WNBA Fantasy Basketball Season Preview: Breakout Candidates for 2019

You could build a Dream Team with the number of big-name superstars expected to miss significant time this year. Let us dive into who can (try to) replace those players, and what type of fantasy impact they might have.

What offseason? It was a busy spring for WNBA fans. It felt like every day there was breaking news regarding All-Star caliber players involved in a blockbuster trade or a major injury.

Today we're going through all of the big-name players who are expected to miss large portions of the season and highlighting players who are expected to step up in their absence.

For those who are new to fantasy basketball (whether you're playing FanDuel or Sport.Ws), finding productive players at the end of your draft (or players who can outperform their value in daily fantasy) are usually the players who win your league for you. Here's our detailed list of who to look for on draft day.

Breanna Steward & Sue Bird (Storm)

Stewart: Torn Achilles tendon - Out for the entire 2019 season, expected to return by the start of the 2020 season

Bird: Arthroscopic surgery on left knee - Out Indefinitely, expected to miss a minimum of two months

Fantasy superstar, Breanna Stewart, had a monster year for the Seattle Storm in 2018 en route to league and finals MVP. In her 3rd year in the league, the 6-foot-4 power forward averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks while playing in all 42 games for the Storm, including the playoffs.

Just days before the start of the season, the Storm learned that they will be without their starting point guard, Sue Bird, for the foreseeable future. The estimated recovery time is 8-10 weeks and includes a grueling rehabilitation process. Could we have seen the last of WNBA legend Sue Bird?

Bird is an 11-time All-Star and the WNBA’s all-time assist leader. Her veteran presence is irreplaceable. Stewie is one of the most dynamic and versatile players in the league who can dominate in the post and on the perimeter. The loss of Bird and Stewart is devastating news for the Storm as they prepare to defend their title.

Players whose role will increase

So how can the Storm duplicate that level of productivity on both ends of the floor? The short answer is they can’t, at least not with only one player.

My guess is the Storm will take a committee approach when it comes to replacing Stewart and Bird. The Storm does not lack scoring power or veteran leadership with Jewell Loyd and free-agent signee, Shavonte Zellous, in the backcourt. Loyd will be relied upon even more for her scoring and playmaking ability.

Breakout candidates

The player who I think will benefit the most with the absence of Stewart is Natasha Howard.

Howard had a breakout year in 2018, her first with the Storm. The 5-year veteran averaged 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.9 blocks, and 25.6 minutes, all career-highs. Howard is very similar to Stewart on the defensive end of the floor, both are long-armed shot blockers who are disruptive in the paint.

On offense, Howard is dependable around the basket and gets a lot of her points off of hustle plays, but lacks the range and skill set that Stewart has.

The Storm have known about Stewart’s injury since before training camp so there has been ample time to gameplan around Howard. The 6-foot-2 forward should once again be a staple in the Storm’s starting lineup and play substantial minutes as they try to defend their title. An All-Star appearance isn’t out of the question for Howard this season.

Jordin Canada is the point guard of the future in Seattle. There is no duplicating what Bird means to the Storm and the WNBA, but Canada will be exciting Storm fans for years to come.

Diana Taurasi (Mercury)

Back surgery (disc protrusion) - Out 10 - 12 weeks, expected to return by early-mid July

The Phoenix Mercury enter the 2019 season with championship aspirations, but will have to start the year without the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, Diana Taurasi. Last season, at the age of 36, Taurasi averaged 20.7 points (her most since 2013) and 5.3 assists (both team highs).

Taurasi is one of the purest and most clutch shooters the game of basketball has ever seen. For her career, she shoots 36.9% from three and 86.8% from the free-throw line.

The 10-12 week timeframe means Taurasi could miss the first half of the season. She is a phenomenal athlete and has already begun shooting drills in her recovery process. Taurasi could be ready as early as the beginning of July but the Mercury have to think big picture.

Players whose role will increase

You obviously can’t replace the G.O.A.T. but the Mercury have enough veteran leadership and offensive weapons to keep them in contention until she returns.

The bulk of the scoring will have to come from the other two-thirds of the Mercury’s big three, DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner. Last year, the dynamic duo combined to average 37.8 points, 14.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 3 blocks, and were both named to the All-Star team.

Free agent signee, Essence Carson, can keep Taurasi’s seat warm in the starting lineup until she returns. Carson, an 11-year veteran, had a similar role last year with the Los Angeles Sparks where she averaged 7.5 points and started in 15 games.

Breakout candidate

The player who I think could have the most significant fantasy impact in Taurasi’s absence is Briann January.

January is the perfect point guard for the Mercury and they made signing her to a contract extension a priority this offseason. In her first year with the Mercury, January averaged 7 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, while shooting 47% from behind the 3-point line. With so much fire-power on offense, January was often times the third or fourth scoring option and relied upon more for her defense in 2018.

January has a proven track record that she can take on a larger role. She has All-Star and championship experience from her time with the Indiana Fever. With Taurasi out, January could become a focal point of the offense with her scoring and playmaking abilities.

Until Taurasi returns, look for January to have the ball in her hands late in games, which is usually a good thing in fantasy.

Maya Moore (Lynx)

Ministry work - Sitting out the 2019 season, expected to return for the 2020 season

It is hard to imagine the Minnesota Lynx without 6-time All-Star, Maya Moore.

Moore has been a mainstay in the starting lineup since being selected first overall in 2011, and has started 271 out of 271 career games. In 2018, Moore had another typical Moore year, averaging 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 steals while leading the Lynx to their eighth straight playoff appearance.

Moore has chosen to sit out the 2019 WNBA season to focus on other priorities and it is an understatement to say that she will be missed.

Players whose role will increase

It is impossible to replace what Moore brings to the Minnesota franchise on and off the court. But if the Lynx hope to remain perennial championship contenders, the veteran leadership and scoring will have to come from Seimone Augustus and Silvia Fowles. Trading for Odyssey Sims gives the Lynx a reliable point guard following Lindsay Whalen’s retirement.

Augustus has spent her entire 13-year career in Minnesota, so it was no surprise when she signed a multi-year contract extension this offseason. Augustus’s resume shows that she is more than capable of an expanded role. For her career, she averages 16.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.4 assists.

Fowles, an 11-year veteran, is coming off another All-Star season in which she averaged 17.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks. Fowles is a walking double-double and one of the safest picks in all fantasy formats.

Breakout candidate

With Moore out, the name to keep an eye on in terms of fantasy is rookie Napheesa Collier.

Collier, the 6th overall pick, has a high basketball IQ and is an efficient scorer. Having played for Coach Geno Auriemma at UConn, you know she will be ready to go at the next level. In her senior season for the Huskies, Collier recorded 25 double-doubles and averaged 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.7 blocks.

It will be difficult to replace Moore’s productivity, but Collier is the future in Minnesota. The 6-foot-2 forward should have plenty of opportunities and play enough minutes to be in the running for the rookie of the year award.

Jamierra Faulkner (Sky)

Torn ACL - Will miss the start of the 2019 season, currently listed as “week-to-week” expected to return in the first half of the season

Jamierra Faulkner had a strong start to the first half of the 2018 season before suffering a gruesome ACL tear in her right knee. Prior to her injury, Faulkner was averaging 7.6 points, 1.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 21.2 minutes, her career best.

The 5-foot-6 guard is known for her hustle plays and does a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score. The Sky rewarded her with a contract extension this offseason and she is expected to return in the first half of the 2019 season. Faulkner knows what it takes to rehab from this injury as she previously missed the 2017 season due to an ACL tear in her left knee.

Players whose role will increase

Chicago has substantial depth at the guard position and quality veteran leadership with Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. Rookie and fourth overall pick, Katie Lou Samuelson, is also in the mix and could see minutes at small forward as well.

Cheyenne Parker enjoyed a breakout year in 2018, her fourth in the league. The 6-foot-4 forward was 4th on the Sky in points per game (10) and led the team in rebounds (5.8) and blocks (1.1), all were her career highs. Parker is especially enticing in PPM formats where she averaged 1.08 fantasy points per minute last season.

Breakout candidate

Without a doubt, the player to target on draft day is Diamond DeShields.

DeShields enjoyed a phenomenal rookie season where she was 2nd on the Sky in scoring (14.4), 2nd in rebounds (4.9), 3rd in steals (1.1), 3rd in minutes (28.4), and was named to the All-Rookie team.

DeShields is a fierce competitor and a super freak athlete who can space the floor as well as create her own shot. DeShields is at her best when she can get open for a catch-and-shoot so she should benefit from playing alongside the 2x league leader in assists, Courtney Vandersloot.

DeShields is a future superstar in the WNBA and I want to draft her in any fantasy format. I expect her to elevate her game to new heights and make her first All-Star team in 2019.

Angel McCoughtry (Dream)

Torn knee ligaments - Will miss the start of the 2019 season, currently listed as “month-to-month” and is expected to return in the second half of the season

For the last decade, Angel McCoughtry has been the face of the Atlanta Dream.

McCoughtry is a versatile playmaker whose presence will be missed on both ends of the floor. She is a 5-time WNBA All-Defensive First Team honoree and a 5-time All-Star. She was averaging 16.5 points, 6 rebounds (career high), 3 assists, and 1.3 steals before tearing ligaments in her knee on the same day the Atlanta Dream clinched the playoffs.

McCoughtry is not expected to be ready in time to start the season, but when she does return she will once again be a fantasy asset.

Players whose role will increase

The Dream are a deep and talented team, but when the leader goes down everybody else has to step up.

The Dream have one of the best defensive teams in the league and part of that can be attributed to free-agent signee, Jessica Breeland. In her first season in Atlanta, Breeland led the Dream in rebounds (7.9) and blocks (1.9) while starting in all 34 games.

The only other player on the Dream to start in every game last year was Renee Montgomery. Last season, Montgomery averaged over 10 points per game for the first time since 2013 and that number should go up with McCoughtry out of the lineup.

Elizabeth Williams is another player who could see an uptick in her numbers with McCoughtry out. In her fourth year in the league, the 6-foot-3 center, averaged 9.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. The 6-foot-3 center is as consistent as they come in FPPM leagues.

Breakout candidate

In the playoffs, when McCoughtry was out, the Dream relied heavily on Tiffany Hayes and I would expect more of the same to start the season.

Hayes is coming off a very nice season where she averaged a career-high 17.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals and was selected to the All-WNBA First Team. Hayes has the unique distinction of seeing her scoring average go up every year she has been in the league and I believe that trend will continue.

There is some precedent for what to expect from Hayes without McCoughtry in the lineup. In 2017, McCoughtry sat out the WNBA season for rest and Hayes made the All-Star team for the first time in her career. Going into her 8th season, Hayes should have no problem taking on a more prominent role. Even when McCoughtry returns, I think Hayes will have a more meaningful fantasy impact in 2019.

Skylar Diggins-Smith (Wings)

Pregnancy - Will miss the start of the 2019 season, expected to return sometime this season

Skylar Diggins-Smith has spent her entire 6-year career with the Tulsa Shock / Dallas Wings organization and had another phenomenal year in 2018. SDS averaged a career-high 6.2 assists to go with 17.9 points while playing a league-high 34.1 minutes.

Diggins-Smith is an energetic play-maker with exceptional court vision and the unquestioned leader on the Wings. Not only does she fill the stat sheet, but she also makes a lot of those hustle plays that don’t show up in the box score.

Diggins-Smith is expected to miss the start of the WNBA season, but given how fierce a competitor she is, I expect her back on the court sooner rather than later.

Players whose role will increase

The veteran leadership Diggins-Smith provides on the court and in the locker room is irreplaceable. And with Liz Cambage officially traded to the Las Vegas Aces, the Dallas Wings will have a lot of scoring to make up for as well.

Azura Stevens is a player to watch who could take on a more prominent role with the Wings in her second season. Stevens is coming off an impressive rookie campaign in which she averaged 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 blocks, and was named to the All-Rookie team.

The 6-foot-6 center is only 23 years old and should be a force in the starting lineup for years to come. I think Stevens will elevate her game to the next level and flirt with making the All-Star team in 2019.

Breakout candidate

Until Skylar Diggins-Smith returns, look for Arike Ogunbowale to take on the point guard duties for the Wings.

Ogunbowale, the 5th overall pick, was one of the best pure shooters in the draft and has the clutch shot gene. She became a household name after hitting the game-winning shot as time expired to propel Notre Dame to the 2017 National Championship. In her 4 year collegiate career, Ogunbowale averaged 17.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists.

Ogunbowale is not a direct replacement for Diggins-Smith, no guard is, but she should have the ball in her hands a lot and be relied upon for her scoring. Ogunbowale’s ability to get open and score off the ball will ensure that she will have a significant role even after Diggins-Smith returns. Plus she has the mamba mentality, and you can’t teach that.

Victoria Vivians (Fever)

Torn ACL - Out for the entire 2019 season, expected to return by the start of the 2020 season

Victoria Vivians had an impactful rookie season for the Indiana Fever where she averaged 8.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists. It didn’t take long for the 8th overall pick to get acclimated to life in the WNBA, she started the final 26 games of the season and averaged 27.1 minutes per game.

The Fever are coming off their worst season in franchise history (6-28) and are in dire need of outside shooting, an area Vivians excels in. Last year, she shot 40% from behind the 3-point arc and 93% from the foul line.

The rebuilding Fever have a nice young core of players to build around, and Vivians will be an integral part of that when she returns in 2020.

Players whose role will increase

Natalie Achonwa had a breaking out party in 2018, her 4th year in the league, and was the only Fever player to start every game last season. Achonwa averaged career highs across the board, 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 26 minutes, and had 6 double-doubles.

With the third overall pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, the Fever selected Teaira McCowan from Mississippi State. The Fever lacked a true center last season and were often times mismatched and undersized in the paint. At 6-foot-7, McCowan addresses that problem and is a force at both ends of the floor. She should be a starter from day one and see plenty of playing time as a rookie.

Breakout candidate

Look for Kelsey Mitchell, who was drafted 2nd overall in the same draft class as Vivians, to take on more responsibilities in her second season. Mitchell played in all 34 games for the Fever last year and started in exactly half of them. She was named to the All-Rookie team after averaging 12.7 points. 1.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.

Mitchell is a quick and dynamic playmaker who should flourish with a season in the WNBA and an offseason playing overseas under her belt. The 23-year old is part of the young nucleus that the Fever looks to build around. The guard position is scarce in fantasy so Mitchell should see her name rising on draft boards.

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