Brown from the Los Angeles Sparks and signing former Dallas Wing Glory Johnson, the Atlanta Dream have stacked the team deeper by signing Shekinna Stricklen to a multi-year deal. The trio should inject Atlanta with offensive energy, both from inside the paint and behind the arc.

Atlanta Dream president Chris Sienko and head coach Nicki Collen have continued their effort to invigorate their team’s offensive attack. On Sunday, the Dream signed unrestricted free agent Shekinna Stricklen to a multi-year deal.

During the 2019 season, the Dream struggled with the most basic objective of basketball — scoring the ball. The inability to make 3-pointers produced a challenged and cramped the Atlanta offense. While the Dream hoisted 22 3-pointers per game, the second-most per game in the league, they converted a league-worst 29 percent. This failure to space the floor resulted in Tiffany Hayes, the Dream’s most dangerous offensive talent, frequently driving into an overcrowded lane.

In and of herself, Shekinna Stricklen should help solve Atlanta’s shooting and spacing issues.

A career 37.5-percent 3-point shooter, Stricklen began her career with the Seattle Storm, playing three seasons in the Pacific Northwest before crossing the country to join the Connecticut Sun. Over her five seasons in Uncasville, Conn., Stricklen increasingly weaponized her ability to drain it from distance. Last year, she upped her 3-point attempts to nearly six per game, supercharging the Sun offense by spacing the floor. In winning the 2019 WNBA 3-Point Contest, Stricklen also displayed her ability to quickly and accurately fire from deep.

Dream head coach Nicki Collen, who coached Stricklen during her two seasons as an assistant in Connecticut, highlighted the appeal of her shooting prowess in a statement from the team, noting:

When we ended last season we knew we had to prioritize shooting during this free agency period. What we are getting in Shekinna Stricklen is an incredible shooter with size that can make shots on the move or standstill, and also has a great understanding of how to get herself open shots.

In coming to Atlanta, Stricklen will reunite with former college teammate Glory Johnson. Last Thursday, Johnson signed with the Dream as an unrestricted free after spending all seven years of her WNBA career with the Dallas Wings organization.

In contrast to Stricklen, Johnson does not have the reputation as a 3-point markswoman. However, Johnson began to transform into a stretch big last season. She took a career-high 3.7 attempts from 3-point range per game, converting them at a career-high 34-percent rate. Additional evidence of Johnson’s shift from the paint to the perimeter: She scored 51 percent of her points from behind the arc and 24.5 percent in the paint for the Wings in 2019. In 2018, only 21.9 percent of her points came from 3-pointers and 42.9 percent were scored in the paint.

Upon announcement of her addition, Collen emphasized the attractiveness of Johnson’s expanding game:

She came into this league as an incredible athlete who scored mainly around the basketball but has added a consistent 3-point shot. Her ability to rebound, handle the ball, and defend multiple positions gives us a versatile weapon to utilize in a variety of fun ways.

Along with the signings of Stricklen and Johnson, the acquisition of Kalani Brown should help the Dream offense escape ineptitude.

In 2019, Atlanta’s struggles from behind the arc were matched by their struggles in paint. Only 37.4 percent of their average of 71.2 points per game came inside. These stats are not entirely unsurprising: The Dream’s primary bigs, Elizabeth Williams and Jessica Breland, are defense-first players and neither is equipped to be more than a complementary offensive option.

Before the 2019 season, the Dream sought to make their big rotation more offensively dynamic by acquiring Marie Gülich from the Phoenix Mercury to serve as a stretch big. Yet, Gülich’s shot eluded her in Atlanta. The Dream thus entered the offseason still searching for a big who could be an offensive force.

Enter Kalani Brown.

On the first day of the free agency signing period, Atlanta sent Gülich, along with Brittney Sykes, to the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for Brown, the national champion Baylor Lady Bear who was the seventh pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft by the Sparks.

On a Los Angeles squad teeming with bigs, Brown did not receive consistent opportunity during her rookie season but flashed her offensive potential despite limited minutes. At 6’7’’, Brown possesses the size needed to play with power in the paint, and her quickness and soft touch on her jumper make her a multidimensional offensive threat. Brown can score from the midrange, and, possibly, from behind the arc.

Head coach Nicki Collen shared her enthusiasm for Brown’s diverse skill set, stating:

While Kalani’s size is important on the boards and around the rim, she also has the ability to consistently step outside the lane and hit the face-up shot. In a league full of exceptional centers, we believe we have added a player who has all the tools to be very successful in our system.

Brown turned in one of her best games of her rookie season against the Dream last year — allowing Collen to see Brown’s potential up close. Brown scored 12 points in 20 minutes on 6-of-10 shooting in that game. Brown showed similar offensive efficiency in the WNBA offseason. Before the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association paused the season due to the Coronavirus outbreak, Brown was averaging 24.8 points per game for the Xinjiang Magic Deer on 67.8 percent shooting.

Due to the additions of Brown, Johnson and Stricklen, the refreshing of the Atlanta Dream will extend beyond their new uniforms and new arena. A newly alive offense — with frequent scoring from behind the arc and forceful scoring in the paint — also should define the Dream in 2020.