WNBA: Brionna Jones carries strong production back into starting lineup

Keeping an eye on short-term player absences is often a big key to success in fantasy basketball, as their respective replacements will usually see a temporary increase in playing time and production. Don’t forget what those players looked like in their original roles, though — a return to the bench doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be dropped to the waiver wire.

The Connecticut Sun’s Brionna Jones, as one of the few bench players in the WNBA who can produce like a starter, may be an extreme example, but she’s also an important one. When reigning league MVP Jonquel Jones had to spend time in the WNBA’s health and safety protocols earlier this month, B. Jones had little issue stepping in and increasing her production for Connecticut. She’s a player we have our eye on in this week’s installment of “Three Up, Three Down.”

Three Up

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Natalie Achonwa (Minnesota Lynx)

Achonwa played 21 minutes in the Lynx’ most recent loss to Connecticut, recording eight points, seven rebounds and three assists. She’s currently shooting a career-high 60 percent from the field and should be in line for more minutes with both Sylvia Fowles (knee) and Damiris Dantas (personal reasons) out of the lineup.

Outlook: This is purely an injury angle. Achonwa looks healthy again after an injury-plagued first season in Minnesota, and her per-36 numbers of 13.4 points and 9.9 rebounds are on par with what they were during her heyday in Indiana. That being said, she’s not a terribly exciting fantasy play, and her value is tied directly to whether or not Fowles and Dantas are playing.

Brionna Jones (Connecticut Sun)

Jones kept it rolling in the Sun’s most recent win over Minnesota, recording 18 points, eight rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes. Jonquel Jones returned to the Sun’s lineup after after three games in the league’s health and safety protocols, but came off the bench, sharing just a few minutes of court time with B. Jones.

Outlook: B. Jones has been just as good in 2022 as she was when she won Most Improved Player in 2021, with a dip in rebounding and rise in free throws the only discernible difference. Don’t let J. Jones’ return scare you from playing B. Jones; the Sun make it a point to get her the ball even when she’s coming off the bench, and she’s this season’s leading candidate for Sixth Woman of the Year for a reason.

Rebekah Gardner (Chicago Sky)

Gardner was a bright spot for Chicago against the Liberty, scoring 16 points and recording a whopping seven defensive stats (four steals and three blocks) in 25 minutes off the bench. It was the 14th time this season that Gardner recorded at least two steals in a game.

Outlook: Congratulations are in order if you picked Gardner up early, because she’s not going anywhere. While her scoring won’t always be there (especially in Chicago’s egalitarian offensive system), the team relies heavily on her defense, and Sky head coach James Wade has been growing more and more willing to close games with her rather than Allie Quigley, so the opportunity will continue to be there.

Three Down

Seattle Storm v Phoenix Mercury

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Ezi Magbegor (Seattle Storm)

The Storm recently swapped Magbegor out of their starting lineup in favor of Tina Charles, and the second-year center hasn’t been particularly productive since, totaling eight points, five rebounds, two assists and just one block in 35 minutes of play (two games).

Outlook: Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said that she likes the energy Magbegor brings off that bench, but the move is decidedly bad for Magbegor’s fantasy value. Not only will she be playing less (Magbegor was averaging over 28 minutes played per game prior to being sent to the bench), but she’ll also be spending less time alongside the Seattle players with the most offensive gravity — Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, in particular — thus limiting the number of easy baskets she’ll get. Fantasy managers will have to hope Magbegor’s defense picks back up; otherwise, they should consider selling high while they still can.

Brittney Sykes (Los Angeles Sparks)

Sykes had a rough offensive game in the Sparks’ most recent loss to the Aces, going just 1-for-10 from the field and scoring two points while committing three turnovers. She had scored in double-figures in six of her previous seven games.

Outlook: Sykes isn’t the most consistent offensive player, but she’s been hot as of late, partly due to increased opportunity. A shorthanded Sparks lineup has put the ball in Sykes’ hands more often — she’s shot the ball ten or more times in eight consecutive games — and her slight uptick in assists (career-high 3.8 per game) should offset her inconsistent shooting. Don’t be afraid to keep playing her as long as Lexie Brown (ankle) and Kristi Toliver (calf) are out of the picture.

Crystal Dangerfield (New York Liberty)

Dangerfield posted a low-volume line in the Liberty’s most recent win over Chicago, recording three points (one 3-pointer), two rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes. In the month of July, Dangerfield is averaging 3.6 points, one rebound and 2.1 assists in 17.3 minutes played per game.

Outlook: Dangerfield was a popular waiver wire pickup in deeper fantasy leagues when she was first signed by the Liberty back in May, but it’s gotten tougher and tougher to justify keeping her around ever since Marine Johannès joined the team. The Liberty value her as an additional ball handler and she’s going get enough minutes to keep her relevant; the problem is she’s rarely any higher than their fourth or fifth option on the floor, which won’t change unless New York suffers a major setback in its backcourt.