WNBA Weekly Primer: Risers, Fallers, Injuries and Trends

WNBA Weekly Primer: Risers, Fallers, Injuries and Trends

The first season of season-long Fantasy Women's Basketball on ESPN is underway, and there are plenty of trends to track to stay competitive in leagues. This weekly column is intended to provide an analysis of trends impacting production in season-long leagues, and the discussion section is available for league-specific questions, such as waiver advice and start/sit questions.

Risers

Brittney Sykes, G, Sparks: Sykes' well-rounded production made her a fairly reliable fantasy contributor early in the season, but she's had increased scoring output recently, averaging 18.0 points over her last two games. Despite coming off the bench in each of the last five games, the 28-year-old has had a knack for finding scoring lanes while shooting 63.2 percent from the field during her recent hot stretch. Even if Sykes remains in a bench role, she's carved out a significant offensive role for the Sparks, giving her rejuvenated appeal in season-long formats. It will be worth monitoring how Sykes' role is impacted by the eventual return of Kristi Toliver, but she's certainly a name to consider at this juncture.

Victoria Vivians, G, Fever: Vivians has been one of the more frequently added players in ESPN leagues recently. For good reason, considering she's joined the starting lineup for the last 10 games and has posted double-digit scoring totals in eight of them. The Fever struggled as a team during Sunday's loss to the Dream, and Vivians had one of her worst performances of the season, totaling just five points while shooting 16.7 percent from the floor. However, the guard will have plenty of chances to bounce back during matchups against the Sun, Liberty and Lynx this week.

Aari McDonald, G, Dream: McDonald had somewhat inconsistent playing time and shot volume early in 2022 but has recently been a more reliable fantasy contributor. Despite maintaining her bench role, the guard has surpassed 25 minutes of action in four of the last five games and has averaged nine field-goal attempts per game during that time. McDonald still shows some signs of inconsistency, as she was limited to just two points on 0-for-3 shooting in 16 minutes during Friday's loss to the Sky, but she's been fairly productive when given ample playing time. 

Han Xu, C, Liberty: Xu had a minimal impact for the Liberty as a rookie in 2021, and she had inconsistent usage for the Liberty early in 2022. However, she's played at least 15 minutes in each of the last six matchups, averaging 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes per game during that time. The 22-year-old's shot volume has remained somewhat inconsistent, making her game-by-game value fluid. However, she's been strong on the boards this year and has developed into a solid season-long contributor over the last few weeks.

Rachel Banham, G, Lynx: Banham's increased role in recent games has come under unfortunate circumstances, as the promising Moriah Jefferson is sidelined indefinitely due to a quadriceps injury. However, Banham has filled in nicely since rejoining the starting lineup, averaging 10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 24.5 minutes per game over her last two starts. The 28-year-old has averaged 8.3 field-goal attempts per game over her last three appearances and should continue to have increased fantasy output while Jefferson is unavailable.

Fallers

Myisha Hines-Allen, F, Mystics: Hines-Allen had increased production Sunday since Elena Delle Donne was resting, but she's struggled to find her shot in 2022. Prior to Sunday's loss to Chicago, she had come off the bench in four of the last eight matchups, and she averaged just 3.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game while shooting just 27.3 percent from the floor during that time. In spite of Hines-Allen's production Sunday, she's largely struggled to live up to her ADP this season.

Jessica Shepard, F, Lynx: After serving exclusively as a reserve over her first two seasons in the WNBA, Shepard has taken on a starting role over her first 11 appearances in 2022. She was one of the most improved fantasy players over the first few weeks of the season, averaging 10.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 31.9 minutes per game over Minnesota's first seven matchups. However, the 25-year-old cooled off this week, averaging just 3.0 field-goal attempts per game while shooting just 22.2 percent from the floor over her last three appearances. While part of her decrease in production may have stemmed from a broken nose that she sustained Wednesday against Atlanta, she simply hasn't been as reliable in recent matchups. Although Shepard's early-season success should give some pause about dropping her, fantasy managers could consider sitting her in applicable situations until she rights the ship.

Teaira McCowan, C, Wings: McCowan was a consistent threat to put up double-doubles during her three seasons with the Fever, so it's been perplexing to see her usage early in her time with the Wings, especially considering that Dallas gave up significant draft capital to acquire her via trade. She's come off the bench in all but one of her nine appearances this year and has averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 8.7 minutes per game. McCowan's past production shows that she has the talent to succeed in the WNBA, but her usage in Dallas makes her a safe candidate to drop at this point.

Sami Whitcomb, G, Liberty: Whitcomb consistently generated double-digit fantasy points in standard ESPN leagues over the first few weeks of the season, but she's come off the bench in her last three appearances and has averaged just 3.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game during that time. Whitcomb's production in rebounds and assists early in the year helped make up for the fact that she's shot just 29.2 percent from the floor over the first 11 games in 2022, but she hasn't had as many chances to contribute in those categories since moving to the bench. Until the guard finds more success from the floor, there are likely other players available who are able to provide more reliable fantasy production.

Tiffany Mitchell, G, Fever: Mitchell averaged at least 12.0 points per game in the last two seasons, but she's taken on a decreased role early in 2022 while the Fever work on developing some of their rookies. She started in the first three games of the season but has taken on a bench role over her last nine appearances and has averaged just 5.2 points in 10.8 minutes per game during that time. Although Mitchell is shooting a career-high 46.0 percent from the field to begin the year, her lack of playing time inhibits her fantasy value.

Injury/Absence Implications

Note: Updated injury and absence information throughout the week can be found on RotoWire's Injury News page.

Atlanta Dream: Tiffany Hayes hasn't played in 2022 while fulfilling her overseas commitments, and it was revealed last week that she's dealing with a knee injury and doesn't yet have a timetable to return. Erica Wheeler and Kristy Wallace should continue to see increased run in Atlanta's backcourt until Hayes is back in action. Monique Billings also returned to the court last week, which slightly decreased playing time for Nia Coffey.

Chicago Sky: Julie Allemand is expected to join the Sky this week after missing the start of the year while overseas. She should take on a bench role in Chicago's backcourt, but her availability could lead to a decrease in playing time for Dana Evans and Rebekah Gardner. The Sky traded for Allemand likely with the intentions of making her the heir apparent to Courtney Vandersloot on the ball, but Evans has stood out early in the season and has likely staked a claim to her own share of a backcourt role moving forward, even if Evans' usage does see some decline upon Allemand's return.

Las Vegas Aces: Jackie Young has been one of the most improved players in the WNBA this season under new head coach Becky Hammon, but she sustained a lower leg injury Thursday against Connecticut and was held out during Sunday's game against the Wings. Theresa Plaisance drew her first start of the season in her absence Sunday, while Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray saw increased production in the backcourt. It's not yet clear when Young will be back in action, but she'll have time to rest before the Aces' next game against the Sparks on Saturday. Iliana Rupert's season in France has concluded, but it's not yet known if she intends to return to the United States in 2022. If she does, Rupert would be under contract with the Aces and would provide some additional depth to the team's frontcourt.

Los Angeles Sparks: Jordin Canada returned to the starting lineup Sunday against the Mercury following a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury. She's served exclusively as a starter this year, so Chennedy Carter returned to a bench role with Canada back in action Sunday. Complicating the backcourt rotation is the impending return of Kristi Toliver, who has completed her coaching duties with the Dallas Mavericks and was spotted on the sidelines for the Sparks on Sunday. Her return will likely result in lost minutes for others in the rotation, likely including Canada and Carter to some extent.

Minnesota Lynx: The Lynx announced last week that Moriah Jefferson is out indefinitely due to a quadriceps injury, but her status improved to doubtful ahead of Tuesday's game against the Liberty. Rachel Banham has taken on a starting role during the two games that Jefferson has missed, while Evina Westbrook and Nina Milic have also seen a slight increase in usage.

New York Liberty: Betnijah Laney has been sidelined with a knee injury since mid-May, and she underwent surgery Wednesday that is expected to keep her sidelined for approximately eight weeks. Rebecca Allen and Han Xu have seen additional run in the rotation early in Laney's absence and will likely continue to do so. Marine Johannes' season has concluded in France, but it's not yet known if or when she will make the trip from France to join the Liberty. If she eventually does, Johannes could step into a sizable role in the Liberty backcourt.

Phoenix Mercury: Tina Charles has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, which has led to increased playing time for Diana Taurasi and Sophie Cunningham. Cunningham and Shey Peddy returned from two-game absences of their own during Phoenix's matchup against Chicago last Tuesday, while Sam Thomas and Karlie Samuelson have seen decreased playing time since Cunningham and Peddy returned to action. Cunningham should return to a bench role once Charles is back to full health. We're also still waiting for the return of Brittney Griner, who remains wrongfully detained in Russia and has no firm date for her return to the United States.

Seattle Storm: Sue Bird and Ezi Magbegor returned to the court Sunday against the Sun after missing three games due to the league's COVID-19 protocols, and neither player had a minutes restriction during the loss to Connecticut. Gabby Williams, Briann January, Jantel Lavender and Epiphanny Prince all saw decreased playing time during Sunday's matchup.

Washington Mystics: Alysha Clark returned from a three-game absence Sunday against Chicago but faced a minutes restriction. Kennedy Burke, Myisha Hines-Allen and Elizabeth Williams continued to see increased playing time Sunday due to Clark's workload restriction and Elena Delle Donne resting. However, Burke, Hines-Allen and Williams will likely see decreased run once Clark and Delle Donne are back to full strength.

Lineup Trends

Note: Projected lineups and up-to-the-minute lineup confirmations can be found on RotoWire's Daily Lineups page.

Dallas Wings: Satou Sabally has started in each of the last three games, while Isabelle Harrison has come off the bench during that time. Teaira McCowan drew a start against the Sparks on May 31 in place of Kayla Thornton, but Thornton has returned to the starting lineup in the last two games.

Minnesota Lynx: Evina Westbrook drew two starts last week, but Aerial Powers rejoined the starting lineup during Monday's win over New York.

New York Liberty: Crystal Dangerfield has joined the starting lineup over the last three games while Sami Whitcomb has retreated to the bench.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Shebilske
Jason joined RotoWire in 2019 as his first position covering fantasy sports. In addition to RotoWire, he writes for Sports Broadcast Journal.
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