WNBA Fantasy Draft Tips and Picks

WNBA Fantasy Draft Tips and Picks

With ESPN kicking off its first-ever season-long fantasy format in 2022, RotoWire is here to give you some tips and a few picks to get you ready for draft season.

Tips

Know your league settings

Settings for every league will adjust the values of players, so it's important to keep in mind all factors when entering the draft. Some of the factors to weigh are the number of teams, the scoring settings the team roster size and positional breakdown of the starters (how many guards, forward/centers, utility, etc.), if there is an IR slot to store injured players, among others that can influence the values of players.

Example (ESPN Default):

Teams: 8
Roster Spots: 9 + IR slot
Starters: 2 G, 3 F/C, 1 Util

Scoring
PTS: 1
REB: 1
AST: 1
3PM: 1
STL: 2
BLK: 2

In this scoring setting, you want to take into account that you will need to start at least three and can start up to four frontcourt players each week, so there is an extra player at that position. This league also rewards a bonus point for three-point makes, so forwards that can shoot from beyond the arc would also gain some value. Having an IR slot can be helpful to hold on to players who are sidelined, especially if injuries begin to pile up. You should be aware of it, especially if drafting players discussed in the next section.

Know your risk tolerance

Infused with the above point is knowing that some players will carry more risk than others. The most obvious example this season is Brittney Griner, whose status for the upcoming season hinges on something that is out of her control.  Another example near the top of the board would be Breanna Stewart returning from her second Achilles injury. She is one of the best point-per-game fantasy players when healthy, but it remains to be seen if the injury will have any lingering effects. It could be worth drafting Griner a bit earlier in shallower leagues because the replacement-level bench players will score higher than in deeper leagues, where you will be taking a bigger hit while she is out.

Keep updated on information

With training camps now underway, player news should begin to trickle in from each of the teams. Make sure to keep watch on the latest news leading up to the draft so you don't take a player who will miss some or all of the season. The WNBA is fairly unique in the fact that some players go overseas during the offseason and the overseas campaigns don't always end before the start of the WNBA campaign, so there is a chance at least a few games are missed from a few players to open the 2022 campaign. There are also more situations with players opting to sit out seasons than you will find in other sports, so it's important to keep up-to-date with the most recent information as your draft is firing up. RotoWire is on top of this information and the news section would be a good place to start.

Pay attention to injury history

Somewhat related to the point above, players miss games in the WNBA for numerous reasons, so it's helpful to know which players have a history of injuries. Players who have missed a good amount of time due to injury often have a better chance of reinjuring those areas than players who have stayed relatively healthy, so that is something to factor in. 

Get your players

If there is a player you really want who is questionable to make it back to you in the next round, don't be afraid to jump her up a round in the order. It is better to make sure you get the player than to wait and hope that nobody else is thinking the same thing.

Picks

The Top 3

Being in the top three of the draft order is certainly an advantage, as the group of Tina Charles, Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart appear to have separated themselves from the pack a bit in terms of points per game. The trio averaged about around 40 fantasy points per game last season, while the next closest on the list was Griner at 37.4 per contest. Of the players available to start the 2022 season, A'ja Wilson tallied the most per game at just 34.9, so there is a significant dropoff in production. 

Navigating the top three can also be a challenge, but recent news indicates that Stewart could see her workload managed this season, so she falls to third in the group for me at this juncture. I have Tina Charles nudging out Jonquel Jones for the top honors at this point but wouldn't fault you for going either direction with your choice.

The Rookies

There is a reason Rhyne Howard and NaLyssa Smith were the clear top two in the draft and it's because they are the two most talented players in the draft. Both land in spots on rebuilding teams that should afford them plenty of playing time off the bat. I give a bit of an edge to Smith primarily because her team context would seem to portend more of the offense flowing through her and plenty of opportunities for rebounds. Howard has the ability to shoot from deep but may not be quite as involved on the boards as she was in college, especially with Cheyenne Parker and Monique Billings vying for boards.

We already have some injury news on this front, with fifth overall pick Nyara Sabally being ruled out for the season along with Christyn Williams, who has subsequently been waived by the Mystics.

Team context is arguably the most important thing to look for when it comes to rookies with a chance to contribute. If you're deep in a draft and looking for some help from the rookie class, I'd look at the Fever rookies as your best bet. With the team in rebuild mode and Bernadett Hatar recently ruled out for the season, first-round picks Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull and Queen Egbo may also be given chances to prove their worth along with Smith. The Fever were already pretty thin in the frontcourt following the trade of Teaira McCowan this offseason and now more minutes are freed up with Hatar out.

Shakira Austin, the No. 3 overall pick, is another player I could see swiping some frontcourt minutes as a post presence behind veteran Elizabeth Williams, who averaged just 23.8 minutes per game last season.

The Unknowns

Each season is an adventure when it comes to the unknowns of who will miss time and how much, but we have some clues this season to help us out.

Brittney Griner

The most obvious unfortunate unknown is when we will get to see Brittney Griner in 2022. She is currently being detained in Russia through at least May 19 for possession of vape cartridges and it's no sure thing she will be allowed to return to the United States at that time.

Marine Johannes

Johannes has the potential to be a major offensive contributor for the Liberty if she comes over to the United States at some point in 2022. She has yet to officially sign a contract with New York and will be out for at least a chunk of the season while she finishes up in France, but Johannes is an intriguing add if she does eventually make her way over and could be worth storing in leagues that allow her to sit in the IR spot or deep leagues where benches don't help a ton anyway.

Napheesa Collier

Collier will miss at least a significant chunk of the 2022 campaign with her first child due in May. However, she has stated that she may attempt to make it back at some point in the season to support Sylvia Fowles, who is playing out her final season before retirement. Collier earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2019 and has been in the realm of the MVP discussions since then. If she can get into reasonable shape down the stretch, Collier is certainly a name to keep tabs on.

Kia Nurse

Nurse re-signed with the Mercury this offseason but is expected to miss a large portion of the 2022 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in the semifinals last season. She may have a limited role upon her return, but if Nurse can get healthy to the point of becoming a contributor in a decent capacity again at some point during the season, she produces enough to warrant fantasy consideration in some formats.

The Upside

Hitting on upside players is often one key to winning leagues and if you're in it to win it, why not? Here are a few players I could see having some additional upside this season and my reasoning behind it.

Sabrina Ionescu

Ionescu typically slots in around the end of the first round, but I still see in her the ability to make her way much closer to the top of the board. Despite standing just 5-foot-11, Ionescu still has the ability to find her way to rebounds and has the ability to both dish the ball and score, evidenced by her 6.1 assists and 11.7 points per game last season. Ionescu also recently admitted that she played through an injury last year and it affected her, so there's reason to be optimistic for her to truly blossom in Year 3.

Chennedy Carter

Carter and the Atlanta front office were clearly at odds throughout the 2021 campaign and it culminated in her being traded to the Sparks this offseason. What's important to note is the pieces the Sparks possess and added to compliment her. Shooting from deep was a real problem for the Dream last season, checking in second-worst in the league from beyond the arc. The Sparks checked in slightly better at 33.5 percent but also added Katie Lou Samuelson and Liz Cambage to the mix this offseason. Samuelson adds another sharpshooter to the roster, knocking down 35.1 percent of her 2.7 attempts per game from deep last season, and Cambage can space effectively on occasion as well. Carter is best when she has a lane to turn to and the Sparks should have enough shooting and solid low-post play from Cambage to where Carter should be able to get into the lane to score or pass more often this season.

Deep Sleeper: Rennia Davis

Davis was selected ninth overall in the 2021 WNBA Draft, but her rookie season was over before it began due to a left foot fracture. She was back in action overseason during the offseason and averaged 12 points and seven rebounds in Australia before heading to the Israeli league, where she averaged 22.9 points and 13.3 rebounds against Israeli competition. The talent pool is much greater in the US, but her display of dominance overseas coupled with Napheesa Collier's absence and Damiris Dantas (foot) potentially being sidelined to open the season could leave room for Davis to contribute early and carve out a role.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Benzine
Chris is a sports editor for various sports on the site and also a consistent contributor in the college sports arena.
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