The Indiana Fever are poised to make positive strides in 2018. The team prepares for the start of the season, reenergized and revitalized, after a difficult campaign in 2017 which saw the team finish 9-25.
“I’m really getting super excited about creating a new culture here in Indiana,” says Fever guard Shenise Johnson.
Indiana’s new culture appears to be a more youthful, quick, and athletic one. Indiana sought out ways to add those characteristics to the team throughout the offseason. One way the team did so was by welcoming a host of new players, including three selections from the 2018 WNBA Draft.
Kelsey Mitchell, the second overall selection of the draft, is a quick 5-foot, 8-inch guard from Ohio State. She set the Big Ten scoring record for a career, with 3,402 points — the second-highest figure in NCAA history.
“The one thing about the women’s game that people such as myself hope to bring is to make it more up tempo,” says Mitchell. “Us young players can come in and push it up, get it revved up.”
The Fever selected Victoria Vivians from Mississippi State eighth overall. During her senior season in Starkville, Vivians averaged 19.8 points. The 6-foot, 1-inch guard is known for her 3-point shot and ability to rebound from the guard position.
Indiana also selected Mitchell’s teammate at Ohio State, Stephanie Mavunga, 14th overall. Mavunga is a strong interior presence at 6-foot-3. She has an array of post moves and a knack for rebounding at both ends of the floor, which led her to collect 19 double-doubles during her final season in Columbus.
Fever head coach Pokey Chatman has big expectations for the trio of rookies.
“Two, eight, and fourteen are crucial,” says Chatman, referencing the draft position of the team’s three rookies. “They have a tremendous opportunity. They also bring a skill set that not only we need, the league needs — more rebounding, quickness, people that can shoot the basketball.”
The Fever also acquired Kayla Alexander in a trade with Las Vegas during the offseason. The 6-foot, 4-inch center should help improve Indiana’s interior defense and rebounding. She can stretch defenses with a mid-range jumper and affect opposing shots with her length.
Chatman believes that this year’s faster team will help improve its defensive performance, enabling Indiana to have more chances on the offensive end.
“The pace,” says Chatman, “last year we averaged maybe 94 possessions a game, [we’ll] probably get close to the 100 mark.”
Johnson, a veteran entering her seventh WNBA season, believes speed will play a huge role in Indiana’s season.
“We’re going to be really, really fast this year,” she says. “When we learn how to control that, control the pace, control the tempo, control the game… it’s going to be scary.”
This longer and more athletic Fever team wants to place a higher emphasis on rebounding, holding opponents to less field goal attempts on the defensive end, while creating more opportunities for put backs on the offensive end. Indiana has ranked 12th in the WNBA in rebounding the past two seasons — that is a priority to change.
While adding youth was a big theme of the offseason, Indiana’s veterans such as Fever forward and six-time All-Star Candice Dupree are willingly accepting their roles as a calming presence for the team’s new faces. “I’m here to slow them down,” says Dupree. “To push the ball when possible but also know when to back it out, slow it down, and run a set.”
Fever center Natalie Achonwa thinks the team’s offseason acquisitions have breathed a new life into the team.
“The new faces, the new energy — it’s a fun environment to be around.”
Indiana has a well-designed blend of veteran leaders and youth, a combination that hopes to lead to improved chemistry and production on the court.