INDIANAPOLIS — The 2018 season was a rather difficult one for the Indiana Fever. The team finished with a record of 6-28, the lowest win total in franchise history. Despite a tough 2018, the season serves as a springboard to the future. With veteran leaders returning alongside a young core, that future indeed looks bright in Indiana.
“It says a lot about the more veteran players and their greater understanding of the process,” says Fever head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman. “It also says a lot about the younger players in terms of their willingness to want to be successful. When success didn’t come, they wanted to work harder, they wanted to practice, they wanted more video, they were angry… I think it says a lot about their character and willingness to work even when we didn’t have success.”
The team made three high selections in the 2018 WNBA Draft. Kelsey Mitchell (second pick), Victoria Vivians (eighth pick), and Stephanie Mavunga (fourteenth pick) all saw significant run during their rookie years, as Mitchell and Vivians even took on starting roles for various stretches during the season.
The duo not only combined to provide Indiana with stretches of much needed offense, but the two rookies set the WNBA record for most 3-pointers made by a rookie duo in a season with 135 triples. This shattered the previous record of 118 triples held by Tonya Edwards (66) and Katie Smith (52) in 1999 for Minnesota.
“I was excited for them,” said Chatman. “They said that’s what we’re supposed to do. What I was trying to impress upon them is that there’s so much focus on them at the highest level. That’s why it was so pleasing for us.”
While Indiana’s rookies contributed some big moments throughout the season, the young team still leaned heavily on its veterans for leadership on the court and in the locker room.
In her 13th WNBA season, Dupree was still a forced to be reckoned with for Indiana. The veteran played in 32 games for Indiana while leading the team in scoring with a 14.2 points per game average. Her consistent excellence each year propelled her into eighth all time on the WNBA scoring charts, as the forward became just the ninth player in league history to score more than 6,000 points for her career.
Veteran Cappie Pondexter also played a significant role for the Fever. Pondexter, who signed with the team on July 1st after being released by Los Angeles just days before, became another valuable veteran for the Indiana lineup, starting the final 14 games of the season for the Fever.
“We have to keep in perspective when Cappie came,” as Chatman continues, “I think that’s why Cappie’s impact was magnified. Tiffany Mitchell used to watch Cappie play while she was coming up in high school. And then Cappie had that immediate impact on the road at Minnesota. I think it made the young girls pay even closer attention, because I can say it, Candice can say it, they can expect it… but to see it, hear it, and feel it, I think that was tremendous.”
Pondexter wasn’t the only member of the Fever to exceed expectations in leading the team this season. Despite it being only the fourth season of her career, center Natalie Achonwa also stepped in as a leader for the youthful Fever.
“Natalie Achonwa was amazing,” says the head coach. “You can look at the stats. But her on court, in the locker room, at the airport, at team events…knowing how to handle what and when. Didn’t matter what was going on with her, she was just consistent.”
She put up career numbers by averaging highs in points (10.3), rebounds (6.9) and minutes (26.0) while starting all 34 games for the Fever.
With the last two seasons being relatively down years in a franchise with a history of winning, Chatman still sees the positive strides day in and down out that will return the team to its former glory.
“If this were year five, six, or seven more or not year 25, 26 I may not be able to see the progress I need to see,” says Chatman. “Don’t like [losing]. Still can’t eat, can’t enjoy some of the fun stuff. It’s one of those things where I see the growth, see the possibility. I know what pieces we need and that puzzle is exciting for me… It’s tough but it’s also exciting.”
Indiana’s head coach has confidence the team will rebound nicely next season with added experience and potential offseason additions.
“There won’t be the wide open, deer in the headlights look,” says Chatman. “They’re going to be ready for the moments under the lights.”
While the 2018 season was an unquestionably tough one for Indiana, the seeds have been planted that should make this season anything but a lost one moving forward.