I learned a lot of lessons last year during the inaugural ESPN fantasy women’s basketball campaign. While the basic ideas behind fantasy women’s hoops have some commonalities with the men’s game, the reality is that the leagues are also very different.

The women’s game has unique aspects that necessitate unique strategies, from draft preparation to roster management throughout the season.

Before we get into those strategies, let’s quickly review the default fantasy women’s basketball league settings and scoring system to make sure we’re all on the same page.

The standard fantasy women’s basketball league has six teams with nine roster spots per team. Each team starts two guards, three forward/centers and a utility with three players on the bench. Daily transactions are allowed.

Here is the scoring system for the FWB game:

Point = 1 Fantasy Point
Rebound = 1 FP
Assist = 1 FP
Made 3-pointer = 1 FP
Steal = 2 FP
Block = 2 FP

Alright. Review is over, so let’s get into the fun stuff.

In a mock draft I did a few weeks ago, I took Sabrina Ionescu with the No. 1 overall pick even though I don’t project her with the highest fantasy scoring average this season (that honor goes to A’Ja Wilson). I made a video on why I made the pick and also mentioned it in our fantasy roundtable, but my Twitter mentions (@professordrz) still got blown up from people demanding an explanation.

So, let’s address it here, using the information above.

On a given day, each team can start 3-4 frontcourt players and 2-3 guards, depending on the utility position. One thing I noticed last season is that there are typically two or three busy days on the WNBA schedule in a given week, and on those days it was common for all of the players on my team to play simultaneously.

Ideally, a team manager would want to start their six players with the highest fantasy scoring averages in that situation. But, on my team, my five or six most productive players were frontcourt players. And this wasn’t unusual or unique to my team.

The top two fantasy scoring averages last season were in the frontcourt (Breanna Stewart and Wilson), with Ionescu third. Of the top 10 fantasy scoring averages, six were in the frontcourt. Of the top 15 averages, 10 were in the frontcourt.

But, why does it break down this way? Answer: category production trends.

To illustrate, I went through the production of every WNBA player from the 2022 season, taking the averages of every statistical category by rank-order in groups of six. In other words, I looked at points and averaged the top-6 scorers, the next six, the third six, the fourth six on down. Then, I did the same with rebounds. Then assists. Across all six categories that score in fantasy women’s basketball. Since there are six teams in a standard fantasy women’s basketball league, I wanted to see how each category’s production tiered in six-team bins.

Here is the result:

In this scoring system, the most consistent, high-volume fantasy scoring category is points themselves, followed by rebounds. It’s easy to see if you just look across a given tier: points and rebounds are consistently the two largest amplitude categories, even if you multiply steals and blocks by two. Since frontcourt players are more likely to excel in these two categories than guards, it just makes sense that there are more frontcourt players with higher averages than guards. But let’s go further.

Next, look down the category columns instead of across. Just by looking, it should be clear that points and rebounds fall off slower as you go down the tiers than do assists. To quantify this, I used Tier 1 of each category to normalize. In other words, I divided the value in tiers 2 – 6 by the value in tier 1 to get a percentage and really see how quickly the categories fall off.

Three categories fall off noticeably slower than the other three. Points, rebounds and steals maintain higher percentages as you go down the tiers than do assists, blocks and 3-pointers. So, what does that tell us as far as strategy?

First, it further supports the notion from above about position scarcity. Frontcourt players that produce in points and rebounds not only have the highest averages, but also have the highest number of players that are producing at high levels. This means that, not only will your star forwards likely put up big numbers, but just in general, at every level, frontcourt players will tend to have higher fantasy scoring averages than guards.

Final takeaway

At every stage of the draft as well as in free agency, it is more likely that you can find a strong contributor from the frontcourt than from the backcourt. So, full circle, when you’re drafting, you might consider making sure you get at least one or two elite guard producers early because it will be harder to find quality in the backcourt later in the draft or on the free agency wire.

Another interesting pattern is how quickly blocked shots falls off. Much like assists, by the time you’re in Tier 4 the expected production is down to about half of Tier 1. So, just like this speaks to position scarcity for guards, it also speaks to category scarcity in the frontcourt.

In other words, since there are a lot of frontcourt players capable of putting up big scoring and rebounding numbers, it is scarce categories like blocks (or assists) that help identify which frontcourt players are most likely to stand out from their peers.

At the top of the draft, that means players like Wilson (led the WNBA with 1.9 BPG) end up at the top of the list. But, what about in free agency?

Last season, the next-four best shot blockers behind Wilson were Ezi Magbegor (1.8 BPG), Liz Cambage (1.6 BPG), Brianna Turner (1.6 BPG) and Queen Egbo (1.2 BPG).

Of that list, only Cambage (13.0 PPG) averaged in double-digit scoring. But, because blocks are worth twice as many fantasy points and each also averaged at least 5.6 RPG, each were at least fantasy streaming options if not regularly rosterable because they produced in unique ways.

Continue to check out this space as the season approaches so we can continue to explore the various angles and tips that can boost your squad during this fantasy women’s basketball draft season.

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Fantasy women’s basketball: Why to focus on guards in drafts