We continue our prep for the upcoming fantasy women's basketball season with a review of how the production in the pertinent statistical categories of points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and 3-pointers compare between the WNBA and the NBA.
So what makes a fantasy women's basketball star? Or at least an upper-tier player?
The first thing to account for is the different length of games. While the NBA plays four 12-minute quarters for 48 minutes of regulation time, the WNBA plays four 10-minute quarters. That means the games are 40 minutes, or eight minutes shorter than the NBA -- less time to accumulate stats.
Secondly, the WNBA has 12 teams, while the NBA has 30. And on the fantasy front, the typical fantasy women's basketball league will have six teams, each starting six players from nine-person fantasy rosters. This compares with fantasy men's basketball league averages of 10 teams, starting 10 players from 13-person fantasy rosters.
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Prepare with projections and fantasy outlooks for the top WNBA players
The next comparison is the expected production in each statistical category, given typical distributions of outputs. Here, we'll compare the full regular-season production of the most recently concluded WNBA (2021) and NBA (2021-22) seasons.
The charts below put the information described above into convenient, visually comparable columns. They compare the average, the standard deviation, the maximum and the minimum per-game averages for each of the six statistical categories, for the typical number of starting players in each fantasy league type.
For the fantasy women's basketball, that's the top 36 players (six teams in league, six starting players) in each category, whereas for the fantasy men's basketball that's the top 100 players (10 teams in league, 10 starting players).
The first thing that jumps out at me is that the statistical distribution in each category tends to be more compressed in the WNBA than in the NBA. The averages and standard deviations are lower among the WNBA stats, but so is the difference between the league-leader and both the average and the minimum producer in each category.
This means that, in the fantasy women's basketball game, there may not be as much call for category specialists outside of outliers. For example, last season, Tina Charles led the league in scoring at 23.4 PPG, with a 2.9 PPG separation over second place.
This gap was larger than the 2.6 PPG between second (20.5 PPG) to seventh (17.9 PPG), the 1.6 PPG between eighth (17.8 PPG) and 13th (16.2 PPG), or the 1.5 PPG between 14th (16.2 PPG) and 19th (14.7 PPG). Thus, in a snake-draft of pure scoring, it would've been a clear advantage to have Charles, but outside of her there wouldn't be all that much difference between the top-3 scorers on each of the putative fantasy scoring teams.
A similar story held true at the top of the rebounds leaderboard, but with a twist. Jonquel Jones (11.2 RPG) held a larger separation over second place (1.1 RPG) than the differences between second and seventh (0.7 RPG), but there was a clear gap between eighth (9.3 RPG) and ninth (8.4 RPG) and another between 10th (8.2 RPG) and 12th (7.3 RPG). Outside of those two 0.9 RPG gaps, there weren't any other consecutive gaps larger than 0.4 RPG among the rest of the top-170 players in the league.
So, it may have behooved a fantasy manager to put a bit of draft premium on the absolutely elite producers like Charles or Jones, because of their separation from the pack, or to make sure they have one or two of the top-level rebounders because of the fall-off between tiers.
But, on the whole, a balanced drafting strategy would be more effective more times than not than chasing category leaders. Particularly with the scoring system in fantasy women's leagues points-based with the same weighting for high-volume (points, rebounds and assists) and low-volume (blocks, steals and 3-pointers) categories.
Another story of note comes out of similar comparison charts, but across the pools of the typical total numbers of rostered players. Below, find the information in the above charts replicated, but for the top-54 players (e.g. six teams in a league, nine-player rosters) in the fantasy women's basketball in each category and the top-130 players (e.g. 10, 13-player rosters) in fantasy men's basketball.
The biggest takeaway for me, from these charts, is what to expect from a typical player that might be found on the free-agency wire. For those used to playing fantasy men's basketball, the expectation might be that there will be plenty of players averaging double-digit points, five or more rebounds or at least a few assists on the waiver wire.
In fantasy women's basketball, those numbers might be more like 9 PPG, 4 RPG and/or 2 APG. But, importantly, players producing those levels of stats can be key contributors on fantasy rosters where there isn't a large statistical difference between those numbers and the numbers put up by the "average" player on a fantasy women's basketball roster.
Overall, there will be differences between the fantasy women's basketball game and the fantasy men's basketball game. However, the successful fantasy manager will be able to adjust their strategies to incorporate and account for those differences.
Know the landscape, know what to expect from the players on your roster, and identify ways to maximize the balance, upside and depth of your roster via draft, trade and free agency. Do those things at a high level, and you'll be in a great position to etch your name on an inaugural fantasy women's basketball trophy this season.