In the 2021 WNBA GM survey, Atlanta Dream's Aari McDonald was the favourite to win this year's Rookie of the Year award.
McDonald received 25 percent of the vote edging out No. 1 overall pick Charli Collier, Awak Kuier and Michaela Onyenwerewho each received 17 percent of the vote.
The Dream are in rebuild mode, having missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons, failing to hit double-digit wins both years. McDonald will be tasked with helping the franchise get back to the glory years of the early 2010s when they made the Finals three times in four seasons.
In McDonald, the Dream may have the budding star they've been looking for and one that could get them back into contender status sooner rather than later.
The first and obvious area McDonald can help Atlanta is offensively. Let's face it, the Dream have struggled to score over the last two seasons. Last year in the Wubble, Atlanta averaged 99.0 points per 100 possessions, ranking second to last in the league. The year before that, it finished dead last in the league, scoring just 89.8 points per 100 possessions, according to WNBA Stats.
Losing five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry to injury in 2019 and then as a free agent to Las Vegas in 2020 could be a reason why the Dream's offence fell off a cliff. But even when the walking 20.0 point per game scorer was in her prime, Atlanta's offence was never near the top of the league statistically, so without her it had little chance to be even average.
Last season, however, did provide some hope in the form of Chenndey Carter and last year's most improved player winner, Betnijah Laney. Laney thrived in Atlanta with more opportunity offensively and Carter proved she can score and do it efficiently as a rookie in 2020. With Laney leaving for New York via free agency this past offseason, McDonald should be able to step in and provide some of the juice offensively that Laney leaves behind.
In her final year at the University of Arizona, McDonald averaged 20.6 points, 4.0 assists while shooting 34.5 percent from 3-point range. When the spotlight was the brightest in the NCAA Tournament, McDonald turned it up a notch, going for 30-plus in wins over Texas A&M and Indiana in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, respectively. She put on a career-defining performance in a victorious showdown with superstar Paige Bueckers and UConn, pouring in 26 points while shooting 44 percent from three.
Will she be able to drop 30 in her sleep in the pros? Probably not right out of the gate, but she has some tools that will help the transition be a bit easier. Her effective use of the screen, which helped her explode offensively in college, should translate in her rookie year.
Take a look at her punishing the defence for playing drop coverage here in the National Championship game just a couple of months ago.
Watch her here, using the screen, abusing the switch and negotiating her ways past the help defence to get a look off in the paint.
These are things that with her quickness and handle she should be able to do at the next level pretty early in her career.
Atlanta also didn't have many playmakers last season, averaging just 16.9 assists per game - third-worst in the league.
McDonald attracted a ton of attention every time she entered the paint in college and was always looking to find her teammates with pinpoint passes.
Here she is again on the drive and kick...
McDonald's ability to attract the defence's attention should help create easier looks for her teammates. It's something the Dream have been missing and will welcome with open arms.
It's not going to be easy for McDonald right out of the gate as her Dream will take on the Connecticut Sun in the season opener on Friday. The Sun have been a top-five defence in each of the last four seasons, so McDonald will have her work cut out for her in her debut.
But if we've learned anything so far from Aari McDonald so far, it's that she'll always rise to the occasion when given the opportunity.
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