July 6, 2024 

Assessing the Indiana Fever as they pass the 2024 WNBA season midpoint

What has gone well, and what has to get better for the playoff-starved Fever?

The Indiana Fever are one game past the halfway point of their 2024 season, and things have been a mixed bag so far.

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There have been some deep lows and incredible highs. The Fever were 1-8 to start this season, and many of their early losses were ugly blowouts. They have nine defeats by 10+ points so far, including five by 19+ points. But at the same time, they have won seven of their last 12 games. Their stars have gelled, and they just got a signature win on the road over the Phoenix Mercury last weekend. It’s hard to get a read on the team.

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The most recent stretch for Indiana was much better than their opening portion of the season, and their schedule played a part. Now, the team is 8-13 through the first half (and one game) of the 2024 campaign, giving us a natural moment to check in on the bigger picture.

The Indiana Fever currently have a 38.1% win percentage, which would become a 15 or 16-win team over the course of the 40-game season. The first half of their schedule, in terms of opponent quality, was more difficult than their second half. But they have been fairly healthy this season. For reference, last year’s Fever group went 13-27, and the final playoff seed finished 18-22.

Advanced stats show a team that has obvious strengths and weaknesses. Indiana is seventh in offensive rating this season, including third in the month of June. They can score as well as anyone and have many players capable of stepping up offensively any night. Defensively, they have been atrocious. They currently hold the worst defensive rating in the league — a clear area of focus entering the season. In June, they were a bit better on the less glamorous end of the floor. But they still finished 10th in defense and only surpassed the lowly Dallas Wings and Los Angeles Sparks.

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It’s clear what the team has been so far — they hope to outscore their opponent. Head coach Christie Sides shared as much when asked to assess her team at the halfway point of the 2024 campaign.

“Probably the thing that I’ve been the most proud of is just how we’ve improved on the offensive end. I mean, we’ve crept up, and we’re sitting in a pretty good spot, about halfway in most of the offensive categories,” the head coach said earlier this week. “And I think that will continue to get better.”

But Sides thinks the focus for the second half of the season has to be defense. She isn’t alone in that thinking — it’s clear for any observer of the team. The results show it perfectly: Indiana is 8-0 when they allow under 84 points and 0-13 when they concede 85+.

“I feel like after the break, during the All-Star break, we’ll have time to really focus more on the defensive end. You know, not forget about [offense] — we’re going to work on that offensive end — But just that defensive end where we can work on [adding] some things to our tool box that we can do during games that we haven’t had time to really work on,” Sides said.

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The team hoped to be better on defense this season. It was their biggest need for growth entering the campaign after finishing 11th in defensive rating in 2023. Young teams typically aren’t good on defense, but the Indiana Fever hoped to break that trend somewhat.

“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,” All-Star center Aliyah Boston said before the season of getting stops.

Instead, that hasn’t happened. The Fever’s ability to reach the postseason may come down to their ability to slow down strong opponents. They know that points come easy. Even against talented opposition, Indiana can put a big number on the scoreboard. But it hasn’t mattered with their inability to guard.

Yet they’ve stayed afloat despite some challenging obstacles in the first half of the season. They are just half a game out of seventh place. And the reasons the team has gotten better are why the group believes the second half of the season will be better than the first.

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Chemistry has mattered, and the Fever roster has grown close through their many challenges. “I think that we’ve made strides in a lot of different areas that not a lot of people can appreciate. I think us as a group, everybody had expectations of this group. Everybody had their do’s and don’ts,” All-Star guard Kelsey Mitchell said of the team and their first half of the season. She has been a veteran leader for the younger squad.

“‘What can we do? What can’t we do?’. I think that us 12 did a really good job from game to game, learning each other as best as we possibly could and respecting each other as much as we possibly could and built a good culture,” Mitchell continued. “At game 21, we’ve made really big strides in that area, and it contributes to us winning.”

The second half of Indiana’s season will be defined by their ability to keep sticking together and getting better, as Mitchell highlighted. With how tight the playoff race is, they can hardly afford any poor stretches in the final 19 games.

Can Indiana improve on defense without stepping back on the offensive end? Or will getting stops come in spite of their talented attack? That balance will be key. It’s natural to think a young team that is learning how to win will be better going forward. But that type of roster can be inconsistent, and the Circle City’s team doesn’t have room for that.

What will that amount to? The results will be telling. The Fever have five more games before the Olympic break — which means practice time. How they fare in that stretch will be important, as will their level in mid-August. If they can defend better, they should be among the eight best teams in the WNBA. But will it be enough to earn a playoff berth? That’s what the last stretch of the season will be about for the Indiana Fever, who haven’t reached the postseason since 2016.

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Written by Tony East

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

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