One of the biggest keys to successful roster construction in fantasy is balance. It’s important to ensure high-ceiling players with solid floor options.
This article, though, isn’t about that.
Instead, I’m playing with possibility. This a squad composed solely of under the radar players — all ranked outside of the top 25 — who could pop and potentially close out the year as fantasy starters.
Sophie Cunningham, Guard, Phoenix Mercury
From the speed at which Brittney Griner can shake off rust to Skylar Diggins-Smith’s availability, there are significant questions surrounding the Mercury. That might not be great for the team, but it does create an opportunity for fantasy managers to uncover potential value. Sophie Cunningham is the player to watch here. She’s not as famous as Diana Taurasi, but her stock is on the rise.
Phoenix wants to trust her. Given her 3-point prowess, it’s easy to understand why. Over 61% of Cunningham’s career shots have been 3s. But don’t sleep on her in close because she also managed a 67% field goal rate from the rim last year. Her growth down the stretch of 2022 cannot be overstated. The 26-year-old averaged 17.8 PPG over her past dozen contests, as compared to 9.2 PPG over her 15 efforts. Coming off of a career-high 20 starts, Cunningham is in a position to pick up where she left off, particularly if Skylar Diggins-Smith is sidelined to start the season.
Kia Nurse, Guard, Seattle Storm
There’s a storm of uncertainty in Seattle. The risk associated with losing a talent as prodigious as Breanna Stewart is palpable. However, it creates a potential reward for savvy investors. And Kia Nurse is a player worth betting on.
Seemingly off the fantasy radar after missing the 2022 WNBA season with a torn ACL, the Ontario native is projected to be fully healthy this go-around. She even clocked game time playing for Team Canada during the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, averaging 11 points and 21 minutes over eight appearances last fall.
Nurse made massive strides as a shooter in 2021. Her 3-point percentage jumped from 27.3% in 2020 to 35.3% in 2021. Admittedly, her scoring upside is capped by Jewell Loyd’s presence, but the chops are there. Additionally, she figures to rack up the assists in (former WNBA point guard) Noelle Quinn’s scheme.
NaLyssa Smith, Forward, Indiana Fever
A win on the court doesn’t always translate to a dub for your fantasy team. Good players on bad teams often post big numbers in the virtual game. The Fever managed a 5-31 record (recording 18 consecutive losses) last year. But Nalyssa Smith was a top-30 producer, averaging nearly 27 fantasy points. And she did that as a rookie!
Smith puts in the work. Her 3-point shot percentage improved from 20% in college to over 38% in the pros. The growth was slow and steady. In fact, Smith sank 33.3% of 3s over the first 17 games and 41.8% of three-point attempts over her final 15 efforts. The 22-year-old never stopped hustling despite facing regular L’s. That’s an ascending player to believe in!
Smith is a clear building block, who figures to do a lot of heavy lifting (along with Aliyah Boston) in the Fever’s frontcourt.
Aerial Powers, Forward, Minnesota Lynx
I’ve been loud about Napheesa Collier being my 1.01 this season. But she’s going to need help, and Aerial Powers is ready for a promotion.
Powers struggled with injuries in 2020 and 2021. She came back strong last year, though, starting in 31 of 35 appearances. The Lynx appear confident in her health and skill, as they did little to retool their roster over the offseason.
Powers’ numbers also suggest she’s up for the task. In fact, when playing 27+ minutes in a game last season the former Spartan averaged 18.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.3 steals. If Powers can stay healthy, those numbers figure to be the new normal with Sylvia Fowles gone from Minnesota.
Ezi Magbegor, Center, Seattle Storm
Ezi Magbegor started her third year hot, averaging 29.72 minutes and 12.06 points over the first half of 2022. Tina Charles’ midseason arrival, however, slowed Magbegor’s breakout. The Australian standout’s minutes dropped to 19.69 while her points dipped to 7.17 from Games 17 through 33. But with Charles languishing in free agency, it’s time to get back on the Magbegor Hype Train.
She’s everything you want in a big. The 23-year-old is effective in close (sinking 72.5% of her field goals at the rim) while also displaying extended touch (via a 48.3 field goal percentage from 3- to 10-foot range). Magbegor has proved she can produce when given the chance. She posted 10+ points or 10+ boards in all 11 games in which she hit 29 minutes last season. Interestingly, she’s projected to average nearly 31 minutes this season. Buckle up.
Follow Liz on Twitter: @LizLoza_FF.
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