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WNBA fantasy tracker: Risers, fallers and top performers in Week 1

Candace Parker had the second-best fantasy performance of the weekend in the Sky’s opening loss. (Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

Risers

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.

Fallers

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.

Fantasy performances of the week(end)

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.

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.

Miscellaneous fantasy stat of the week

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.

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.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

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

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