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Three Up, Three Down: Layshia Clarendon leading Minnesota Lynx pre-Olympic surge

The WNBA is officially on hold until mid-August as athletes around the world prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. A lot can change between now and then, so here are some fantasy basketball options to monitor when the league resumes.

Dallas Wings v Minnesota Lynx
Layshia Clarendon has settled into a starting role for the Minnesota Lynx, and it’s paid big dividends for a team that suddenly looks like a championship contender.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx, winners of seven-straight games, are the hottest team in the WNBA entering the Olympic break. Point guard Layshia Clarendon, who was initially brought to Minnesota using a hardship exception, has been a major contributor during the Lynx’s rise in the standings, solidifying the team’s starting backcourt and giving head coach Cheryl Reeve a veteran she can trust in high-leverage situations.

In the fantasy basketball realm, Clarendon has been especially valuable. Minnesota remains without Aerial Powers (thumb), and with Crystal Dangerfield injuring her shoulder in the Lynx’s recent victory over Las Vegas, there aren’t many other players Reeve can turn to to even bring the ball up the court, let alone initiate offense.

The Olympic break, which ends Aug. 15, complicates situations like these. With four weeks in between games, injured players have plenty of time to recover. This is, of course, good news for teams like Minnesota, but may also reduce the fantasy basketball value of players who have been thrust into larger roles in the absence of others.

Thus, for our pre-Olympic installment of “Three Up, Three Down,” we’ll not only be looking at players who have been producing at a high level and their short-term outlooks; we’ll also be discussing how those outlooks could change when the WNBA resumes.

Three Up

Connecticut Sun v Indiana Fever
Teaira McCowan has shot a ton of free throws lately, further boosting her already-high fantasy stock.
Photo by A.J. Mast/NBAE via Getty Images

Teaira McCowan (Indiana Fever)

The Fever have won three games in a row, and McCowan has been a beast in that span. She’s averaging 16.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and three blocked shots in her last three games, and she’s shot a total of 26 free throws as well, though she’s knocked down only 65 percent of them.

Outlook: McCowan’s rebounding and shot-blocking make her one of the highest-ceiling fantasy basketball options in the WNBA, and when she’s getting to the free throw line she’s capable of putting together even more monstrous stat lines. She’s gotten better at defending without fouling, too, so there’s less of a reason for the Fever not to play her. Expect McCowan to finish the 2021 season strong.

Layshia Clarendon (Minnesota Lynx)

Clarendon has been on a roll, scoring in double figures in six consecutive games and recording eight or more assists in each of their last three. His recent performance against Las Vegas was particularly impressive, connecting on 9-of-16 shots from the field and seeming unbothered by the physicality of the Aces’ backcourt.

Outlook: Minnesota has gone 13-3 with Clarendon in the lineup, and while they definitely aren’t the sole reason why the team has turned things around, it’s pretty clear how important they are to the Lynx. Kudos if you noticed this right away and picked Clarendon up early. Be mindful, though, of Powers and Dangerfield’s statuses; if both players return after the Olympic break, Clarendon’s role will be significantly diminished.

Kylee Shook (New York Liberty)

Shook led the Liberty in scoring on Sunday with 16 points, most of which came from the 3-point line (4-of-5 shooting). It was her second-consecutive double-digit scoring effort and second-consecutive game in which she made multiple 3-pointers; both were New York losses, though Shook totaled 58 productive minutes.

Outlook: The 3-pointer is a shot opponents are willing to concede to Shook, and she’s been making them pay recently, though it hasn’t exactly correlated with team success. New York likes Shook for her theoretical ability to shoot from the outside, but with Natasha Howard set to return after the break, expect her reps to take a significant hit.

Three Down

Atlanta Dream v Las Vegas Aces
Kiah Stokes has played spot-starter minutes recently, but that won’t continue unless something goes wrong for the Aces.
Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

Kiah Stokes (Las Vegas Aces)

Stokes started in place of Liz Cambage (who was away from the Aces to prepare for the Olympics) on Sunday and went scoreless in 19 minutes of play. Stokes did block three shots, but also committed five fouls, limiting her overall impact.

Outlook: There’s a lot to like about Stokes for the Aces — she’s a veteran, defensive-minded center who previously played some of her best basketball under Bill Laimbeer in New York — but with the way her new team is constructed, she’s not going to get as many opportunities to contribute as she did in her heyday. Once the WNBA resumes and Las Vegas gets Cambage back, Stokes will go back to the bench.

Courtney Williams (Atlanta Dream)

Williams failed to score in double figures for just the second and third times this season, shooting a combined 7-of-26 from the field in losses to Connecticut and Indiana. Williams also missed her only free throw attempt and recorded just one defensive stat (a steal) in the Dream’s loss to the Fever.

Outlook: The Dream are in free-fall mode both on and off the court, so it’s understandable if Williams’ recent struggles have raised some alarms. The break could be valuable for the team in this regard and Williams’ body of work is large enough to have confidence in her bouncing back. Both the Dream organization and team seem to support her. Keep an eye out for Tiffany Hayes’ return from an MCL injury; if she’s not fully healed by mid-August, Williams will remain Atlanta’s go-to scorer.

Astou Ndour-Fall (Chicago Sky)

Ndour-Fall scored two points (0-of-5 shooting from the field) in the Sky’s overtime loss to Washington, grabbing one rebound and recording no other stats in nine minutes of play. It’s the second dud she’s recorded since rejoining the team in late June; she played just two minutes in the Sky’s first of two games against Dallas.

Outlook: If you’re looking for a positive angle here, it was Chicago’s last game before the break, so perhaps head coach James Wade was less concerned about playing his starters heavy minutes than he would be otherwise. Ndour-Fall has been inconsistent for most of the 2021 season, though, and it doesn’t help that she’ll have to continue competing with Azurá Stevens and Ruthy Hebard for minutes off the Sky’s bench.