The opening weekend of the WNBA season is in the books, and we’ve already been treated to several fun performances. Elena Delle Donne scored 21 in her much-anticipated return, Jordin Canada posted 21 points and eight assists in her first game as a Spark to lead L.A. to an overtime road win over the Sky, and Rhyne Howard burst onto the scene with a stat line never before achieved in a WNBA debut.
For some of you, those performances may have put you well on your way to a 1-0 start to your fantasy career (or, if your opponent was the beneficiary, an 0-1 start). With ESPN’s addition of a season-long fantasy WNBA game, the first of its kind in major women’s sports, loads of fantasy players are in the midst of their first-ever WNBA matchup this week.
In this space throughout the season, we’ll regularly break down some of the key aspects of the fantasy world. Subsequent editions may look a little different once the season is in full swing and more players return from their overseas commitments, but it’s never too early to analyze what we’ve seen so far.
The landscape in any sport is constantly fluctuating throughout the season due to factors such as injuries, hot or cold streaks and rotation adjustments. Later on, we’ll be able to give you the biggest risers and fallers from the previous week’s ESPN fantasy rankings, but for now we can use ESPN’s preseason rankings for our baseline. Everyone has played only one or two games, so make of these what you will.
Yvonne Turner: 112 spots (current 59th, preseason 171st)
Turner’s inclusion on this list may be mostly about how shorthanded the 0-2 Lynx are (her teammate Jessica Shepard checks in right behind her at fourth).
Nevertheless, Turner deserves a lot of credit for stepping in and providing coach Cheryl Reeve with some ball-handling after not having played in the league since 2019.
Dana Evans: 128 spots (current 5th, preseason 133rd)
If ESPN only counted each player’s best quarter, Evans would probably be the highest-ranked player in the league right now. The second-year Sky guard spontaneously combusted in the third quarter of Chicago’s season opener, pouring in 17 points to go along with three assists and two steals.
The 24 fantasy points Evans recorded in the quarter were more than she had ever logged in any game and alone would put her just outside of the top 50.
Jocelyn Willoughby: 146 spots (current 33rd, preseason 179th)
Believe it or not, Evans’ explosion was not quite enough for the No. 1 spot on the risers list. That belongs to another young former ACC guard.
Playing in her first career game in a WNBA arena (two years removed from the bubble season), Jocelyn Willoughby made her presence felt in 29 productive minutes. Willoughby benefitted from the absences of Betnijah Laney and DiDi Richards, and she took full advantage.
And 1️⃣ for @swishbeast #OwntheCrown👑🗽 pic.twitter.com/Sin2I3ZGPL— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) May 8, 2022
And 1️⃣ for @swishbeast #OwntheCrown👑🗽 pic.twitter.com/Sin2I3ZGPL
On the flip side of the risers, you have the fallers — those players whose rank looked a lot better a week ago.
Erica Wheeler: 37 spots (current 57th, preseason 20th)
This one is probably a function of ESPN overrating Wheeler to start the season. Yes, Wheeler is a solid guard who should give the Dream a valuable veteran presence in the backcourt as they rebuild. But it’s hard to imagine that she finishes the season as one of the top 20 fantasy players in the game.
Plus, Atlanta has a rookie guard who looks like she’ll command a lot more usage than what ESPN projected. Speaking of Rhyne Howard’s touches…
Aari McDonald: 41 spots (current 108th, preseason 67th)
Like Wheeler, McDonald may end up with fewer counting stats than what ESPN thought thanks in large part to her new teammate. Howard entered the season ranked 38th on ESPN, but in her debut, she led the team in minutes as well as five of the six stats that count for fantasy points.
There’s also Kristy Wallace, who somehow didn’t even exist on ESPN’s preseason list but got the start and played 29 minutes for Atlanta on Saturday. McDonald came off the bench and scored just one point in 18 minutes. If Game 1 was any indication of what Tanisha Wright’s rotation will look like, McDonald may have a hard time living up to her preseason rank.
Arike Ogunbowale: 51 spots (current 68th, preseason 17th)
Arike owners, you have nothing to worry about. Ogunbowale’s game is suited perfectly for ESPN’s fantasy scoring system, which proportionally rewards scoring and shooting more heavily than defense and rebounding.
Sometimes stars just have an off night. Ogunbowale’s seven-point performance in Dallas’ opening loss was her lowest output since her rookie year. Give Atlanta’s defense plenty of credit, but don’t read anything into an anomaly to start the season.
Going forward, this section will recognize the top games of the past week from a fantasy perspective. However, with only one weekend under our belts, we’re taking a look at the best performances of the season so far.
Alyssa Thomas, 42 fantasy points (May 7 vs. New York)
Seeing Alyssa Thomas on the floor to open the season was refreshing after she missed the majority of 2021 with an Achilles injury. The two-time All-Star was at her best right away, pouring in 25 points with spin moves and her signature shot puts.
Add in her contributions on the other end of the floor (four steals) and on the glass (seven boards), and it was enough to give her one of the best fantasy outings of the young season.
Natisha Hiedeman ➡️ Alyssa Thomas for the and-1 😱 pic.twitter.com/sX06UMdn14— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 7, 2022
Natisha Hiedeman ➡️ Alyssa Thomas for the and-1 😱 pic.twitter.com/sX06UMdn14
Sabrina Ionescu, 42 fantasy points (May 7 vs. Connecticut)
Thomas’ efforts weren’t enough to give her the outright title of most fantasy points in this game, nor were they enough for her team to win the game. That’s because Sabrina Ionescu did what Sabrina Ionescu does: fill the stat sheet.
While Ionescu’s efficiency left something to be desired last year, ESPN’s scoring system doesn’t care about that — only volume stats count for fantasy purposes. For that reason, the NCAA’s triple-double leader still finished in the top 20 in the league in total fantasy points in 2021, and she validated that with a stellar performance (both in real life and fantasy) to open the 2022 season.
Candace Parker, 44 fantasy points (May 6 vs. Los Angeles)
Candace Parker has made it known that her goal for this year’s regular season is to “not suck.” She probably wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of this game — an overtime loss for the Sky — but individually, it’s safe to say Parker didn’t suck.
The veteran contributed in all facets of the game. In terms of the six stats that count for fantasy points, Candace Parker’s line of 21 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block and three 3-pointers hadn’t been accomplished since Breanna Stewart did it in 2016.
A’ja Wilson, 48 fantasy points (May 8 vs. Seattle)
The top fantasy total of the 2022 campaign thus far fittingly belongs to the betting favorite for MVP. It appears that Becky Hammon is cooking up something special in Las Vegas, and A’ja Wilson is a huge part of that recipe.
While much of the East Coast was sleeping on Sunday night, Wilson feasted on Seattle to the tune of 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. She became just the 12th player in league history to do so, and the list of the first 11 is loaded with Hall of Famers.
It’s always fun when something quirky happens, regardless of whether it means anything. Here, we celebrate the unique and bizarre stats as they relate to fantasy points.
Brittney Sykes’ defense has been trending up over recent years: After landing on the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2020 and following that up with First Team honors in 2021, she won the WNBL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in Australia in March.
It was that defense that allowed Sykes to log 31 ESPN fantasy points without even reaching double figures in the scoring column. Her four steals and two blocks helped lead the Sparks to an overtime win and gave her a great overall stat line despite just nine actual points.
Brittney Sykes ridiculous help blocks to start the season, a W tradition unlike any other pic.twitter.com/seLTPjMMkN— Gabe Ibrahim (@gabe_ibrahim) May 7, 2022
Brittney Sykes ridiculous help blocks to start the season, a W tradition unlike any other pic.twitter.com/seLTPjMMkN
In thousands of player games last season, that only happened eight times. Don’t be shocked, however, if Sykes pulls it off again at some point.
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.