This is part of a 12-team series of fantasy women’s basketball previews leading up to the 2022 WNBA season. For more information on ESPN’s newest fantasy game, check out how to play fantasy women’s basketball.
Head coach: Marianne Stanley (third season)
2021 record: 6-26
2021 offensive efficiency: (95.3, WNBA rank 11th)
2021 defensive efficiency: (107.8, 12th)
2021 pace: (94.8, eighth)
About the Fever
The Fever had the worst record in the WNBA last season, and they’ve been in that spot for the past five seasons with a combined 40-116 record.
Not surprisingly, they were in full-on rebuild mode this offseason. They dealt for a whopping four top-10 picks in the 2022 WNBA draft, including the second and fourth picks overall, and are looking to put together a core for future success.
They aren’t expected to contend for a playoff spot this season, but that isn’t necessarily the goal, as the main focus is on player development and building the first layers of what they hope will be a strong foundation for the future.
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The Fever made multiple trades to increase their capital for the 2022 WNBA draft. They first participated in a three-team trade with the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury in which they acquired guard Bria Hartley, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 draft and a 2023 first-round pick from the Sky, as well as second-round picks in both 2022 and 2023 from the Mercury.
Then, in a subsequent deal with the Dallas Wings, they traded leading rebounder and 2019 No. 3 overall pick Teaira McCowan plus the two picks they’d just acquired from the Sky (2022 No. 7 overall and 2023 first round pick) in exchange for the No. 4 and No. 6 overall picks in 2022, as well as the Wings’ 2023 first-round pick.
When the dust settled, the Fever found themselves holding four first-round picks in 2022: No. 2 overall, No. 4, No. 6 and No. 10. They used all that draft capital to potentially build their frontcourt of the future. In a draft in which two players were consensus head and shoulders above the rest, they brought in one of those two in Baylor star forward NaLyssa Smith.
Smith, a walking 20-10 big forward, comes with a laundry list of elite accomplishments, including the women’s college basketball player of the year award from 2021 and a national championship ring from 2019.
With the No. 4 pick, the Fever brought in 6-1 forward Emily Engstler, an excellent defender who they hope will help set a defensive tone for the future. At No. 6, they brought in a 6-1 3-and-D wing in Lexie Hull, and at No. 10 they drafted Smith’s Baylor teammate, 6-3 defensive-minded center Queen Egbo.
The Fever struggled on both sides of the ball last season, finishing last in defensive efficiency and second to last on offense. They rebuilt their front line through the draft this offseason, but their overall team structure will be similar to last season.
The Fever ran a three-guard lineup last season and brought back all three starting guards, in addition to bringing in another veteran guard in Hartley. With Smith, these guards will likely form the backbone of the Fever offense again this season.
Meanwhile, their youth movement is full of defensive-minded forwards whom they clearly want to be the base of their team moving forward.
Top fantasy options
Kelsey Mitchell, G (27.4 projected FP/G): Mitchell followed up her breakout 2020 campaign with almost a carbon copy, finishing within decimal points of her production in all six fantasy-counting categories. Her biggest improvement came on defense, where she almost doubled her 0.7 combined blocks/steals per game in 2020 up to 1.3 combined blocks/steals per game last season. Kelsey’s biggest strengths are as a shooter-scorer, as her 17.8 PPG ranked eighth and her 2.2 3PG tied for fourth best in the entire league last season. On the rebuilding Fever, Mitchell’s role as primary scorer should be set, and the 26-year-old still has upside as she reaches her prime seasons.
NaLyssa Smith, F (25.7 FP/G): Smith was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA draft but has the talent to be selected with the first pick. In addition to the chip on her shoulder to prove her naysayers wrong, Smith enters the league as a 6-4 big that averaged 22.1 PPG and 11.5 RPG in her senior year at Baylor. She plays with boundless energy and is consistently credited with having the best motor in this class. Smith is expected to be the centerpiece of the Fever rebuild and should get major minutes from the start. She has drawn comparisons to 2012 No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, who averaged 14.0 PPG and 7.5 RPG as a rookie and went on to win WNBA MVP in 2016.
Tiffany Mitchell, G (20.6 FP/G): Mitchell was the second-leading scorer for the Fever last season, averaging 12.0 PPG as one of three guards who led the team’s attack. Mitchell’s counting stats were slightly down across the board last season after a career season in 2020, but she improved to a career-best 42.1 FG%. The increased efficiency allowed her to be effective next to two other guards who operate with the ball in their hands, and she should be able to maintain her role this season. The Fever brought in four top-10 draft picks, but most of their new talent are frontcourt and/or defensive-minded players. Mitchell missed the final three games of last season with a knee injury, but she recovered enough to play on the WNBL championship-winning Melbourne Boomers in Australia during the offseason.
Danielle Robinson, G (17.0 FP/G): Robinson was the starting point guard in the Fever’s three-guard lineup last season, leading the team with 3.7 APG and 1.6 SPG. Robinson had been a three-time All Star between 2013 and 2015; in her 11th season, she has a smaller usage role statistically but will be expected to operate as a leader and mentor to her young teammates. Robinson might face competition for playing time this season from Bria Hartley, who was traded to the Fever from the Mercury this offseason. Robinson will have a delayed start to her WNBA season, as she will finish her Turkish Women’s Basketball League season.
Bria Hartley, G (17.3 FP/G): Hartley was in the midst of a career season in 2020 when she tore an ACL in August, ending her season early and causing her to miss most of 2021 as well. Before the injury, she was obliterating her personal bests with 14.6 PPG (42.0 FG%, 80.5 FT%), 4.5 APG, 1.9 3PG and 1.2 SPG in 24.8 MPG off the bench for the Mercury. She played in only six games in limited action last season, averaging 8.5 MPG at the end of the campaign. She was traded to the Fever this offseason, and if she recovers her form, she could challenge for a starting job and/or revive her previous role as a super-sixth woman and key contributor for her new squad.
Emily Engstler, F (12.6 FP/G): Engstler was the fourth overall pick in the 2022 WNBA draft, the second of the Fever’s four top-10 selections. At 6-1, she has been described as a defensive force who should be able to contribute on that side of the ball even as a rookie. The question is whether her offensive game will be polished enough to allow her to make a fantasy-worthy statistical contribution as a rookie. Engstler was a reserve for Syracuse for her first three collegiate seasons, then transferred to Louisville, where she led the team in rebounds, steals and 3-point percentage while averaging 11.9 PPG and 9.4 RPG. She has an opportunity to earn big minutes as a rookie forward on a guard-heavy Fever squad, and if she does, she could make some noise.
(With Inputs from ESPN)
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