August 3, 2022 

Wins are still the goal for growing Indiana Fever after playoff elimination

The Indiana Fever are still hoping to grab a few wins down the stretch of a losing season especially with the top lottery odds secured

On one hand, it would be easy for the Indiana Fever to throw in the towel and focus on development for the final stretch of their season. However, at 5-27, they are eliminated from the postseason already and have locked up the top lottery odds for the 2023 WNBA draft; giving playing time to rookies will benefit the team long term.

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On the other hand, the franchise already has a significant lead in the race for the top lottery odds in the 2024 WNBA draft and grabbing more wins down the stretch of this season would display growth and improvement, the team’s stated goal from before the campaign. Matching the 2021 Fever’s win total of six, while extremely underwhelming in general, would be a noticeable finish for a young, less experienced 2022 Indiana team.

Those competing lines of thought are what the Indiana Fever must think about during the season’s final weeks. But in reality, the two goals don’t have to be opposites. With seven rookies on the roster out of 11 available players, it’s fairly easy for the team to balance development while also chasing wins down the stretch.

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“If we can get [five more] wins, at least we can get double-digits wins. That’s the plan. That’s the goal,” Kelsey Mitchell said last week about the Fever’s push down the stretch of the season. Ten wins is now mathematically impossible for the Fever, but the team is still pursuing more victories.

Taking down their opponent will be difficult for the team from the Circle City in their final battles. They haven’t won since June 19 and their success rate on both ends has dropped as the season has progressed.

In every Fever win this year, they have scored at least 82 points, a point total they have eclipsed ten times this season. Eight of those ten performances came in the Fever’s first 18 games. On the flip side of the ball, the team has held their opponent under 90 points 17 times this season ⁠— ten of those outcomes came in the front half of the season.

Indiana’s effectiveness is slipping. But they want to correct those mistakes in their remaining games to show growth and gather some momentum heading into the offseason. And for the younger Fever players, the final four matchups are the last chances to polish up during this season. For players like Destanni Henderson ⁠— who just recently achieved her season high in minutes ⁠— Lexie Hull, Emily Engstler, Khayla Pointer and Rennia Davis, the closing stretch of the season will help them improve.

“I think it’s about focus,” head coach Carlos Knox said of balancing development and winning down the stretch of the season. “I feel like we are at a place mentally that is still good. It’s still growing; it’s still developing, and it’s making sense to everyone… For the most part, everyone is bought in, and we’re still striving as a team to be better.”

Without Mitchell, who is out for the rest of the campaign with a foot injury, victories will be hard to come by. Indiana struggles to score without their lead guard available. But in her absence, younger players will get more on-ball reps, which could benefit Indiana beyond the current season. In general, though, finding the right balance of veteran minutes to keep things organized and compete with the right amount of playing time for younger players will be a key task for Knox in the coming weeks.

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Indiana combo forward Victoria Vivians attempts a jump shot against the Connecticut Sun (Photo Credit: Chris Poss)

MVP candidate Kelsey Plum recalls playing for a team in a similar situation to the 2022 Indiana Fever early in her career. As a rookie with the San Antonio Stars, Plum was part of an 8-26 campaign and San Antonio lost 14 games in a row to open that season.

The Stars won five of their final ten games and still ended up with the number one overall selection the following year, the draft pick that ended up being A’ja Wilson. But Plum still remembers that season and what it meant for her and that team.

“I think it’s really about mentally taking it one game at a time to figure out getting better,” Plum shared. “As a rookie, you’re going to get an opportunity to play. You want to showcase what you got, nothing is promised… I think it’s like — still have that mindset. You’re still going in and you’re trying to really establish yourself and grow in the experience that you’re getting.”

Two seasons after Plum’s rookie campaign, her team reached the postseason. Dearica Hamby and Sydney Colson, two younger players who were also part of the 2017 Stars, were still with Plum (and still are today). The way San Antonio players attacked those final games helped set the stage for their growth in future seasons and the Fever are in a similar situation now.

What Indiana and Knox can do is change their rotation for the final games. Henderson has played more than normal point guard starter Danielle Robinson in each of the Fever’s last two games; perhaps the 20th overall pick could start the remaining games. Tiffany Mitchell started in Kelsey Mitchell’s place on Sunday, but it may make more sense for Hull to open games down the stretch. Even if the veterans play a similar amount of minutes compared to their season average, which would help Indiana chase wins, letting the younger players start together and get more shared reps should benefit the Indiana franchise long term.

The Indiana Fever have had a rough season, but a poor record and many roadblocks were somewhat expected for a team that rosters more rookies than veterans. Five wins is incredibly low and the Fever should put their best foot forward to try to win every remaining game. But they also need to balance development and growth with just a few weeks left and that’s the difficult task Knox must accomplish to close the season.

Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

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