No team restructured their roster more than the Indiana Fever did in the offseason. And with a new-look squad that includes a league-high five rookies, they dropped their first two games.
But their first win, over the Minnesota Lynx earlier this week, was a big one, and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the talent-laden Fever.
For one, they are doing a better job playing defense this season. Currently they are seventh in the WNBA in points given up at 82.3 per outing, and they rank seventh in defensive rating (101.5). Their offense still needs to improve, even though they are hitting threes at a higher clip than they did last year in the early season.
The one thing that is killing Indiana so far this year is turnovers. Against the Lynx Tuesday they had 10 in the first quarter before righting the ship to go on to win.
In order to secure their first playoff spot since 2016, when franchise cornerstone Tamika Catchings retired, the Fever will need everyone to step up, from veterans to rookies to incoming personnel.
Mitchells must produce
Five-year veteran Kelsey Mitchell struggled to score in Indiana’s first two games, making too many attempts and trying to force the action. In their win she only took one shot in the first quarter, but she got hot before halftime and stayed within herself to score 26 points on the night – reminiscent of her usual self. She was 9-16 and 4-7 from beyond the arc.
Tiffany Mitchell, who has been with the Fever all of her seven years in the league, is off to a slow start, averaging just 5.7 points per game. She will need to be more aggressive and take more than the five shots per game that has been her average output so far.
Both Mitchells will need to lead the way for their team this summer.
Most of Indiana’s rookies have shown promise this season. No. 2 overall pick NaLyssa Smith is off to a good start, averaging 11.7 points and 9 rebounds per game. If she continues to improve, she will be crucial as the season goes on.
Fellow first-rounder Queen Egbo has done an excellent job battling on the defensive end, averaging 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. She does a good job battling opposing bigs, and is a fierce competitor in the paint with palpable passion.
Destanni Henderson has shown the ability to run the Fever offense, averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 assists per game. She is particularly adept at driving to the basket and creating easy baskets for teammates. She is also playing well on the defensive end of the court.
Emily Engstler is rebounding well and doing many little things for Indiana. She averages 7.3 rebounds off the bench and is playing outstanding defense. Once she improves her offensive game, she could develop into a dangerous player.
Lexie Hull is the only rookie to struggle this season, not having scored a single basket. But if she recoups the shooting and defense she showcased at Stanford, the first-round pick could really contribute to her new team.
Help on the way
Danielle Robinson is back, and will bring her veteran leadership to the backcourt. She is an effective point guard who plays excellent defense, and under her tutelage, Henderson can become better.
So far this year, the Fever is shooting 35 percent from three, which tops 2021’s rate of 28 percent. They must continue to improve their outside shooting and defense to be a better team this season.
The one thing that will hurt Indiana is they don’t have much size inside. However, forward Alaina Coates is also back, and adds much-needed size on the front line. Alanna Smith has held her own in the paint, but she is not big enough to provide the necessary defensive presence.
The Fever take on the 1-1 Liberty tonight in New York.