Fantasy impact of Breanna Stewart joining the Liberty
8:05 p.m. ET
Breanna Stewart has just announced that she is leaving the Seattle Storm to join the New York Liberty. I’ll touch on the women’s basketball fantasy ramifications of this decision below, but before I do, let me take a second to appreciate just how big this move is in the WNBA landscape.
Stewart becomes the fourth former WNBA MVP to make a major announcement in the past 20 days:
2014 MVP Maya Moore has announced her retirement
2021 MVP Jonquel Jones requested and received Liberty trade
Candace Parker at the Aces, double MVP (2008, 2013) and double champion (2016, 2021)
And now 2018 MVP and two-time champion (2018, 2020) Stewart to the Storm
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I’m particularly fascinated by how these moves form two great bi-coastal teams at a time when the WNBA already has so much positive momentum as a league. Parker, who just led the Chicago Sky to the 2021 championship, joins the 2022 champion Aces led by two-time MVP A’ja Wilson. And Jones and Stewart are both heading to New York, joining 2020 No. 1 overall pick and 2022 All-WNBA selection Sabrina Ionescu on the Liberty.
It reminds me in some ways of 1979 in the NBA, when Magic Johnson was drafted to join multi-time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Lakers and Larry Bird went to a Celtics team with former MVP Dave Cowens who would add soon future legends Robert Parrish and Kevin Mc Hale.
This offseason completely rewrote NBA history for the generation to come, renewing the great bi-coastal rivalry that in many ways still defines the league. Here’s hoping someday, decades later, a writer will get similarly poetic about the 2023 WNBA offseason that changed everything.
Enough of that. Let’s talk about fantastic hoops.
The Liberty now have a very deep squad, with Jones at center, Stewart and Betnijah Laney up front and Ionescu with Marine Johannes at guard. Center Stefanie Dolson, forward Kayla Thornton and guard Sami Whicomb have all been full-time starters for the past two seasons and are now projecting themselves into roles off the bench. 2021 WNBA forward and rookie of the year Michaela Onyenwere and 6-foot-10 third-year center Han Xu were also major rotation players for the Liberty in 2022 and look set for bench roles this season.
Both Stewart and Jones have experience playing on talented front lines, which should help the Liberty from a basketball perspective. During the second half of last season, Stewart shared the court with 2012 WNBA MVP and double-double machine Tina Charles. Jones played on a Sun front line with three other star players in Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones. As a WNBA fan, I’m excited to see what two MVPs who are both still in their primes can do on the same front line.
As a fantasy hoops manager, I’m a little less thrilled, because there’s no way it wouldn’t negatively impact the stats of everyone involved.
There’s only one bullet, and it seems unlikely that Stewart will be able to generate last year’s career-best 21.8 PPG or 2021’s career-best 9.6 RPG in the same frontcourt where Jones produces at the 19.4 PPG and 11.2 RPG rate that earned him the 2021 MVP.
Instead, we might look to their past experience for guidance.
In 2022, Jones’ numbers dropped across the board with averages of 14.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 1.8 APG as she entered Sun’s deep front line last season. Before Stewart arrived, I thought Jones might bounce back, but now she looks likely to continue producing at a similar level. Stewart averaged a career 7.6 RPG in 2022, again with half the season next to Charles and his elite rebound.
Stewart has averaged 15.1 FGA to generate 20.8 PPG over her past five seasons, but next to Jones (and Ionescu) while potentially playing fewer minutes in a deep squad, she could be closer to 13 at 14 shots per game this season. Still, we’ve listed her as the best player in our updated list of Top 100 Women’s Fantasy Basketball Players.
On the plus side, the two former MVPs will be set up by one of the best young point guards in the game. While Stewart is used to getting toned down by Sue Bird, arguably the best point guard in the history of the WNBA, Ionescu’s youthful brilliance should continue to make Stewart look where she wants. And Ionescu represents a big improvement on an overall level over what Jones has had in recent seasons, so she should help Jones finish his look more effectively in New York.
Ionescu is the team’s other elite player, and her advantage is also different with this newly star-laden team. Ionescu was building a nighttime triple-double threat, averaging 17.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 6.3 APG last season. Her score probably goes down with Stewart and Jones in the fold, but she scores in such a different way and there aren’t(m)other perimeter makers in the team, so Ionescu should continue to have the ball in his hands with each possession.
She can sacrifice a point or two, but she also has the advantage of bettering her third-place finish in the WNBA assist race from last season. Ionescu is also a volume 3-point shooter. She finished with the fifth-most treys in the league last season and a 2.3 3PG average.
With Stewart and Jones patrolling the paint and warping opposing defences, Ionescu should have both the driving lanes and eyes open behind the arc to get back to / improve on his current career best percentages of 45.2 FG% and 35 .0 3P% she established as a rookie.
Overall, Stewart, Ionescu and Jones still project themselves into the top 12 players on our Fantasy Basketball Rankings. Stewart still holds the top spot as we mentioned above, and I think she’ll likely be the team’s main scoring option and perhaps see her score drop the least.
Ionescu still ranks 4th in the standings, and therefore likely a fantastic hoops pick in the first round.
Jones slips the most of the three-stars, all the way to No. 12 in the standings and thus a pick at the back of the second/top in the third round of drafts.
All three should always be impact fantasy producers, and imagine how lucky the Liberty are to be.