Facts vs. Feelings on Caitlin Clark, Kelsey Plum and more

Bears vs. Packers. Kendrick vs. Drake. Samantha vs. the rest of the SATC cast.

Rivalries are awesome.

The opportunity to watch evenly matched foes battle passionately always creates chills and thrills. That excitement builds as naturally as it does rapidly, often resulting in a flurry of adjacent activity. Whether it influences trends on social, inspires T-shirt shops on Etsy, or makes for heated dinnertime conversations, beef is good for business.

Recently, the women’s game experienced massive growth in large part due to the fiery play of Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. Viewership for the highly anticipated rematch of the 2023 women’s national championship game grabbed over 16 million viewers at its peak. That’s more eyeballs drawn than for any basketball game (college or professional) since the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference finals (Cavaliers vs. Celtics). Guess we can see you, afterall.

Boom moments in sports — the ones that spill over into the zeitgeist, driving forward the edges of interest — don’t just materialize out of nowhere. They require elite talent and commensurate investment. That’s how the buy-in happens.

We are interested in watching Clark shatter records because she dared to smash them — and because a researcher bothered to track the numbers.

We’re intrigued by what Reese wore to the Met Gala because she has the ability to turn around and log 13 points in her second preseason game — and because an assistant at Vogue had the good sense to include her on the invite list.

We are wondering if the Liberty can put an end to the Ace’s dominance because New York had the audacity to build a super team — and because bookmakers at ESPN BET decided to post a futures prop.

This relationship isn’t adversarial like a rivalry, but it does require a similar back-and-forth in order to engender success. That’s what makes the ESPN fantasy game so enjoyable. Through drafting a squad, users gain a connection to the players on their roster. Managers are exposed to personal journeys, narratives and athletic feats that might not have previously been on their radars.

The W has been alive with this energy and commitment long before the current rookie class leaned into NIL deals or gained giant social followings. We know Caitlin Clark’s name because Maya Moore hooped so hard. Through fantasy we don’t just get to watch the next generation share the court with their heroes, we get to personally invest in a historic torch passing.

So, are you ready? Time to draft, tweak and overthink our way to newfound fandom and fun.


Caitlin Clark, G, Indiana Fever

If pressure makes diamonds then Clark is going to be iced out. There might not be a rookie playing any sport or entering any league for whom the bar is higher. For instance, Caleb Williams is currently presenting the shortest odds to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (on ESPN BET) at +185. Meanwhile, Clark is the (mega) heavy WNBA ROY favorite, sitting at -750 odds. Both athletes broke college records, but Clark’s dominance doesn’t just hint at professional prosperity, it demands nothing but excellence.

So, are we being realistic in our expectations? Can Clark finish as a top-10 fantasy producer in her rookie effort?

Well, let’s dig into that historic college career. During her time at Iowa, Clark became the first player in Division I history (men’s or women’s) to reach 3,000 points and 1,000 assists. Her penchant for doling out dimes could provide immediate value. Clark averaged 8.2 APG (assists per game) as a Hawkeye. Interestingly, Ticha Penicheiro holds the record for the most APG logged by a rookie in a WNBA season at 7.5 APG (1998). Regression from the college game to the pros is expected, however. The Fever have managed an average of at least 5 APG on three separate instances (Julie Allemand in 2020 and Erica Wheeler in 2019 and 2023).

Clark’s scoring might take time to translate at the next level. Just three players in WNBA history — A’ja Wilson, Seimone Augustus and Cynthia Cooper — have recorded 20 PPG in their first-year campaigns. Tamika Catchings holds the Fever’s rookie record for PPG in a season at 18.6 (2002). Additionally, Clark will be sharing the court with Aliyah Boston, Kelsey Mitchell and NaLyssa Smith. She might be on the floor for 30 minutes per game, but she’s not going to take every shot.

ESPN’s fantasy game awards one fantasy point for every point, 3-point shot made and assist. So while Clark’s talent as an ace long-range shooter is the most buzzed about part of her game, it’s her ability to shine as a facilitator that figures to push her fantasy production. A top-10 finish seems lofty, but an average of 30 fantasy points per game appears within reason.


Alyssa Thomas, F, Connecticut Sun

Thomas put together a Herculean effort, finishing second in MVP voting and carrying the Sun into a Jonquel Jones-less era last year. The Maryland product recorded a career campaign, ranking among the league’s top-three producers in rebounds per game (9.9), assists per contest (7.9) and steals per outing (1.8). She became the first player to finish as the WNBA leader in both total assists and total rebounds in a season. Additionally, Thomas registered a league-record 28 double-doubles and 6 triple-doubles. Her effectiveness across so many areas resulted in a top-five finish for fantasy managers.

What Thomas managed a decade into her professional career was nothing short of remarkable. It is worth noting, however, that Connecticut lost Brionna Jones to a ruptured Achilles 13 games into the season. Jones has been a full-go at training camp and logged 10 minutes in the team’s preseason action versus the Liberty. While she may be on a slight minutes restriction in May, Jones is assumed to have made a full recovery. Her return should require less of Thomas and result in a slight reduction of playing time. It’s, therefore, not realistic to expect another top-five fantasy finish from the 32-year-old forward.


Nneka Ogwumike, F, Seattle Storm

Ogwumike, 33, has been crushing the court since entering the league in 2012. An eight-time All-Star, she shows no signs of slowing down. That’s a good thing for the Storm, a team she’ll join after spending the entirety of her 12-year career in Los Angeles with the Sparks.

And Ogwumike made that last season count, too. She’s coming off one of the most productive seasons of her career, posting numbers that rivaled those of her MVP effort back in 2016. Averaging 19.1 points per game (No. 6 overall), 8.8 rebounds per contest (No. 6 overall) and 2.7 assists per outing, Ogwumike emerged as fantasy’s eighth-most productive player.

While 2023 was on the up, it’s not an outlier of a campaign. Ogwumike has thrived as a model of consistency, registering a field goal percentage of 50+ for 12 consecutive seasons. In fact, the legendary Sylvia Fowles is the only other player in WNBA history to sink 50% of her shots in more seasons (15). The body of Ogwumike’s work suggests that she will continue to swish and collect boards all the way to a top-15 fantasy finish.


Marina Mabrey, G, Chicago Sky

Mabrey emerged as a trending sleeper pick last spring. The Notre Dame product, who was coming off of a career effort with the Wings, was expected to retain a prominent role in the Sky’s rebuild. Mabrey delivered, averaging (new) career-highs in points per game (15.0) and 3-point shots made (2.3). As a result she cleared 1,000 total fantasy points and finished as the 25th most productive fantasy player.

The ascent doesn’t appear to have hit its peak, either. Consistency, particularly from beyond the arc, has been a hallmark for Mabrey. In fact, she’s one of just four players to collect at least 60 3-pointers in each of her last three campaigns. Additionally, Mabrey’s PPG have gone up each season, increasing from 4.0 in 2019 to 15.0 in 2023.

The exits of Kahleah Copper (traded to Mercury) and Courtney Williams (signed with Lynx) and subsequent arrivals of Reese and Kamilla Cardoso shouldn’t have a negative effect on Mabrey’s production. Rather, the rookies’ presence could allow for more defensive rebounding and fast breaks, boosting the team’s pace of play (the Sky were the fifth-slowest team in 2023) and Mabrey’s efficiency. Consider the 27-year-old a solid fifth-round pick (six-team league) for fantasy purposes.


Kelsey Plum, G, Las Vegas Aces

Plum materialized as one of the league’s brightest stars after balling her way to a breakout in 2022. As such, expectations were understandably high heading into last spring. Plum’s numbers regressed, however, as the Washington product’s points per game declined from 20.2 to 18.7 PPG. Fantasy investors who anticipated another top-five finish appear to have cooled on the two-time All-Star as a result, allowing Plum to fall to the third round of most drafts. That seems like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, though.

While Plum’s counting numbers did dip, she in fact logged the most efficient season of her six-year career. The 29-year-old posted a 48 FG% and averaged a career-high 1.1 SPG. Additionally, Plum collected 16 20-point games last year, giving her a grand total of 35 such contests over the last two seasons. For context, that’s the fifth-most outings of 20+ points made by any WNBA player during that span. Finally, Plum’s accuracy from downtown continued to dazzle, as she sank at least 95 3-pointers in back-to-back efforts.

Heading into a contract year on a team poised to make history with a potential three-peat, Plum figures to remain a key producer. Her proven ability as a dynamic long-range shooter offers fantasy managers time-tested upside. She may not best her 2022 stats, but she’s likely to flirt with them, projecting as a top-10 fantasy option.

Follow Liz on social: @LizLoza_FF

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