May 26, 2017, 7:22 am
With two weeks of action in the books it’s time to dive into some early trends around the WNBA. As always, we need to be tempered in our reaction to such small sample sizes, but with 11 percent of the season in the books we can at least start to evaluate patterns that have developed so far. So without further ado, let’s dig into some of the more interesting subplots developing around the league. Week 2 brought us confirmation of Brittney Griner’s newly minted offensive dominance, a burgeoning win streak from Minnesota and even more questions about the Mystics. All that, plus a new round of WNBA DFS action on FanDuel. Let’s go.
Griners’ Offensive Ascendance
In last week’s DFS breakdown I mentioned that Griner looks to be more offensively assertive so far this season. That trend has continued, as Phoenix now clearly runs their team through Griner on both ends of the floor. Diana Taurasi (as great as she still is) isn’t the centerpiece of a championship contender she once was, yet the Mercury remain the title hopeful we projected in the preseason thanks to Griner.
Okay, well not thanks to Griner alone. The addition of Danielle Robinson, the pass-first, perimeter playmaker Phoenix has been lacking for several seasons now, has done wonders for Griner’s offense. The two All-Stars have shown exceptional chemistry early on in the 1-5 pick-and-roll, as Robinson’s ability to anticipate passing lanes and slip the ball to Griner in her preferred spots have helped to make up for Taurasi’s declining shooting stroke.
Still, let’s not pretend that Griner’s leap is only due to better point guard play. She’s improved her points per game from 14.5 a season ago to 22.3 during the opening weeks of 2017 (good enough for third in the league). It’s fair to wonder if her 62.7 percent (which would be her career best by a decent margin) is going to regress a bit, but Griner isn’t simply making tough shots at an unsustainable rate. She’s converting around the hoop and flashing a more expanded offensive game than she was required to show when Taurasi could ISO at will.
Perhaps more importantly for the team, her defensive production hasn’t slipped with the added offensive burden. Make no mistake, defense remains the Mercury’s calling card, but Griner’s dominance on both ends has been enough to keep the offense afloat and Phoenix firmly in the playoff hunt.
The Lynx Roll On
Minnesota has started the season on a 4-0 run and have now won 21 straight games in the month of May, a streak that stretches back to 2012. On Tuesday they eked out a narrow home win against the Connecticut Sun, rounding out a fairly soft early schedule. That said, they did rout the powerhouse New York Liberty in their second game of the season and are currently fourth in offensive rating and second on defense.
Sylvia Fowles is playing her best basketball since 2011, and Maya Moore continues to impress with her playmaking despite starting the season in shooting slump. The fact that all of these wins have come in May is little more than bar stool trivia, but the underlying cause (Minnesota’s persistent greatness) is nothing short of breathtaking. They opened the season as a heavy favorite to join LA in a Finals rematch, and the Lynx (despite their aging core) are giving us little reason to doubt them through two weeks of action.
What to Make of the Mystics
I promise that one of these Fridays I won’t include a section on Washington. I broke down their off season remake in my season preview, and spent some time gushing about their early offensive dominance last week. Since then, they’ve gone 1-2 as their schedule has gotten tighter. So what’s going on in Washington?
Offensively, they remain a force to be reckoned with. They’re currently second in offensive rating behind the Los Angeles Sparks, and well ahead of the third place Seattle Storm. Elena Delle Donne has been every bit as good as advertised, averaging 21.5 points per game (good enough for fourth in the league) on 56.3 percent from the field. Her ability to penetrate with the ball in her hands and pull up for jumpers in the midrange has transformed Washington’s attack, and there’s little reason to doubt their early success on that side of the ball.
That being said, concerns about their ability to defend at an elite level have come home to roost. It’s one thing to beat up on the lowly San Antonio Stars in your season opener, but the Mystics were exposed against the competent offenses of LA and Seattle at the end of last week. They have now dropped to dead last in defensive efficiency, giving up a whopping 115.8 points per 100 possessions. There’s still plenty of time to right the ship, obviously, but it’s probably safe to say that I undersold their defensive issues when I gushed about their ability to get buckets last week.
Friday’s FanDuel Slate
Players to Target
Maya Moore ($8,200): Not a ton to explain here. Moore is a transcendent talent who can contribute in a multitude of ways for your DFS ticket. She’s averaging 15 points, seven boards, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game, which is good enough for 32.65 FPPG. As the cheapest of the big name options on Friday, I’m happy to take Moore and have a little extra cap space to play around with at the end of my roster.
Moreover, she isn’t playing up to her usual standards in 2017, which is baked into her discounted price tag. Let me put it this way: I don’t think Moore has suddenly forgotten how to shoot. She’s currently converting just 31.8 percent of her field goals (compared to a career average of 45.7 percent from the floor), but there’s no reason to think she’s suddenly lost her touch. As Moore regresses toward the mean, her scoring should again approach the 20 points per game mark fans have grown to expect. Don’t be surprised if she goes bananas sooner rather than later.
Breanna Stewart ($7,400): Sure, between early rust and foul trouble Stewart has struggled a bit in the first two games of her sophomore campaign, but this price tag is still significantly lower than it ought to be. Her lackluster fantasy output can be directly attributed to a decline in minutes, as she’s seen just 26.5 per game in 2017 compared to 34.7 last season. She’s averaging four personal fouls per game, which has limited her playing time but is hardly a lasting concern (Stewart collected just 2.4 fouls per contest in 2016). To have her as just the eighth most expensive player is an overreaction savvy DFS players should be ready to exploit.
I said at the start of the season that Stewart should be considered a top-2 selection in year long fantasy formats, and while Griner may have forced her way into that discussion as well I would still happily have drafted Stewart as early as first overall. She’s less than a calendar year removed from having one of the better (perhaps the best) rookie seasons ever, and as long as she’s coming at a bargain in daily formats I’m going to build just about every ticket around her.
Tianna Hawkins ($3,100): Hawkins is hardly an exciting choice, but if I’m trying to fit both Moore and Stewart on a single ticket I’m going to have to go cheap elsewhere. Hawkins has been up and down through Washington’s first four games, but she has 20 FPPG upside, which is nothing to sneeze at when we’re talking about a punt play.
Her consistent rebounding and ability to chip in modestly in points and steals also provides her with a reasonable floor as well. Long story short: Hawkins offers a little upside without much risk of serving up a goose egg. She also faces a Chicago team that is second in the league in pace, and on which she dropped 12 points and nine boards on Wednesday.
Players to Fade
Sylvia Fowles ($9,000): I’m a huge fan of Fowles, who has always been a monster on the glass and a world class rim protector. She’s putting up a staggering 44.03 FPPG and is averaging 21.5 points, 10.75 boards, 2.25 steals and 2.75 blocks per contest. On top of her own prowess, tonight she’ll face a porous Connecticut frontline. So what gives?
In a word: regression. Fowles is 31-years-old, and while her breakout has been an unbelievably fun story I just don’t see her continuing to put up career highs in points and steals, especially by such a wide margin. Over her two previous seasons in Minnesota Fowles has averaged 14.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per contest. Those are respectable numbers, but they’re a far cry from her supersonic start to 2017. It seems almost a certainty that Fowles will return to Earth, and I’m not willing to pay top dollar for a hot streak that could quickly come to an end.
Sue Bird ($6,000): Bird is an undisputed legend who looked solid in her first game back this season, turning in a nine point, 10 assist performance. That said, she’s not going to average double-digit assists on a regular basis, and she’s taken a backseat to both Stewart and Jewell Loyd when it comes to scoring.
$6,000 isn’t an outrageous price, but Bird doesn’t offer much upside as a limited scorer who will average around one steal per contest. At this point in her career she’s a 36-year-old with more name recognition than fantasy production, and I’d rather go cheap at guard so I can splurge on the elite forwards on Friday.
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.