May 3, 2024 

2024 WNBA season preview: Indiana Fever

Indiana enters a new era with Caitlin Clark

INDIANAPOLIS — Six-year veteran guard Kelsey Mitchell spoke with reporters on Wednesday at Indiana Fever media day, gushing about her team’s new vibe and offensive potential. Thanks to a few offseason additions, the Fever could reach a level on offense that they have rarely hit in Mitchell’s career.

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“The game goes from like this,” Mitchell said of the Fever’s old spacing — her fists together with no room in between them. “To like this,” she added, opening her hands and spreading her arms out wide to simulate the Fever’s new spacing. Katie Lou Samuelson and Caitlin Clark came to the Fever in the last few months, and both of them can shoot. The floor is about to open up a ton in Indiana.

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Two of Mitchell’s six seasons in Indiana have ended with the Fever producing the league’s worst offense. Five times, they were below average — that trend finally broke last season, Mitchell’s first as all All-Star. She’s seen this franchise struggle to score.

That won’t be an issue for the team this year. Clark, Samuelson, Mitchell, Aliyah Boston, NaLyssa Smith and Erica Wheeler is the best collection of offensive talent Indiana has had in years, and that doesn’t even include a few promising young players. They are going to score, and likely in bunches, in the coming season.

What will define the 2024 campaign for Indiana, a year in which more eyeballs will be on them due to the arrival of Caitlin Clark, is their ability to defend. This season could be all about how Clark fits with the franchise’s established All-Star talent.

Wheeler was asked about the team’s goal for this season while addressing the crowd at an Indiana Pacers playoff game last week. “To be here, playoffs,” she said to a cheering group of 17,000+ fans. “We want to be here. We want to be doing this.”

That’s been the messaging top to bottom from the team since they began officially practicing on Sunday. Truly, those goals were planted in the ground at exit interviews last season. But after a knockout offseason from the franchise, reaching the postseason is more than attainable for the Indiana Fever, who haven’t been there since 2016.

“Our goal is the playoffs,” head coach Christie Sides said after the team’s first practice of the 2024 season.

That is the standard the Fever will be held to for the first time in years. Last year, the team finished in 10th place — two spots out of the playoffs. It was progress. They didn’t get officially eliminated until there were about 10 days left in the regular season.

But truly, last season was about development as much as winning. Eight first- or second-year players suited up for the franchise in 2023 as Indiana looked to expand its base of young talent. Almost every season since 2017 has been about development in Indianapolis, with the team selecting in the lottery often.

This year, that won’t be the case. There is still some youth on the team, but they have enough experience and talent to be playing beyond the regular season. The Indiana Fever want to end their playoff drought.

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Indiana Fever guards Kristy Wallace and Kelsey Mitchell high-five in a game against the Washington Mystics at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on July 7, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

It will require a shift in focus. Going from a development season to a record-based goal isn’t easy. Different conversations, leadership and baselines are required.

“Last year was about developing, setting our culture, creating a standard,” Sides said this week. She noted that because of that, this year they are much farther along after just a few days. Practices are more organized, and it’s making the team better.

So is the jolt in talent. But all of this — the older team, the shifting goals, the improved offseason — won’t matter if the Fever can’t defend. If they finish 11th in defensive rating again, they won’t sniff the postseason field.

That has to be the focus for the team. Sides defines herself as a defensive-minded coach, and Dunn said that part of the reason she hired Sides to run the program last year was that emphasis on the less glamorous end of the court. Clark even joked that sometimes it seems like Sides could get down in a stance at practice and guard someone.

That needs to translate to games. Boston is a tremendous rim protector, and Smith is a beast on the glass. Samuelson and Lexie Hull have had defensive success in their past. Every other player on the roster is either a question mark on that end of the floor or needs to show something more. It’s vital for the next steps of the franchise.

“[Defensive]. I think that’s going to be our thing. Coach has emphasized that a lot. Just being able to be in the gaps, being able to contest,” Boston said earlier this week.

If the Indiana Fever move into the top eight in defensive rating this season, they will make the playoffs. Their offensive firepower is that good. But that’s a big ask for Sides’ team. They’ll have to show meaningful progress on the less glamorous end of the floor to get the franchise back into the playoffs.

Offseason Summary


Caitlin Clark

Celeste Taylor

Leilani Correa

Katie Lou Samuelson

Damiris Dantas

Temi Fagbenle


Emma Cannon

Amanda Zahui B.

Victoria Vivians

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Caitlin Clark already turning heads

After every practice, Fever players are asked about Clark. They all have raved about her skills and who she is as a person — Clark’s instant culture fit in Indiana is meaningful.

The standout skill to most everyone is Clark’s passing. Boston and Smith are ready to get the ball more in advantageous positions. Mitchell will have more space and more openings to shoot. Everyone benefits from Clark’s passing and gravity.

The rookie guard shared that she has already thrown a few passes to teammates that were fumbled because they weren’t ready for her to toss them the ball. Her vision is impressive and is something everyone will need to get used to.

Year two for Christie Sides

Head coach Christie Sides was an assistant with the Atlanta Dream two seasons ago, and now she’s heading the playoff-hopeful Fever. Her responsibilities keep growing and changing.

Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides coaching against the Washington Mystics on July 7, 2023
Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides coaching against the Washington Mystics on July 7, 2023. (Photo Credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Last year, Sides learned a lot on the job as she tried to set a foundation with a young team. This year, she is one of the more important figures within the franchise. If her system and defensive focus connects, the Indiana Fever could be great.

“She’s hard on us. She has high expectations, high standards as every coach does,” Fever guard Maya Caldwell said of Sides. Caldwell played for the Dream in 2022 when Sides was an assistant and noted that the Fever’s bench leader has transitioned well to being a head coach.

“I love Christie’s energy. It just affects every single person around her,” Clark said.

Sides’ style resonates well with players and shows that she cares. It also needs to translate to on-court success this year.

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Crawl, Walk, Run

While the Indiana Fever have playoff goals, they aren’t naive to the fact that they aren’t a championship contender this season. They still want to make progress, though, and want to continue to make positive steps.

General manager Lin Dunn used the crawl, walk, run analogy to describe the path her team is on. They can’t go too fast and get ahead of themselves. There is still some evaluation to be done about the roster and its long-term fit. But the Fever are done crawling. It’s time to walk.

Walking looks like a playoff berth. And that will require defense for Indiana.

Written by Tony East

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

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