• With three weeks of action in the books let’s dig into some of the more interesting subplots developing around the league.  This time around we’ll take a look at Los Angeles’ recent losses and the Storm’s transformation into bona fide title contenders, plus a new round of WNBA DFS action on FanDuel.  Let’s go.

    The Sparks’ Early Struggles

    Last year Los Angeles was a juggernaut.  They opened the season by winning 11 straight games, didn’t record their second loss until the end of July and finished the year in the top-3 of both offensive and defensive rating.  Oh, and they closed everything out with a title in October.

    2017 hasn’t gone quite as smoothly.  The Sparks are now 3-2 after dropping back-to-back road losses to Indiana and Atlanta, and the team only narrowly squeaked by with a win against the Liberty on Tuesday.  L.A. has retained the majority of its core from last season, and has scored at will through their first five contests, and yet the returns have been middling.  So what gives?

    It would be easy to simply shrug off these concerns as an early season aberration.  Two games hardly constitute a season and no measured analyst would claim that the Sparks are suddenly in jeopardy of missing the playoffs.  All that being said, I do think the issues we’ve seen from them defensively are worth keeping an eye on.

    Despite some stellar play down low from Nneka Ogwumike (last year’s MVP), the Sparks have slipped all the way to the bottom third of the league when it comes to defensive points allowed per 100 possessions.  They’ve been sloppy on the perimeter, allowing opponents uncontested looks from beyond the 3-point line far too regularly.  Despite pulling out a fourth quarter victory over New York on Tuesday Tina Charles burned the Sparks repeatedly on outside jumpers, scoring 19 in the first half alone.

    I’m not ready to panic just yet, but it’s impossible to watch these losses and not think about how the Sparks will attempt to slow perimeter scorers like Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne or Jewell Loyd this postseason. The team’s ability to tighten up defensively will go a long way to determining the ultimate success of their title defense.

    Seattle Demands to be Taken Seriously

    In my season preview I broke down each of the four teams Vegas odds makers considered serious title contenders this year (L.A., Minnesota, Washington and Phoenix), but through three weeks the Seattle Storm are making a compelling case to be considered among the league’s elite.  They’re 4-1 with the second best offensive rating in the league, and they’ve limited opponents to 100 points per 100 possessions (the fourth best mark in the WNBA).

    What’s been fascinating about their early season success has been the ways in which Seattle has generated offense with their franchise cornerstone, Breanna Stewart, still struggling to find her groove in her sophomore season.  Jewell Loyd is tied for the league lead in scoring while Alysha Clark and rookie Sami Whitcomb have been on fire over the past week, propelling the Storm to back-to-back wins.

    Given the transcendent rookie season Stewart had last year I think it’s only a matter of time before she recaptures her All-WNBA form.  When she does it’s scary to think about just how good this team can be.

    Friday’s FanDuel Slate

    With just one game on tonight it’s tough to find players to differentiate your ticket, but there are still a few names that stand out this evening.

    Players to Target

    Tina Charles ($8,500):  With just one game – especially one with so few fantasy stars – on I’m comfortable splurging on the highest priced player on the board.  Charles has been on an absolute scoring tear over her last three games, putting up 22, 28, and 25 points over that timeframe.  She’s also a regular threat to grab 10 boards while also offering a handful of defensive stats and assists, giving her a very high fantasy floor.  Don’t overthink this one.

    Shavonte Zellous ($3,000):  Opportunity knocks for Zellous, and her potential for more playing time has not yet been factored into her price tag.  The Liberty will lose both Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn for the better part of a month, as both players will join their Russian team for the EuroBasket tournament.  It’s a massive blow to New York but it does open up some interesting fantasy scenarios.

    I’m not in love Zellous’ talent, but Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer explicitly named her as one of the players New York would lean on to pick up the slack.  Zellous might not be a master of any particular skill, but she has some variety to her game that should complement her expanding role.  As a punt play you could do much worse.

    Players to Fade

    Skylar Diggins-Smith ($7,300):  Diggins-Smith is a phenomenal player who’s flat out carried the Wings so far this season, but it’s tough for me to feel comfortable with her at this price.  Her 28 FPPG is a bit misleading, as she’s had two massive games (one of which came against the lowly Stars) that inflate her totals.

    Moreover, Diggins-Smith is currently averaging a block per contest in 2017, a number which simply isn’t sustainable given her career 0.3 blocks per game.  Blocked shots carry immense weight in FanDuel and have given a nice boost to Diggins-Smith’s fantasy production so far, but it’s hard to see them continuing at this rate.

    That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup.  Follow @HoopBallTweets for up to the minute NBA updates or hit me up on Twitter (@JacobECousins) if you have any questions (WNBA or otherwise).  See you all next week.

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