May 19, 2017, 9:00 am
We are officially off and running, folks. After restoring its popularity a year ago, the WNBA’s early returns this season are as exciting as ever. We still don’t want to overreact to early trends, though, so we’ll wait a few weeks before discussing the standings in too much depth. Instead, let’s dig into some of the more interesting subplots developing around the league. The first week of WNBA action saw the newly rebuilt Mystics jump out to an early win, Diana Taurasi begin to stake her claim to historical greatness and WNBA action (finally) supported by daily fantasy providers. Let’s dig in.
The Mystics Look Legit
I called the Mystics a dark horse title contender in my season preview last week, and through the first week of the season they’ve lived up to the hype. To be fair, we’re just one game into their season of redemption, and tonight’s showdown with the Sparks (at Staples Center no less) will be their first major test of the season. That said, I liked what I saw from their new pieces against the lowly Stars. Elena Delle Donne opened up the entire offense, slashing to the rim with ease and opening up shooting windows for her teammates as San Antonio collapsed to contain her drives.
Between the lopsided score and some ticky tack fouls she played just 23 minutes in the Mystics’ season opener, but when she was on the court she was every bit as devastating as the team could have hoped when they traded for her this summer. The 2015 MVP helped spur an early 10-0 run and Washington never looked back.
The Stars were atrocious defensively last season, and their roster doesn’t suggest they’ll improve much on that end in 2017, but Delle Donne helped the Mystics shred them to the tune of a league-leading 124.5 offensive rating. We’ll see how they fair when their schedule tightens, but as of this moment I’m bullish on their season long outlook.
Taurasi’s Magical History Tour
After a rocky season opener (three points on just 1-for-11 shooting the field) Taurasi made history on Wednesday. The Mercury drubbed the Fever 85-62 to secure their first win of the season, and while Brittney Griner’s career-high 32 points dominated the headlines it was Taurasi who entered uncharted territory. In snatching six rebounds she became the first player in WNBA history with 7,000 career points, 1,500 assists and 1,500 rebounds.
Entering the season Taurasi needed to average just over five points per game to catch all time points leader Tina Thompson. Her field goal percentage took a massive dive last season, and she’s been cold to start 2017 as well, but she’s never averaged fewer than 16 points per game in her career. If she stays healthy this could be a truly historic season for Taurasi, even if she continues to be more of back seat to Griner.
The WNBA comes to FanDuel
Welp, one week in and it’s already time to change the format of this article. Almost immediately after I submitted my season preview last Thursday FanDuel announced their first round of WNBA DFS options, which is fantastic news. Scoring is basically identical to their NBA game, so instead of having the Fantasy Line of the Week I alluded to last time we’ll instead do a breakdown of the Friday night DFS slate each week. Sound good? Good.
Players to Target
Nneka Ogwumike ($8,000): After missing the Sparks opener against Seattle (as she finished out her season in Turkey), Candace Parker appears set to return tonight against the Mystics. That said, I think there’s a chance she’s eased into action after seeing extended action overseas. As a result, Ogwumike should dominate frontcourt minutes again in a sweet matchup.
I know I just argued that the hype surrounding Washington just might be justified, but I’m still not convinced they can defend at an elite level, especially down low. They’re an offensive juggernaut built to overwhelm their opposition with efficient shooting, which means I’m excited to start opposing stars against them in likely shootouts. Oh, and while she’s the most expensive player on the board, it’s fair to point out that Ogwumike might be the best player in both fantasy and reality. So there’s that.
Brittney Griner ($6,300): Griner’s an elite player who, through the Mercury’s first two games, is shouldering a larger offensive burden this season as Taurasi shifts to more of a supporting role. Through Phoenix’s first two games Griner has averaged a staggering 38 FPPG, and at $6,300 she’s a thousand dollars underpriced. You can realistically build a ticket around both her and Ogwumike to maximize your squad’s upside without incurring much risk.
Beyond Griner’s strengths as a player, I’m also targeting anyone matched up with the Stars until further notice. They couldn’t stay in front of anyone all last season and they didn’t add anyone who can check someone like Griner. She should feast on the boards and collect her usual defensive numbers, building in a safe floor to go with her expanding offensive upside.
Danielle Robinson ($4,200): Robinson looked rusty in the opener, and between that slow start and the injury that cost her the entire 2016 season her value is deflated at the moment. Still, Robinson was a three-time All-Star before getting hurt, and she bounced back nicely on Wednesday against Indiana.
We know that she’ll rack up assists, making her a safe option if you’re looking to go cheap at one of your guard spots. Robinson has already shown a nice rapport with Griner when working the 1-5 pick-and-roll, and her statistical output should continue to improve as she finds her footing with her new team.
Players to Fade
Elena Delle Donne ($7,800): I know, I know, I just gushed about how great she looks in Washington, but I like Delle Donne’s game a lot less for DFS than I do in real life. She’s arguably the most gifted scorer in the league, but in a format that values assists, steals and blocks (and ignores percentages) she simply doesn’t have a lot to fall back on if her shot isn’t falling.
Don’t get me wrong, a Delle Donne explosion wouldn’t shock me, but she faces a tough matchup on the road. I expect the Sparks to scheme around slowing her down at all costs, and they’ve got versatile enough forwards to make that a reasonable strategy. Combine that with her huge price tag and I’m willing to look elsewhere on a three game night.
Kelsey Plum ($6,600): As I said last week, I’m stoked for Plum’s rookie season. I think the James Harden comparisons (while optimistic) are reasonable, and that she could be great sooner rather than later. All that being said, I have trouble understanding this price tag. Plum’s the fifth most expensive player on the docket (regardless of position) and she still has yet to play in a regular season game.
She’s still dealing with an ankle injury that kept her out of San Antonio’s season opener and will have to split backcourt minutes with Moriah Jefferson and Monique Currie (more on her in just a moment). She’ll also face a tough Mercury defense that could turn this one into a laugher quickly, just like they did on Wednesday against the Fever. Plum’s future is bright, and she’ll be a top DFS target before we know it, but I’m not building a team around her until Plum’s health and role stabilize.
Monique Currie ($6,000): I promise I don’t hate the Stars, even if my DFS suggestions do seem to support that theme. Currie’s 32.8 FPPG jumps off the screen, but owners should tread lightly. She went off for a career-high 31 points on Sunday against the Mystics, but did it with both Jefferson and Plum on the sidelines. Currie is a solid scorer, but I’m not banking on another explosion with the Stars looking to have their backcourt fully healthy tonight.
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.