What Diana Taurasi’s injury means for the Mercury’s playoff hopes
The Mercury need to win their final three games to control their playoff fate.
We still haven’t quite hit the All-Star break in real life, but in WNBA fantasy world, the season is approaching crunch time. Just two weeks remain in the default regular season schedules, meaning playoff spots will be on the line in the coming days.
With that in mind, if you’re still in the mix for the playoffs, look no further for advice and notes to use to your advantage down the home stretch.
These are the top risers in fantasy ranking since our last update. We’ve only included players who were ranked at that time, meaning they had already played a game by then.
3. Alysha Clark: 35 spots (current 50th, previous 85th)
Understandably, it took Clark a bit of time to get back into her rhythm after returning from over a year off due to injury. Prior to our last fantasy piece, she had played in five games and hadn’t reached 23 minutes in any of them.
Since then, she’s surpassed that mark in eight of her nine games, including over 40 minutes in Washington’s overtime win over the Aces on Saturday. It’s safe to say she’s back.
2. Natalie Achonwa: 36 spots (current 99th, previous 135th)
There is a small sample size to consider here, since Achonwa’s previous rank was based on a mere two games before her injury in May. She’s also played only three games for the Lynx since returning, so take this as you will.
It is still worth noting that in those three recent games, she’s averaged 15.5 minutes, 9.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, after recording marks of 10.5, 2.5 and 1.0 in the same categories before that. Achonwa’s current role seems to be just big enough to be fantasy relevant.
1. AD Durr: 38 spots (current 102nd, previous 140th)
The last time we were here, AD was a member of the Liberty and was a fantasy afterthought even under the most generous projections. The next day, they were traded to the Dream, and the change of scenery has done wonders.
AD’s average of 22.8 fantasy points since then would be knocking on the door of the top 40 if it were a full-season mark, and their three 21-point games since June 15 trail only Arike Ogunbowale’s four in the entire league.
On the flip side of the risers, you have the fallers — those players whose rank has dropped off since we last checked in.
3. Megan Gustafson: 23 spots (current 131st, previous 108th)
Gustafson was on the very edge of the fantasy radar anyway, so this drop probably isn’t of major significance for you unless you’re in a deep league.
It is possible, of course, that Gustafson’s fantasy stock reverses course in the coming days with Tina Charles now out of the picture. Phoenix’s first game post-Charles did nothing to give Gustafson owners hope, however, as Vanessa Nygaard opted for essentially a six-player rotation rather than upping Gustafson’s minutes.
2. Dana Evans: 27 spots (current 100th, previous 73rd)
Evans did an admirable job as Courtney Vandersloot’s backup for several weeks to start the season. Then Julie Allemand arrived.
Allemand’s role has been gradually increasing, and the point guard peaked on Sunday with season highs of 11 points and four assists off the bench in a win over Minnesota. As long as Allemand is around, Evans simply won’t get enough volume to help your team in fantasy.
1. Bria Hartley: 30 spots (current 133rd, previous 103rd)
Hartley, who didn’t play until June, is in a similar small sample size position as Achonwa — just in the opposite direction.
She was terrific in the 2020 bubble with Phoenix — good enough to earn a hefty contract with Indiana — but she hasn’t lived up to that deal in 2022. Given that it expires after this season, Hartley may find herself in the same boat as Tiffany Mitchell did: a playing time casualty of a youthful, rebuilding team.
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 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.
It’s understandable that Johannès wasn’t widely drafted, given her late arrival to the Liberty. What’s not understandable is why she’s not widely owned now.
Rebecca Allen’s injury has played a part to be sure, but Johannes was taking some of Allen’s minutes even before that. Her 25 fantasy points per game over the last week put her in the top 30, even ahead of players like Chelsea Gray and Sue Bird. Her ownership rate of 15.9 percent is far too low.
Nope, we weren’t done giving love to AD. It’s one thing to go on a run, and they’ve been on quite the run as detailed above. It’s another thing to do so precisely because of a situational change.
As opposed to a random hot streak in the former case, there’s a reason to point to in the latter, meaning you can expect the elevated production to sustain. The Atlanta version of AD is a borderline fantasy starter, and worth a bench spot at worst. You can still pick them up in over 92 percent of leagues, so it’s time.
Credit to all of you fantasy managers: There don’t seem to be any players currently rostered in over 50 percent of leagues that don’t deserve it. So instead, we’ll focus more on strategy here.
Given that there are only two weeks left of the fantasy regular season, strategy around who to drop, if anyone, centers on where you are in the standings. If you are on the playoff bubble and need wins in these final weeks, it’s definitely time to drop anyone with a remotely significant injury beyond whoever you’re keeping in your IR spot. That might mean cutting ties with someone like Erica Wheeler or Betnijah Laney.
If you have a playoff spot wrapped up, you may be in a position to pick up a player like that if someone else in your league has dropped them. You can afford a loss or two while you await their return, so it may be worth dropping an average player who is healthy in favor of a potential difference-maker in the fantasy playoffs.
Elena Delle Donne, 44 fantasy points (June 25 vs. Las Vegas)
The extra five minutes helped, but it’s refreshing to see the two-time former MVP on this list after what she’s gone through over the last couple of seasons.
It wasn’t necessarily a vintage EDD game — she shot just 7-of-17 from the field and didn’t reach 20 points — but her 10 rebounds and five blocks catapulted her to an elite fantasy line while lifting her team to a signature road win in the process.
Arike Ogunbowale, 50 fantasy points (June 23 vs. Indiana)
This isn’t Ogunbowale’s first time on this list, and with the way ESPN’s scoring system values real-life scoring over peripheral stats, it won’t be her last.
To her credit, though, this 50-spot was much more well-rounded than her last, in which she poured in 37 points. In this one, she scored just 24 but dished out six assists and tied her career high with five steals.
Breanna Stewart, 50 fantasy points (June 25 vs. Los Angeles)
We couldn’t get through an entire fantasy recap without talking about arguably the fantasy GOAT. Another fixture on these leaderboards, Stewart hung 50 for the league-leading fourth time this year with a classic all-around performance.
She now owns four of the top 15 fantasy performances of the season, and her collection of 50-point fantasy games continues to climb the career ranks at remarkable speed. She currently sits in sixth at 31, and she needs just one to tie Maya Moore for fifth and two to tie Tamika Catchings for fourth. There’s really no one else who has been as consistent and reliable of a fantasy contributor since Stewart entered the league in 2016.
While we’re talking all time greats, it seems worth taking a look at some career fantasy milestones — both recently achieved and upcoming.
Most notably, Sue Bird recorded her 13,705th career fantasy point against Connecticut one day after officially announcing her retirement. That number was significant in that it moved her ahead of Tina Thompson and into third place in WNBA history.
Another soon-to-be retired legend is within reach of some important marks. Sylvia Fowles needs 143 fantasy points to reach 13,000 for her career and another 166 to catch Lisa Leslie for sixth.
Tina Charles is not far behind Fowles, so if things work out in Seattle (Charles’ reported destination), we could see the 13,000 club grow from six to eight by season’s end.
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.
The Mercury need to win their final three games to control their playoff fate.
Phoenix loses Taurasi in the midst of a playoff chase.
In 21 years, Bird has found her voice and helped change WNBA culture.
Dallas and New York tip off at 8 p.m. ET.
Get a rundown of the top highlights, stories, and events in women’s sports, including can’t-miss games and exclusive features.
Enter the JWS Bracket Challenge for your chance to win $150,000.