January 9, 2024
2024 WNBA free agency preview: Indiana Fever
The Indiana Fever could be in for a big jump in 2024, but free agency will be vital
Finally, the Indiana Fever are entering an offseason in which their goals don’t involve escaping the basement of the WNBA. After multiple years at the bottom of the standings, the Fever took a step forward last season and were in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season. They are clearly a franchise with an upward trajectory.
The next step is adding to it. Last season, sixth-year guard Kelsey Mitchell was an All-Star for the first time and rookie forward/center Aliyah Boston was a starter in the All-Star Game. Both players were terrific for Indiana and provided a solid base for general manager Lin Dunn. Dunn now has to improve the roster around the two All-Stars and develop other young talents like forward NaLyssa Smith, guard Grace Berger and guard Lexie Hull.
Indiana had a fresh mix of veterans and young players last season. That allowed them to develop both in maturity and in basketball skill. It was a good mix for where the Fever were. Now, though, the group is ready for a talent infusion.
“In the offseason, we’ve got to look at free agency. We’ve got some talent now. We’ve got some good, young talent. But we also need to add to it. Do we have too much talent? No. Do we have enough? No. We need another free agent in my opinion, and we need another high draft pick,” Dunn told The Next last season. “So immediately, we bring two players into this franchise. We’re going to make sure it’s the right people and the right fit.”
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There could be a lot of moving parts for the Fever this winter. Forward Emma Cannon, center Amanda Zahui B. and guard Maya Caldwell will all be free agents during the offseason. Everyone signed for 2024 besides Mitchell, veteran point guard Erica Wheeler and wing Victoria Vivians are on unprotected contracts. In theory, the Fever could make significant shake-ups.
“I think there’s still some question about who’s going to be on either side of Kelsey Mitchell,” Dunn told reporters in December. “Kelsey Mitchell is our two-guard, one of the best two-guards in this league … Who is going to be at the one? Who is going to be at the three?”
The key for the Fever will be finding complementary pieces. They will be able to dominate the paint from all angles with Smith and Boston, but their play on the perimeter has been less impressive. Mitchell’s shooting and shot creation abilities can only provide so much.
During Indiana’s best performances last season, they typically saw better play from a non-Mitchell guard or wing. In what may have been their best victory of the season — a July win over the Mystics in Washington — Cannon, Vivians and Wheeler combined for 34 points. In a fairly dominant road win over Dallas in September, Vivians had nine points and seven rebounds while Berger and Wallace were steady all night. That was a theme for Indiana.
Adding talent that can make those nights happen more consistently should be a goal for the Fever. And that matches Dunn’s messaging. They need more talent around Mitchell in the backcourt, and especially on the wing.
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Last season, Indiana ranked 11th in defensive rating despite emphasizing that end of the floor. First-year head coach Christie Sides was important to the Atlanta Dream’s defensive growth when she was there as an assistant, and she wants her Fever teams to be better on that end.
The Fever also ranked eighth in true shooting percentage, though they were held back by poor free-throw shooting. In general, efficient offensive players who can defend make sense as targets for the Fever.
But that type of player makes sense on every team. They are extremely valuable and in demand, yet they are exactly what Indiana needs. Free-agent wings Nia Coffey and Rebecca Allen and guard Karlie Samuelson stand out as potentially good fits.
The draft will certainly be a factor as well. The Fever don’t know who they will be able to draft with the first overall pick yet, but if it is Iowa’s Caitlin Clark or UConn’s Paige Bueckers, that should help fill the team’s long-term need for consistency at point guard.
If a different player ends up being the best available choice at the top of the draft, then things change. Maybe it’s a big or even a wing. Without knowing who will be an option, and with the draft coming after free agency, it’s tough for Dunn to know what to expect from the top pick. But who the Fever select will impact whatever free agent additions they make.
In the big picture, finding talent on the wing and a reliable guard who can shoot should be the top priorities for Indiana in the next few months. But from a depth perspective, the team could use more in the frontcourt. After Boston and Smith, they could be light on bodies depending on what Dunn decides to do with Cannon, Victaria Saxton and Zahui B.
“Who is going to back up Smith and Boston?” Dunn wondered when asked what her team still needs to add.
Between Wheeler, Berger, Hull, Mitchell and Kristy Wallace, the Fever have plenty of depth at the guard spots. They could still use talent, but more resources are not needed at those spots.
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It’s fairly straightforward what Indiana should target in free agency. The problem is that it needs things that every team is on a constant mission to find. Every franchise wants to shoot better from deep. Every general manager wants to up their team’s defensive level. Wings are exceedingly valuable. Finding those players is hard.
But the Fever can offer minutes on a young, ascending team that should be a playoff contender in short order. They also have enough salary cap space that finances likely won’t be a concern. Indiana’s sales pitch to free agents could be appealing, depending on a player’s goals.
The Fever have talked about wanting to take a step forward. They want to be back in the postseason. That all starts with free agency. Dunn will need to be aggressive and persistent. If this offseason goes well for Indiana, it could be ready to make waves as soon as this coming season.