The Indiana Fever begin their season on May 24th against the New York Liberty, here’s an extended look at the storylines and players to watch this season.
2018 Season Recap
Record: The Fever finished 6-28, the lowest win total in franchise history. Indiana missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season after finishing 12th in league standings.
Storylines: The Fever received big contributions from their 2018 rookie class. Kelsey Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, and Stephanie Mavunga all played big minutes for Indiana last season. While Vivians is lost for the 2019 season with an ACL injury, the experience from last season should aid Mitchell and Mavunga into their second seasons as pros.
Statistical Leaders: Candice Dupree – 14.2 points, Natalie Achonwa – 6.9 rebounds, Erica Wheeler – 4.1 assists, Victoria Vivians 0.94 steals), Achonwa 0.7 blocks, Kayla Alexander – 54.1% FG, Vivians – 39.9% 3PT, Vivians – 93.1% FT.
Keeping the Band Together: Indiana resigned free agents Achonwa, Wheeler, and Shenise Johnson for another season in Indiana.
Rookie Class: The Fever drew the No. 3 pick in the WNBA Draft and selected Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan. In the third round, Indiana selected North Carolina guard Paris Kea at No. 25 and Georgia forward Caliya Robinson at No. 28 (Robinson was waived on May 15th).
Losses: Vivians is lost for the 2019 season with an ACL injury. Guard Cappie Pondexter, who joined the Fever midway through 2018, retired during the offseason.
Players to Watch
McCowan was a big acquisition for the Fever as the third pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft. The 6-foot, 7-inch center will add size that Indiana has not had during coach Pokey Chatman’s tenure. McCowan led Mississippi State in scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 18.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game while shooting 66.2 percent from the field. Her percentage was an MSU record and ranked fourth in the nation. Her 31 double-doubles in 2018-19 broke her own MSU record. She will look to vastly improve Indiana’s defense and rebounding which both were ranked near the bottom of the league.
Last year’s No. 2 pick, Mitchell will look to take a big step forward in her second season in the WNBA after starting 17 of the team’s 34 games last season. Mitchell averaged 24.4 minutes, 12.7 points, 2.7 assists, and made 70 three pointers on 33.4% shooting from beyond the arc. Look for a rise in her shooting percentages and scoring totals as Chatman schemes to get her more open looks off the ball.
The six-time All-Star will look to continue her career of consistency in her third season as a member of the Fever. Dupree led Indiana with 14.2 points per game on 48.8% shooting. She also collected 6.4 rebounds per contest last season. Dupree will look to capitalize on the additional size in the Indiana lineup this season, as the veteran was often matched up with the oppositions larger front court players. The additional help inside defensively and on the boards will free up Dupree for more looks from the post and midrange with smaller defenders, as well as opportunities to match up defensively with more wings instead of defending the post every trip down. Dupree’s leadership and experience will be vital for the success of Indiana’s blend of youth and veterans in 2019.
Will Indiana’s lineup go big?
With the addition of the 6-7 McCowan in the middle, Indiana has an option it did not have last season – size. Indiana could go big in the starting lineup with Wheeler, Kelsey Mitchell, Dupree, Achonwa, and McCowan. That lineup would surely aid Indiana’s rebounding percentage of 47.2, which finished tied for 11th last season. Having McCowan in the middle would also anchor an improved Indiana defense that finished 11th last season. Indiana could stick to bringing McCowan off the bench to start the season, but the ability to go big is an option head coach Pokey Chatman has at her disposal.
Will the team’s continuity from last season aid their growth in 2019?
While there have been a few changes to Indiana’s roster, much of the core roster remains intact. Wheeler, Dupree, Achonwa, Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell, Mavunga, Alexander, and Erica McCall are all with the Fever again this season after being part of the rotation in 2018. With last season and this year’s training camp under their belts, will this groups see improved chemistry, communication, and efficiency this season? Many players on the roster acknowledge last season was tough in the win-loss column, but this group will learn and grow from that experience.
Will Indiana make a return to the playoffs?
Indiana had made the playoffs every season from 2005-2015 but have missed the postseason the last two years. Will the Fever make a run to return this season? The group has the tools with veterans such as Dupree, Tiffany Mitchell, Achonwa, Wheeler, and Johnson ready to lead young players Kelsey Mitchell, Mavunga, Kea, and McCowan on to the next step of their development and into the postseason.
The path there won’t be easy, but Indiana will put their foot on the gas in order to avoid missing the postseason for a third straight year, which would be a first for the Fever franchise.