What’s going on with the Dallas Wings?
It’s a question that has been asked over and over again during the 2021 WNBA season, specifically of the team’s rotations and minutes distribution. Dallas entered the season with four rookies and three second-year players on its roster — many of whom played the same position — immediately raising questions about how the team would accommodate each player and give them the minutes they needed to develop.
Heading into the month of September, and those questions still haven’t been answered. 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick Charli Collier, who has been a starter for most of the season, now seems to have fallen out of the Wings’ rotation completely, while No. 2 overall pick Awak Kuier is suddenly getting significant playing time after warming the bench for most of her rookie tenure thus far. Meanwhile, veteran Isabelle Harrison — a player whose age and skill overlap with the team’s youngsters makes her enticing trade bait but whose contract makes such a trade unlikely — has been playing massive minutes in lieu of the draftees one would assume the Wings would want to give consistent roles to sooner or later.
Situations like these are frustrating for fantasy basketball players. Teams, like the Wings, that have logjams at certain positions and play unpredictable rotations make it difficult to choose lineups on game days. Let’s take a closer look at who the current winners and losers are in Dallas, as well as a handful of other fantasy-relevant WNBA players heading into September.
Azurá Stevens (Chicago Sky)
Stevens was moved into Chicago’s starting lineup five games ago, and since then she’s been decently productive, averaging 9.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and one block in 23.6 minutes of action. Stevens has shot 60 percent from the field during that span and is coming off back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts against Seattle.
Outlook: The low volume (15.7 percent usage rate) keeps this from being too exciting, but for a player who entered the 2021 season with injury concerns, it’s a positive development. Sky head coach James Wade has been tinkering with his starting lineup in an effort to get his team going, and after Chicago blew out Seattle over the weekend it would be surprising to see the team go back to what it was doing previously. Stevens’ efficiency should be maximized playing with the rest of Chicago’s starters, and she’s got a high-upside outlook regarding her defensive statistics.
Isabelle Harrison (Dallas Wings)
Harrison has played four solid games in a row, highlighted by a 21-point, 10-rebound performance against Washington on Aug. 26. Most encouraging about these games from a fantasy perspective is that she attempted double-digit field goals in each of them, seemingly becoming more of a fixture in the Wings’ offense. Harrison has also accumulated eight defensive stats (blocks and steals) during that span.
Outlook: Harrison has been a tepid favorite of Dallas head coach Vicki Johnson for most of the season, and with Satou Sabally currently nursing an injured Achilles and without a set return date, she should keep getting plenty of minutes at both power forward and center. She’ll be a solid play in the Wings’ upcoming games against Atlanta.
Erica Wheeler (Los Angeles Sparks)
The Sparks fell flat in their two recent games against Connecticut, but Wheeler was productive in both contests, amassing 28 points, 12 rebounds and 16 assists. Fellow guard Kristi Toliver has been in and out of the Sparks’ lineup as of late, but it hasn’t mattered either way for Wheeler, who has been playing 33.8 minutes per game since the Olympic break.
Outlook: Wheeler has quietly had a very steady 2021 season, putting up comparable stats to those of her career year in Indiana in 2019. The Sparks traded away their 2022 first-round draft pick prior to the season, so there’s currently not much incentive for them to miss the playoffs; this means they’ll likely be leaning on Wheeler as both a scorer and distributor. She’s one of the more solid fantasy guards in the WNBA right now.
Charli Collier (Dallas Wings)
Collier has contributed next to nothing statistically for the Wings since the Olympic break, appearing in just three games and totaling two points and one rebound. She hasn’t even appeared in a game since Aug. 20, with fellow rookie big Awak Kuier suddenly leapfrogging her on the Wings’ depth chart.
Outlook: To say Collier has hit the proverbial “rookie wall” would be underselling things. For a while, she was starting (though typically getting subbed out quickly) and providing marginal production. Her recent move to the end of the bench is certainly concerning, and while we don’t know what the team is trying to accomplish here, Collier’s developmental curve is heading in the opposite direction it should.
Katie Lou Samuelson (Seattle Storm)
Samuelson was benched in favor of Jordin Canada prior to the Storm’s blowout loss at the hands of the Sky last Sunday. She made just one shot from the field in two games against Chicago, and hasn’t made multiple 3-pointers in a game since Aug. 18.
Outlook: As a 3-point specialist who tends to split time at small forward with Stephanie Talbot, Samuelson hasn’t exactly been the highest-ceiling fantasy player this season anyway, and Seattle’s surprising starting lineup change tanked whatever value she had left. Canada exited Sunday’s game with what appeared to be a leg injury, so Samuelson could move back into the starting lineup if it’s serious, but she’s not going to be a high-value play regardless.
Michaela Onyenwere (New York Liberty)
A three-point outing in an Aug. 27 loss to Phoenix marked the sixth-straight single-digit scoring game for Onyenwere, who is averaging 5.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in the month of August. Her scoring efficiency, however, has been up since the Olympic break; Onyenwere is shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3-point range.
Outlook: It’s the volume, of course, that’s hurting Onyenwere’s fantasy value the most. She’s attempting just 3.2 field goals per game in August, and with Natasha Howard and Rebecca Allen both healthy again, that leaves little room for the rookie forward. New York is in a tailspin, losing seven of its last ten games, so a late-season shutdown of the team’s veterans could give Onyenwere more opportunity.