June 29, 2022
Assessing the Indiana Fever season after the halfway point
Signs of improvement, but there is still work to be done
The Indiana Fever have crossed the halfway point of their 2022 campaign, a season the franchise is hoping can be defined by improvement and development.
So far, despite some ups and downs, the team does look better on the court than they did in 2021. After 18 games last year, the Fever were 2-16. This year, they were 5-13. Neither record is particularly impressive, but Indiana does look like a far superior team now than they did at this time last season. The red and blue had a -15.7 net rating after 18 games in 2021, that number was -9.0 this season — a huge improvement.
They also, quite literally, look different. Half of the roster is rookies, and over half of the team was not on Indiana’s roster last year. The head coach has changed — Carlos Knox replaced Marianne Stanley roughly one month ago and has the young Fever focused on the details. The front office looks different, too, with Lin Dunn calling the shots instead of Tamika Catchings. Every part of the Indiana Fever is altered as the team looks to get the right people in the right places in order to improve.
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Despite still possessing a poor record, that refinement has happened this season. “Obviously the record doesn’t reflect it, but I think that practice and chemistry and things like that, you’re seeing a lot of it,” guard Danielle Robinson told The Next about the team’s improvement in the first half of the season. Robinson has taken on a leadership role for this young Fever group.
Asking any Fever player about improvement will lead to a similar response to the one Robinson gave — having just five wins doesn’t feel like a step forward for the red and blue. That’s understandable, being in the WNBA basement for a second consecutive season doesn’t feel like advancement. But from any statistical angle, any aesthetic angle, any skill development angle, or whatever viewpoint one wants to use to assess Indiana this season compared to last — the team is better.
Having a better winning percentage and net rating with six rookies on the team is extremely impressive. Being in every game, while meaningless in the grand scheme of things, is more than the team could say in 2021. Looking more organized on offense most of the time is a huge step forward, too. The new-look Fever have a direction and an identity, and it only took 18 games for it to materialize.
“Overall, I am extremely excited about the direction of this team, where we’re going, how we’re handling things — some of the adversity that comes up during the games,” Knox said last week. “We are handling it at a good rate. It’s just a matter of putting it together and understanding exactly where we can go as a unit.”
Knox said he and his staff have reflected often about the team and its growth throughout the season, and the halfway point is a natural time to take stock of the Fever’s campaign so far. In general, the feelings from the organization about the first 18 games of the 2022 season are positive. Guard Kelsey Mitchell, meanwhile, isn’t as upbeat about the red and blue as a whole despite seeing signs of progress.
“Mediocre. Less than good, to be honest,” Mitchell told The Next when asked about the Fever living up to their improvement goals. “I think we’ve made strides as a culture. Wins and losses, you can’t really tell. We’re lacking a little bit.”
Mitchell shared those thoughts one day before Indiana played their 18th game, a matchup against the defending champion Chicago Sky. The Sky were without Candace Parker that night, which impacted how well they were able to play. But the Fever played their most complete game of the season that night, battling to an 89-87 win over Chicago.
Rookie NaLyssa Smith, who seemingly improves on a game-by-game basis, had 26 points and 11 rebounds in the victory. Mitchell took on a key role as a distributor with nine assists. Lexie Hull and Emma Cannon both had season-best performances in the victory. The Indiana Fever needed to adapt and find smaller, less common advantages to win, and they did. The Fever of old wouldn’t have been able to do that.
“I’m extremely proud of their resilience because they are truly a team that is ready to turn the corner,” Knox said after that game. “I know we talk about how the record doesn’t reflect the team we are. But I just really feel that under the circumstances, they continue to fight. They continue to push.”
The Fever will hope it’s a turning point and that they can build off of that game. The two contests they have had since that win did not go well, but there were some bright spots in both games as the team looks to continue toward their improvement goal in the second half of the season.
“Just recognizing that it’s in the details,” Robinson said of something the team needs to focus on in the second half of the season. “There’s no more time to waste.”
Other Indiana Fever notes at the halfway point
-The Fever signed rookie guard Khayla Pointer earlier this month. Pointer, a first-year guard who was drafted 13th overall in the 2022 draft, played at Louisiana State for five years and now finds herself as the sixth rookie on Indiana’s roster.
Pointer made her debut for the team last week in Dallas, scoring six fourth-quarter points in just under seven minutes of action. “This has been amazing for me. I’m really, really excited to be here,” Pointer told The Next of joining the Fever. “I had great conversations with the Fever leading up to the draft… I’m really, really happy to be here.”
-Kelsey Mitchell was not named to the WNBA All-Star game despite a strong 2022 campaign. She had a great case to be named a reserve, but she missed out on the accolade. If her averages of 19 points and four assists per game hold up for the remainder of the season, Mitchell will become the second eligible player in WNBA history to not be an All-Star with those stats, per Across The Timeline.
–Queen Egbo continues to impress for the young Fever. The team is statistically much better on both ends of the floor with the former Baylor center in the game, and her mobility has given the team a new dimension. She has a chance to be the Fever’s starter at the five spot for years to come, especially if her finishing improves.