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WNBA Fantasy: Pick up Moriah Jefferson before it’s too late

Moriah Jefferson has helped steady Minnesota’s backcourt since signing with the team on May 13. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

We’re officially over two weeks into the WNBA season, so hopefully you’ve been getting the hang of the fantasy game by now. If you’re 2-0, congratulations! If you’re 0-2, no need to stress — there’s still plenty of time to turn your season around.

Let’s get caught up on everything you need to know from the last week in the ever-changing fantasy landscape.

Risers

These are the top risers in fantasy ranking over the past week. We’ve only included players here who were ranked a week ago, meaning they had already played a game at that point. Notably, that excludes players like DeWanna Bonner (currently ranked 15th) who returned from their overseas seasons since then.

3. Shakira Austin: 25 spots (current 46th, previous 71st)

The Mystics were willing to give up Rhyne Howard to fall back and draft Austin, so it’s no wonder they’ve been upping her playing time as she transitions to the pro game. Austin averaged 20-plus minutes in all three games this week after reaching that mark just once in her first four contests. With veteran players Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark continuing to sporadically miss games due to load management, you can expect the Mystics to rely upon Austin and her young energy even more as the season goes on.

Austin kicked off the week with a 20-point showing on an incredible 9-of-11 shooting, and she followed that up with two more efficient games in double figures. All told, the rookie shot over 70 percent last week while averaging nearly 15 points and seven rebounds, and she blocked more than a shot a game to boot.

2. Natisha Hiedeman: 38 spots (current 53rd, previous 91st)

Hiedeman is another player whose minutes increased this past week, despite the fact that backcourt mate Courtney Williams returned at the beginning of it. And after Tuesday’s announcement that Jasmine Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, there may be even more minutes for the taking in Hiedeman’s near future.

Hiedeman was already the top bench producer for Connecticut prior to this week, and since then head coach Curt Miller has decided to use his bench even more. Miller has been known to ride his starters and did just that in the first two games, but if he taps into his depth this season the way he has in the most recent three games, Hiedeman may be in line for a fantasy-friendly workload.

1. Moriah Jefferson: 46 spots (current 37th, previous 83rd)

The Lynx underperformed to start the season due to a lack of ball-handling, and then signed a legitimate point guard who has immediately contributed and helped them turn their season around. Where have we heard that before?

Last year, it was Layshia Clarendon; this year, it’s Moriah Jefferson. The former Wings player has stepped into the starting point guard spot in Minnesota and paid instant dividends for Minnesota. While Cheryl Reeve’s team is still at the bottom of the standings and has a lot to figure out, the outlook looks much more promising than it did pre-Jefferson. A competitive second half against the Sky in Jefferson’s Lynx debut followed by a road win over the Sparks and a solid showing in Las Vegas have quelled the talk of a 2023 Lynx lottery pick for now.

Fallers

On the flip side of the risers, you have the fallers — those players whose rank has dropped off in the last seven days.

3. Riquna Williams: 29 spots (current 73rd, previous 44th)

It’s early enough in the season that one game can still have a big impact on a player’s rankings. That’s the culprit for Riquna Williams’ slide: Williams managed just four points in her one game of the week before sustaining another foot injury that kept her out the rest of the week.

If the Aces’ prognosis is correct, Williams won’t be returning for at least a few more weeks, so she’ll have to fill your injured reserve (IR) spot or take up a bench spot for the time being if you choose to hold onto her.

2. Jasmine Thomas: 29 spots (current 77th, previous 48th)

There is starting to be a sad theme to this list. Connecticut’s perimeter defensive stalwart was unable to return after exiting Sunday’s game against the Fever due to a knee injury in the first half. Thomas recorded just eight fantasy points in eight minutes on the court, plummeting her ranking in the process.

Fantasy owners will have to look for full-time replacements now that she’s out for the remainder of the season.

1. Myisha Hines-Allen: 32 spots (current 65th, previous 33rd)

And the theme continues. The good news in Hines-Allen’s case is that she has already returned to action after her injury. The bad news is that she still hasn’t looked quite like herself in recent games. In 11 minutes against Chicago on Sunday, the Louisville product failed to make a shot and pulled down just one rebound.

For Hines-Allen fantasy owners, it will be important to closely monitor her health and production moving forward. We’ve seen Hines-Allen put up serious numbers at her peak, but a lingering injury or other factors can quickly derail that progress.

Adds and Drops

One of the most important aspects of winning a fantasy title is attentiveness. If you want to have a shot, you’ve got to stay on top of the latest trends and news and make sure you’re fielding the best possible team at any given moment. What looked like the best combination of nine players you could put together a week or two ago may no longer be the case today.

Here, we give you the best widely-available players to consider picking up, as well as the players potentially worth cutting to free up that roster spot. Keep in mind, this may vary a little depending on your league size: A player worth rostering in a 10-team league isn’t necessarily viable in an eight-team league.

Adds

Moriah Jefferson

We’ve already discussed how Jefferson has jumpstarted the Lynx, and she’s likely available to jumpstart your fantasy team as well.

Despite averaging more than 32 minutes a game over her four games with Minnesota so far, Jefferson is still available in over 80 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. Those minutes haven’t been empty by any stretch; she’s posting averages of 15.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals since joining the Lynx. Were it not for the one game she played for the Wings pulling her averages down, those numbers would rank 18th, 5th and 7th in the WNBA, respectively.

Go grab her while you can.

Danielle Robinson and Victoria Vivians

We’re giving you a 2-for-1 here, because these Fever teammates are putting up stats for a similar reason: volume.

In last week’s betting piece, we took a look at Indiana’s historic pace of play to start the season. Robinson and Vivians are each playing nearly 30 minutes per game over the past week, and when you see the floor that much for a team that loves to run, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to fill the stat sheet.

Vivians is owned in just 21.2 percent of ESPN leagues, while Robinson is rostered in fewer still. If you are in one of the 19.1 percent of leagues in which Jefferson is owned and you’re in need of a guard, turn to the Fever for help.

Drops

Teaira McCowan

Before ESPN entered the fold, the leading fantasy WNBA website was an obscure foreign site called Sports.ws. That site had a system in which a player’s fantasy points per minute mattered far more than their fantasy points per game.

Under that system, McCowan was and is a beast. The former No. 3 overall pick has always been extremely efficient with her minutes, and moving to Dallas has done nothing to change that. Her per-minute scoring and rebounding averages extrapolated to 30 minutes a game would essentially make her a 15/10 player.

In Dallas, however, she’s been averaging a mere 7.6 minutes per contest, and under ESPN’s scoring system, totals rule the day. McCowan is owned in over 70 percent of ESPN leagues, and until she starts consistently seeing the floor, that number is just too high.

Layshia Clarendon

This is a tough decision considering what Clarendon has been able to do when given an opportunity (and how easy of a person they are to root for). But fantasy sports, like real sports, is a harsh business, and if you’re not on a real roster, you probably shouldn’t be on a fantasy one.

Clarendon is still owned in almost half of the ESPN leagues, which is well over double the percentage of leagues owning the player who replaced Clarendon as Minnesota’s point guard. Here’s hoping she gets signed at some point this season and shows up in the “adds” section of a later version of this piece.

Fantasy performances of the week

Diana Taurasi, 43 fantasy points (May 19 vs. Dallas)

For Diana Taurasi to still be capable of putting up more fantasy points than her age is beyond impressive. The league’s all-time leading scorer became the first player aged 39 or older to ever record a 30-point game with her 31-point showing in this one.

Shockingly, this wasn’t even one of the top two performances of the day, nor was it the best in this game. More on that in a minute.

Aerial Powers, 44 fantasy points (May 19 vs. Las Vegas)

While Taurasi was draining buckets for the Mercury, Aerial Powers was a few hours up the road putting on a Vegas-worthy show of her own. After feeling under the weather and texting Michael Jordan for advice earlier in the day, Powers had the best fantasy output of her career thanks to 25 points, six boards and six assists.

In fact, Powers is the only player thus far in 2022 to post 25/6/6 in a game, and when you factor in the two blocks and three 3s, she’s just the eighth player in league history with that line.

Arike Ogunbowale, 53 fantasy points (May 19 vs. Phoenix)

Remember when Ogunbowale showed up in the “fallers” section of our last fantasy piece and we told you not to worry? If you weren’t convinced yet, surely this game provided enough reassurance.

The young Dallas star outdueled Taurasi in this epic battle, one-upping the veteran’s 31 points with 37 of her own and carrying the Wings to a 10-point win. For good measure, she dished out five assists and made all 10 of her free throws, becoming the first player in WNBA history to do both of those things in a 37-point game.

Miscellaneous fantasy stat of the week

Candace Parker didn’t quite make the cut for top fantasy performances of the week — her 41 fantasy points on Sunday were two short of Taurasi’s aforementioned May 19 total — but it’s still worth shouting out a legend in this space for what she accomplished against the Mystics.

With her 16 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, Parker became the first WNBA player ever with multiple regular season triple-doubles. She also joined Sheryl Swoopes and teammate Courtney Vandersloot as the only players with two of them at all, and she set a new mark for the oldest player with a triple-double at 36 years of age.

Parker has been open about contemplating retirement, so there’s a chance we are witnessing her final season. She’s proven she can still ball at a remarkably high level (the triple-double was only her second-best fantasy score of the season) so let’s enjoy the ride for however much longer we get to watch her play.

Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats, CBS SportsLine and FiveThirtyEight. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.

PWHL Draft Spurs Controversy for League Champs Minnesota

pwhl draft first pick Sarah Fillier
PWHL New York kicked off the 2024 PWHL Draft by selecting Princeton's Sarah Fillier No. 1 overall. (PWHL)

The 2024 PWHL Draft took place on Tuesday, with Princeton and Canadian national team forward Sarah Fillier going first overall to PWHL New York. 

New York also added two defenders and a goaltender, as well as three forwards to make seven solid additions to next season's roster. 

But it was first-ever PWHL champions Minnesota that created the most buzz, with the draft happening just three days after they announced the abrupt departure of general manager Natalie Darwitz following a league review. 

With the 10th overall pick, PWHL Minnesota took Team USA forward Britta Curl. Fans immediately took to the internet to voice their concerns, citing Curl's social media activity. In the past, Curl had "liked" posts on X that targeted the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly transgender individuals. Her activity also showed support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Wisconsin man who fatally shot three unarmed people, two fatally, during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.

When asked about the pick — and whether or not he had consulted with any members of the LGBTQIA+ community prior to making the pick — PWHL Minnesota coach Ken Klee opted to defend Curl.

"Did I speak to anyone from the community? I talk with players, with coaches. That’s tough to answer for me," Klee said. "I spoke with a lot of different people. I mean, at the end of the day, I was told she’s a great teammate, a great person. She’s obviously a great player."

The team also had PWHL Minnesota assistant coach Mira Jalosuo, who is married to a woman, announce the pick.

"We have people in that community and obviously Mira making that selection for us, I think that speaks volumes for us," Klee added. "We were just trying to pick the best players available. I wouldn’t want anything to take away from any of those players' experience. It’s unfortunate a little bit at the beginning, but again, it’s okay. People are entitled to their opinion."

Washington Mystics Snap 12-Game Losing Streak

Brittney Sykes #20 of the Washington Mystics shoots the ball during the game against the Atlanta Dream during the 2024 WNBA Commissioner's Cup game on June 11, 2024
Washington guard Brittney Sykes returned from injury Tuesday night to post a game-high 18 points. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Washington Mystics snapped a team-record 12-game losing streak on Tuesday, taking home their first win of the season over the Atlanta Dream. 

Brittney Sykes returned from injury and made an immediate impact with game-high 18 points, four assists, and three rebounds. As a team, Washington shot over 50% from behind the arc.

"The feel is it's been coming," coach Eric Thibault said after the game. "I said the other night that we're turning into a good basketball team and we just haven't had the wins to show for it yet. We've been playing better basketball now for a while.

"We're obviously shooting well, but I think the quality of the shots we're getting is really good."

Still, the team’s slow start isn't exactly in the rearview mirror. With star forward Elena Delle Donne sitting this season out, the Mystics were always predicted to face an uphill climb in what has been described as a rebuilding year. 

But with a franchise-worst 0-12 record to kick off the 2024 season, the Mystics are likely on track for a lottery pick. However, Washington can point to positive performances from star draft pick Aaliyah Edwards and league newcomer Julie Vanloo.

Elsewhere in the WNBA, the Las Vegas Aces continued their skid with a surprising 100-86 upset courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx. The reigning WNBA champions were shorthanded this week, falling to 5-5 on the season despite MVP-level play from A'ja Wilson, who scored 28 points in Tuesday's loss.

Minnesota shot over 55% as a team, with Alanna Smith leading the team with 18 points. The game marked the Aces' first three-game losing streak since 2019.

"This is a long, long, long season," Wilson said in her postgame remarks. "I'm not going to press the panic button. I'm still going to bet on us. I know exactly what's in that locker room."

Aces stalwart Chelsea Gray has been out with injury since last year's WNBA Finals run. And while she told reporters on Tuesday that she's set to return before the Olympic break, the team can’t get her back soon enough as they continue to struggle with depth. 

"I don't want them thinking too much; then you get paralysis [by] analysis," coach Becky Hammon said. "We're just not being solid in our base. Just be solid defensively. We're not a very good team right now, that's just reality. But we know we can get better. I still have a lot of belief in this ball club."

USA Women’s Basketball Releases Olympic Roster, Explains Clark’s Omission

USA Women's Basketball's Diana Taurasi #12, Brittney Griner #15 and Sabrina Ionescu #6 at April's National Team Training Camp
All the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

USA Women's Basketball announced its official Olympic roster on Tuesday, with officials noting that Caitlin Clark’s lack of national team experience played a key role in her omission.

Selection committee chair Jen Rizzotti said that the committee evaluated players according to a set of on-court criteria they were given.

"When you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes," she told reporters on Tuesday. "Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for [coach Cheryl Reeve] and then sometimes a vote."

Three first-time Olympians made the squad: Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu, and Kahleah Copper. Additionally, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum will make the switch to the national 5-on-5 team after winning gold in the inaugural 3×3 competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Age, Rizzotti said, was "never brought up" in player selection discussions. It’s the first time in Olympic history that a USA Women’s Basketball 5-on-5 team will travel to the Games without a single player under 26 years old.

Rizzotti commented that all the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience, something that Clark does not have.

"She's certainly going to continue to get better and better," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley added. "Really hope that she's a big part of our future going forward."

Rizzotti said it would have been "irresponsible" to base roster decisions on anything outside of a basketball context. Marketing and popularity were not on the selection committee’s list of criteria. 

"It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team," Rizzotti said. "Because it wasn't the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the US. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl."

Clark expressed that she'll be using what some consider a snub as fuel for a run at the 2028 Olympic team. 

"I think it just gives you something to work for," Clark told media after practice Sunday. "It's a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it's just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" on Expert Adjacent

Arsenal Women Confirm US Tour, Preseason Friendlies

Arsenal's Lotte Wubben-Moy battles with Mayra Ramirez of Chelsea at the 2023/24 FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup Final
The last time Chelsea and Arsenal faced off, the Gunners took home the FA Women's League Cup. (Copa/Getty Images)

Arsenal announced on Monday that it will join Chelsea for a series of preseason friendlies in the US in August. 

Arsenal will be based in Washington, DC from August 15th through August 26th. The Gunners are scheduled to play the Washington Spirit on August 18th, followed by a match with fellow WSL team Chelsea on August 25th. It’s the first time that the two London clubs will meet each other on this side of the Atlantic. 

Chelsea had previously announced their game against Gotham FC, confirming reports from ESPN that surfaced last month.

"We always want to create the best conditions for our teams to prepare and perform at their best in pre-season," said Arsenal sporting director Edu Gaspar in a statement. "This gives our players an opportunity to play and train in a new environment, in front of our supporters around the world."

Both Arsenal and Chelsea tout rosters full of international talent — formidable opponents for two equally stacked NWSL teams gearing up for postseason action. Arsenal is home to accomplished England nationals Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, and backheel goal-scorer Alessia Russo alongside Ireland captain Katie McCabe and USWNT defender Emily Fox.

The games are set to be streamed live for free on DAZN.

Arsenal's US tour builds off of a trip to Melbourne, Australia at the tail end of the 2023/24 season, where they beat A-League All Stars women 1-0 in front of 42,120 fans.

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