Betnijah Laney developing stronger offensive game

Dream coach Nicki Collen said Laney was the team's best player in their scrimmage against the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday

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Uncasville, Connecticut/USA - Aug. 05, 2018: Connecticut Sun forward Betnijah Laney (44) during a WNBA basketball game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Connecticut Sun defeated the Las Vegas Aces 109-88. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Betnijah Laney knows what her scouting report said for her first four years in the WNBA.

Strong defender, not a shooting threat. Play off, help off, just don’t foul.

But so far, that isn’t what she’s shown for the Atlanta Dream. Through their first 10 practices — including two scrimmages this week — Laney has demonstrated a deeply improved offensive game.

After a dismal offensive season in 2019, the Dream came into 2020 with a roster that was retooled largely to improve the team’s shooting. But Laney, who the Dream signed after Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery opted out, wasn’t a player Atlanta was expecting to help in that mission.

“Betnijah is an important pick up for us because of her experience and her tenacity at both ends of the floor,” Dream coach Nicki Collen said in a statement after Laney’s signing. “She will give us size and versatility at the defensive end of the floor as we look for ways to absorb the loss of all-defensive player Tiffany Hayes.”

Sunday, after the Dream’s first scrimmage against the Washington Mystics, Collen had a different impression of Laney’s abilities.

“The scouting report on Betnijah Laney throughout her career so far is that she can’t shoot it,” Collen said. “She’s a defender, she’s an energy player. It’s just not what we’ve seen so far in camp, so to see her do it in a five-on-five setting, to make open shots, to attack, to score around the rim, that was a really pleasant surprise. … She’s really developed her game and becoming a better all-around player, especially at the offensive end.”

Tuesday, the Dream had another scrimmage, this time against the Connecticut Sun. It was largely the same format as the one with the Mystics — some segments of five-on-five action, some half-court execution work — and once again, Laney displayed her new skillset.

“She was the best player on our team today,” Collen said Tuesday. “Playing really consistently, making shots, really solid on defense. She’s good on the ball, she’s good off the ball. We can switch with her. She can battle in the post. She just plays with a ton of energy, but right now, she’s making her pull-up jump shots, she’s making open threes, and she’s really doing a good job, when she puts the ball on the floor, of either scoring or finding open teammates. I would say, start to finish, she was our most consistent player today, again.”

Caveats apply, of course, that two scrimmages of good work may not necessarily translate to a well-rounded performance when games begin, but for Laney, the building blocks of her offensive development were laid last season with Indiana.

In the 2019 season, Laney made more 3-pointers than she’d attempted in her three prior seasons — 20 makes last year against 16 attempted in the three previous seasons. She more than doubled her points per game average, going from 2.7 points per game to 5.6, and while those numbers are still pretty low, when combined with her greatly increased shot volume, it’s clear there may be some potential there.

Heading into the offseason and her overseas season in Israel, Laney had one goal: make more shots.

“I wasn’t considered a shooter,” Laney said. “That was something I really took into the offseason. Working on just expanding my game, making sure that I’m able to knock down an open three, making sure that I continue to work on my mid-range, coming off screens. Just being ready. Making sure that I’m attacking and not just out there. Making sure that I’m a threat, because that’ll open up the floor for myself as well as my teammates.”

Laney knows what the scouting report on her used to say.

She also knows it’s going to have to change.