WNBA Offseason Moves
Steve Pimental looks at the offseason moves and their fantasy implications for all 12 WNBA teams.
What started as a quiet offseason with an underwhelming free agent class has turned into a fascinating offseason which has seen two star players demand trades, though only one has been granted so far. Throw in a couple of under-the-radar trades, a very interesting draft and some devastating injuries, and the WNBA landscape has changed drastically since Seattle won the WNBA title in September. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the offseason moves for all 12 WNBA teams.
Additions: Nia Coffey (trade)
Marie Gulich (trade)
Subtractions: Damiris Dantas
Atlanta added two intriguing young bigs in the offseason, but it seems impossible for either one to play more than 15 minutes per game while starters Jessica Breland and Elizabeth Williams are healthy. Breland and Williams both put up their best numbers after Angel McCoughtry went down, and they will almost certainly be overpriced if McCoughtry returns.
Atlanta’s most interesting player this season will likely be Alex Bentley, who was added from Connecticut in a trade last summer. Bentley was inconsistent in the regular season even after McCoughtry went down, but she stepped up in a big way in the playoffs. Bentley attempted at least 13 shots in all five playoff games despite never playing more than 26 minutes. Bentley came off the bench in all 21 games for Atlanta last season, and that will probably continue barring an injury to one of the starters.
Speaking of those starters, Tiffany Hayes was super consistent last season, but I’m not sure I see a breakout coming. I think the more likely breakout Candidate is Brittney Sykes. It is easy to forget Sykes put of very nice numbers as a rookie in 2017 before losing minutes and shots to McCoughtry in 2018.
Additions: Katie Lou Samuelson (4th overall draft pick)
Chloe Jackson (15th overall pick)
While the Sky didn’t shake up their personnel much in the offseason, they did hire James Wade as head coach and general manager, replacing Amber Stocks. The Sky’s starting lineup of Stefanie Dolson, Gabby Williams, Allie Quigley, Diamond DeShields and Courtney Vandersloot had a net rating of 13.2 last season. When those five weren’t all on the court together, the Sky had a -11.3 net rating. The good news is Katie Lou Samuelson can seamlessly replace any one of those starters outside of Stefanie Dolson. The bad news is, I’m not sure anyone else on this roster is a rotation player on a good team. Chloe Jackson joins Kahleah Copper and Jamierra Faulkner as intriguing backup point guards on a team that should let Vandersloot or DeShields handle the ball every time up the floor. Center Alaina Coates was largely a bust as a rookie last season, and James Wade probably needs to turn her into at least an average backup if this team is going to make the playoffs. It would be nice if somebody could take some power forward minutes to allow Gabby Williams to play more small forward, but that doesn’t seem particularly likely barring a trade.
For fantasy, I doubt you’ll want to play anyone on this team most days outside of Dolson, DeShields and Vandersloot. Quigley, Williams and Samuelson will all have games where they make a few threes and put up some points, but good luck predicting when those games will come.
Additions: Kristine Anigwe (9th overall draft pick)
Subtractions: Chiney Ogwumike
Jonquel Jones’s 2018 season was remarkably similar to Glory Johnson’s. Jones was coming off second-team All-WNBA honors in 2017, but with Chiney Ogwumike returning after missing all of 2017, Jones spent the majority of 2018 coming off the bench. Jones was effective in limited minutes, tying for ninth in the WNBA in blocks while finishing fifth in field goal percentage (55.0) and second in three-point percentage (46.7). That being said, her minutes, points and rebounds were all down significantly from 2017, even when Alyssa Thomas went down in the middle of the season. Jones did play at least 26 minutes in each of her last four games in 2018 and she scored at least 17 points in six of her last seven and eight of her last 10. With Ogwumike joining her sister in Los Angeles, Jones appears poised to return to her 2017 form.
Alyssa Thomas was Connecticut’s best player through the first three weeks of the season, but she missed a month with a shoulder injury and was inconsistent when she returned even though she regularly played heavy minutes. She will probably benefit from Ogwumike's departure as well, though I will probably need to see it consistently before I trust her as much as I trust Jonquel Jones.
Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams were great at times last season, but it was nearly impossible to predict when a big game would come. They should be a bit more frequent now that Ogwumike is gone, but my guess is this offense still runs through the post more often than not.
Additions: Arike Ogunbowale (5th overall draft pick)
Megan Gustafson (17th overall pick)
Subtractions: Liz Cambage
The Wings haven’t technically lost Liz Cambage yet, though she has informed the club she will only play for the Sparks this season. Dallas reportedly hasn’t been offered anything approaching fair value for Cambage, and even if she is eventually traded, it is doubtful the trade will affect Dallas’s fantasy outlook much for 2019.
Even though Dallas is looking to replace an MVP candidate without getting much in return, they should actually be just fine up front. Glory Johnson is a two-time WNBA All-Star but she missed five games due to injury early in the season and never really fit alongside Cambage. Johnson had career-lows in points, minutes and rebounds in 2018, and we should probably expect her to bounce back at least to some degree with Cambage gone. That being said, Johnson managed just five points and 10 rebounds total in the two games she played without Cambage last season, so she is still risky.
Azura Stevens was actually the player to step up with Cambage out, averaging 12.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 23.0 minutes in the two games Cambage missed. The Wings had a 6.6 net rating in 154 minutes that Stevens and Johnson played without Cambage last season, so they should be able to coexist together. While fantasy players no doubt want to see Stevens and Johnson play 30 minutes per game, that seems unlikely to happen with Kayla Thornton, Theresa Plaisance and rookie Megan Gustafson also in the mix. Thornton probably should play power forward more often than not, but I would look for her to see more time at small forward this season. Stevens, Johnson and Thornton played 86.4 minutes together without Liz Cambage and had a 16.6 net rating. Like Stevens, Kayla Thornton scored in double figures in both of the games Cambage missed last season. Stevens and Thornton should both be cash plays to start the season, though I suspect Stevens has the most upside of the two. Glory Johnson is a GPP play, though I may be tempted to play her in cash because she is Dallas’s only proven bucket-getter with Skylar Diggins-Smith out for some or all of the season following the birth of her child.
Along with Johnson, rookie Arike Ogunbowale figures to provide the most consistent scoring with Diggins-Smith out. Ogunbowale scored at least 20 points in all six of Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament games this year, and while I expect her to start and have the ball in her hands often for Dallas, she’ll probably be a better GPP than a cash play early on unless her price is really low.
Dallas has some intriguing wing players in Tayler Hill, Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis, though none of them figure to be consistent scorers. Davis started six games last season, including both of the games Diggins-Smith missed. She had at least 10 field goal attempts in both games, averaging 26.0 minutes, 11.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers. Dallas could elect to start Davis again, especially early on, even though they almost certainly need Ogunbowale’s scoring. ?
Additions: Teaira McCowan (3rd overall draft pick)
Shenise Johnson (injury)
Subtractions: Victoria Vivians (injury)
Cappie Pondexter (retirement)
2019 Outlook: Kelsey Mitchell was fifth in the WNBA in usage last season and 109th in effective field goal percentage. Her usage will probably remain high, but there is a strong chance her efficiency improves in her second season.
The Teaira McCowan draft pick was interesting considering Indiana was dead last in offensive efficiency in 2018 and she is known more for her defense and rebounding than her offensive game. It also remains to be seen how McCowan will fit alongside Candice Dupree and Natalie Achonwa. Spacing and team speed will be issues if all three play together, but this team doesn’t have enough talent to keep them off the floor.
Indiana struggled to find another guard to step up consistently next to Kelsey Mitchell, which is why Shenise Johnson’s return from a torn ACL is so huge. Johnson was averaging a career-high 11.3 points per game in just 24.9 minutes before the injury in 2017. Johnson should start alongside Kelsey Mitchell sooner than later, and I will be extremely interested to see what her price is for DFS. If it comes in low, she will be an immediate cash play.
Las Vegas Aces
Additions: Jackie Young (1st overall draft pick)
Sugar Rogers (trade)
Subtractions: Nia Coffey (trade)
2019 Outlook: The Aces have five guards who would start for just about any team in the league, the best young PF/C in the game and only one other forward who is definitely a rotation player on a playoff team. They need to make a trade. Would it be too much to ask for them to trade Moriah Jefferson and Isabelle Harrison to the Fever for Natalie Achonwa? Jefferson is probably going to struggle to find playing time in Las Vegas, but if her knee is completely healthy, she and Sugar Rodgers could easily be a thorn in the side of anyone looking to play Kelsey Plum or Jackie Young for fantasy. The only player you know will get minutes and shots no matter what is A’Ja Wilson. Kayla McBride is probably safe, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised if she averages fewer than 30 minutes per game this season after she averaged 32.3 last season.
Head coach Bill Lambeer has been reluctant to play three-guard lineups in the past, but he probably won’t have a choice this season barring a trade or two. Tamera Young is a threat to score 20 points or grab 10 rebounds every time out, but she will never be a focal point of this offense. That being said, the minutes will always be there, and you could do far worse for a cheap cash play.
As I alluded to above, the Aces really need someone who can play consistently next to A’ja Wilson. I’ve long been an Isabelle Harrison fan, but I don’t think she is a great fit next to Wilson. Dearic Hamby showed flashes last year but also disappeared from games. I’m not expecting a big jump in minutes or production as she enters her fifth year in the league. That leaves Carolyn Swords and JiSu Park to play the rest of the center minutes. Park is just 21, so it is too soon to write her off, but she has a long way to go to achieve fantasy relevance. Swords is a solid veteran but even on this team she probably shouldn’t play a whole lot barring injury.
Los Angeles Sparks
Additions: Chiney Ogwumike (trade)
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (free agent)
Kalani Brown (7th overall draft pick)
Alexis Jones (trade)
Derek Fisher (coach)
Subtractions: Essence Carson (free agency)
Odyssey Sims (trade)
I don't think it's an overstatement to say anything short of a title should be a disappointment with this team, no matter how bad of a coach Derek Fisher has proven himself to be. Unlike Connecticut last season, the Sparks appear to fit pretty well, even if Candace Parker is marginally better at the four than at the three. Parker, Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsa Gray are all likely to be overpriced for DFS at the start of the season based on their 2018 numbers. Of the four, I'm most concerned about Gray, as her best production came when Candace Parker was out. Even if one of those four goes down, there is unlikely to be any room for fantasy production on this team, even though the Sparks have a pretty talented bench.
Additions: Karima Christmas-Kelly (free agent)
Odyssey Sims (trade)
Damiris Dantas (free agent)
Napheesa Collier (6th overall draft pick)
Jessica Shepard (16 overall draft pick)
Lexie Brown (trade)
Subtractions: Maya Moore (rest)
Lindsay Whalen (retirement)
Rebekkah Brunson (free agent)
Alexis Jones (trade)
Tanisha Wright (trade)
No team will look more drastically different from last season to this one than the Lynx. If the Lynx do not re-sign Rebekkah Brunson, they will have lost three-fifths of their starting lineup from the last few seasons. Minnesota found a good mix of veterans and young players to replace what it lost, but it is anyone’s guess how the pieces will fit.
The one thing that seems certain is this team will revolve around Sylvia Fowles. Maya Moore was ninth in the WNBA in usage, and no one Minnesota brought in has been a high-usage player in recent seasons. Sylvia Fowles has been one of the best players in the WNBA for fantasy for a while now, but she ranked just 25th in usage in 2018.
On the one hand, I think Karima Christmas-Kelly is the best bet to pick up the scoring slack with Maya Moore out. On the other hand, Christmas-Kelly has never had a 20 percent usage rate, and that seems unlikely to change in her 11th WNBA season.
It is easy to forget that Odyssey Sims averaged better than 14.0 ppg in each of her first three WNBA seasons. She wasn’t a great fit in Los Angeles because they didn’t need her to score and she doesn’t really space the floor, but I don’t think we should be surprised at all if Sims averages 30+ minutes and 14+ points as she did in Dallas. Danielle Robinson could cut into Sims’s minutes a bit, but I suspect Minnesota is going to need Sims’s scoring, which should make her a relatively safe bet for minutes.
Damiris Dantas is a solid rebounder who can score some as well, but she is more of a Rebekkah Brunson replacement than anything else. The only other real scorer on the roster is Napheesa Collier. Collier will presumably come off the bench, at least to start, and her lack of outside shooting could be an issue if Minnesota tries to play her at the three. She could be a bargain early on for DFS depending on the price, but it will be hard to trust her for fantasy until we see how she is used.
New York Liberty
Additions: Asia Durr (2nd overall draft pick)
Han Xu (14th overall draft pick)
Tanisha Wright (trade)
Subtractions: Shavonte Zellous (trade)
Sugar Rogers (trade)
Kia Vaughn (free agency)
For the last two seasons, the New York Liberty have had some interesting pieces around Tina Charles, but no one who was consistent enough to be trustworthy. The Liberty have shipped out a couple of veteran guards to make room for their first round picks in 2018 and 2019, but they still have Brittany Boyd, Rebecca Allen, Bria Hartley and Tanisha Wright potentially taking minutes and shots away from Kia Nurse and Asia Durr.
The Liberty are under new ownership, and while it would probably make sense to get Nurse and Durr as much experience as possible in a season in which you almost certainly won’t make the playoffs, that doesn’t mean that will happen. Nurse and Durr will begin the season as GPP plays, especially if they start for the Liberty. Tina Charles is almost always a cash consideration due to her usage and rebounding, and if Nurse and Durr can take some of the defensive attention off of her, Charles could see a bump in her efficiency as well.
The Liberty haven’t been able to find anyone who can produce consistently in the frontcourt next to Tina Charles, and while Han Xu is an intriguing prospect who might be good enough to produce right away, I am skeptical of her ability to play alongside Charles. Whoever starts alongside Charles, Nurse and Durr will be interesting for fantasy, though we probably shouldn't expect a whole lot.
Additions: Essence Carson (free agent)
Sophie Cunningham (draft pick)
Alanna Smith (draft pick)
Brianna Turner (trade)
Subtractions: Marie Gulich (trade)
2019 Outlook: In the only game Diana Taurasi sat out last season, DeWanna Bonner had a team-high 25 field goal attempts; no one else had more than 13. Of course, Britney Griner was ejected in the third quarter of that game, or else she probably would have gotten close to 15 shots. Bonner and Griner will probably account for around half of the Phoenix’s shots with Taurasi out. It will be interesting to see who starts between Stephanie Talbot, Yvonne Turner, Sophie Cunningham and Essence Carson. Whoever starts will be playable for fantasy, along with Briann January, but Cunningham is the only one with a particularly exciting ceiling. The others aren’t really scorers.
Additions: Shavonte Zellous (free agency)
Ezi Magbegor (12th overall draft pick)
This probably would have been the second-best team in the league (behind the Sparks) had Breanna Stewart not ruptured her Achilles. With Stewart out, Jewell Loyd will probably have to lead the league in usage to get this team into the playoffs. I think Loyd’s ceiling is as high as anyone’s, and it will be nice to see her take the reins of the team.
Beyond Loyd, the rest of the team is a bit of a mystery. Will Sue Bird continue to start, and will she play more minutes than Shavonte Zellous? How much will Zellous and Loyd play together? Will Seattle use three-guard lineups and if so, will they involve second-year player Jordin Canada?
The forward spots are equally murky. Crystal Langhorne is getting paid a lot (at least by WNBA standards), but she averaged just 13 minutes per game last season. Langhorne and Natasha Howard played just 42.4 minutes together last season, but Seattle had a 4.8 net rating in those minutes. If Langhorne is going to play more, it will almost certainly have to be alongside Howard.
Complicating matters further is Alysha Clark, who can nominally play the three but is better suited to play the four. Langhorne, Howard and Clark played 23.0 minutes together and had a 4.0 net rating. Could that be Seattle’s new starting frontcourt? The other options at the three are Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Ramu Tokashiki and Sami Whitcomb. None figures to do much for fantasy, though Whitcomb can at least knock down some threes.
I wonder if we might see Sue Bird play fewer minutes (her 26.6 mpg last season were the fewest of her career) but take more shots. Her usage has fallen for four straight seasons, but perhaps it gets back above 20 percent again. I’ll probably take a shot on Bird early on, though I think Loyd and Howard are the only Seattle players I really trust for fantasy right now.
Additions: Emma Meesseman (sat out 2018)
Subtractions: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (free agency)
Emma Meeseman sat out the 2018 WNBA season to prepare for the World Cup of Basketball, and her integration with this roster might be the number one story in the WNBA this season. Elena Delle Donne’s numbers were nearly identical from 2017 to 2018, so I’m not really worried about her. I am, however, worried about LaToya Sanders. Sanders had a breakout season in 2018, averaging a career-high 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game. She averaged 18.0 minutes per game in 27 games with Washington prior to last season, and even if she shoots 60 percent from the field again, I don’t see how she gets more than 20 minutes per game.
Ariel Atkins’s regular season numbers look rather pedestrian at 11.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 22.5 minutes per game, and I wonder if her price will be down as a result. Atkins averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game in the playoffs, and while Meesseman’s return may take away some of her shots, we could see an increase in efficiency in her second WNBA season. Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud round up Washington’s roster, and while both are solid cash plays, neither has a particularly high ceiling.