May 2, 2022 

2022 WNBA season preview: Indiana Fever

Improvement is the name of the game

INDIANAPOLIS — Tamika Catchings played for the Indiana Fever from 2002 through her retirement in 2016. The following year, she joined the front office and ascended to the General Manager role. For two decades, Catchings and the Fever franchise were synonymous.

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Then, in February, she resigned from her front office post. For the first time in 20 years, for the first time since Fever forward and second-overall pick NaLyssa Smith was one-year old, Catchings and Indiana won’t be paired. A fresh era is starting for the organization.

It’s a new day in Indiana. And this upcoming season, the first of the post-Catchings era, will be all improvement for a franchise with just 25 wins across the last three campaigns.

“What I want to talk about is improvement. That’s what we’re going to do this year. We’re going to improve. We’re going to get better,” interim General Manager Lin Dunn said. She detailed that getting better is the focus of this season for the Fever.

For a team that is coming off of a six-win campaign, that goal feels attainable. In the offseason, guards Danielle Robinson and Aaliyah Wilson both discussed reaching the postseason as an objective for the 2022 Fever, and Catchings had a similar hope. And while Indiana may still want to jump into the playoffs in 2022, improving is a much more definable and achievable goal for a team that wasn’t close to a top-eight record this past season. They need to walk before they can run.

From a team-building perspective, Dunn made strong moves that will guide the team toward improvement. She, along with other Indiana decision makers, drafted seven rookies. The team added a group of versatile wings to fill a much-needed hole. Stronger reserves were added at nearly every position. Growth may not happen immediately with so many young players developing together, but from a roster-construction perspective, the Indiana Fever are set up for improvement.

But what does improvement look like on the court for the group? It depends who you ask, and for good reason. Indiana rookies — and there are a lot of them — weren’t on the roster this past season. They don’t have a 2021 campaign to build on. But the younger Fever players will all play a key role in Indiana’s growth this coming year, and they are all well aware of that fact.

“Definitely just doing things better than they did last year. Scoring, defensively, winning games,” Smith said when describing what improvement will look like for the red and blue. “Our goal this year is just to win a lot more games than they did last year.”

Smith will likely play a big part in helping the Fever take a step forward on the floor. The Baylor product should get big minutes every game, and her presence in the frontcourt will be a boost over what Indiana had last season. She has impressed in training camp, and while rookies often struggle to impact winning early on in their career, Smith may be talented enough to buck that trend.

In turn, that will help the Fever win more games, one of Smith’s stated benchmarks of improvement. That matches what Kelsey Mitchell noted when asked about what growth will look like in her eyes.

“A lot more wins. A lot more in-depth and detailed work,” Mitchell said. “Focusing on the work and controlling the work. That’s the only thing we can focus on.”

Training camp practices have been spirited and full of teaching moments so far. Such an environment will help the team this season, and the amount of learning going on daily will naturally make the Fever improve. Rookies ask more questions, and the team will get better as a result.

Indiana Fever players at training camp
Indiana Fever players at training camp (photo via The Next)

Those practices also contain a ton of energy. The young team is zippy and competitive, and scrimmages have featured a ton of battles. So far, Fever camp has been lively.

Training camp emotions are a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, but guard Lindsay Allen views it as a part of the Fever growth. “Just having better energy,” Allen said of something that she thinks will be a part of the Fever’s improvement over last season. “Just being sharper, and just brining the intensity every day in practice.”

Allen was a stable veteran for the 2021 Fever, and head coach Marianne Stanley was fond of her abilities running the second unit. She played in all 32 games and led the squad in total assists — her successes last season have been understated. Now, to build off of that, her role includes more than just controlling bench lineups, but also mentoring rookies. She has been giving tips to 20th overall pick Destanni Henderson, among other rookies, throughout training camp.

All of that details why Allen’s opinion about the Fever means a fair amount. And in her eyes, beyond those intangibles, there are some numeric thresholds that Indiana can reach to show off their growth. “I think just looking at the statistical stuff… it’s just kind of improving on our defense. Improving on our shooting, our three-point shooting percentage, and just overall field goal percentage,” Allen said. “So those are definitely two things that we can keep track of to improve on.”

Allen is right on the money. The Indiana Fever were dead last in both three-point percentage and defensive rating this past season, and their overall field goal percentage only exceeded that of the Sparks and Mystics — two lottery teams. The Circle City’s team has to get better on both ends.

“You’ve got to look at the numbers. They don’t lie,” Mitchell said.

Those numbers need to get better. But they also represent basketball at its simplest level. Indiana needs to get better at putting the ball in the basket, and they need to get better at preventing the other team from doing so. The simple stuff. After being the worst team in the league in 2021, they need to improve.

So far, they have taken the off-court steps to do so. Now, in the post-Catchings era, the Fever will need to grow on the court too. After five postseason-free campaigns, Indiana has its priorities geared toward refinement, and the 2022 season will be the first steps toward a better future.

Written by Tony East

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

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