June 15, 2024 

What Indiana Fever star Caitlin Clark has worked through to improve offensively

Clark: 'I think my game is starting to change a little bit'

INDIANAPOLIS — A quick glance at the last five games Caitlin Clark has played for the Indiana Fever encapsulates her current basketball reality perfectly. There’s a 30-point game in there, a masterpiece in a win over the Washington Mystics. There are two eight-rebound games and three games with six assists. The production has been there.

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But it hasn’t been every night, and that’s what Clark and the Fever are working through. In that five-game stretch, there are three-point and seven-point outings. Twice, the star rookie had more than five turnovers. These are expected hurdles for the 2024 No. 1 overall pick, but they are still hurdles.

Yet there is a lot to like about how Clark has already grown as a basketball player. With one-third of her season complete, she has taken noticeable steps in some key areas that have helped Indiana’s offense improve.

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In terms of team production, the Fever scored just 94.9 points per 100 possessions through their first seven games. That mark, also called offensive rating, has climbed to 99.4 in the last seven games. Clark has likewise seen her scoring numbers climb in the last seven games, and her 3-point percentage has improved. Her turnovers and assists have remained roughly stable.

Clark is more prepared to handle presses from defenses, which sometimes happen before she even catches the ball on inbounds passes. “I feel like I expect it at this point. It is what it is,” she told reporters this month.

But that focus from opposing teams — denying her the ball and not giving her any room — is the reason why Clark’s biggest adjustment has helped her and the team. She had to create her own space, and to do that, she needed to be more productive and direct with her ball-handling.

After seven live-ball turnovers on opening night against the Connecticut Sun, it was clear Clark needed to make tweaks. Five of her turnovers in that outing were from bad passes. The rookie guard quickly realized she needed to keep her dribble alive and create better angles — both for her zippy passes and for her long-range shooting.

“Once I do get into the paint, a lot of times I’ll pick my dribble up. I’m just trying to keep my dribble alive more,” Clark said on May 31. “Whether it’s dribbling under the basket and trying to find people on kickouts, I think that comes with, there’s a lot [of] longer, athletic rim protectors in the pro game that maybe I’m not as used to in the college game.”

That focus has generated better shots, both for Clark and for the Fever. Two of the Iowa product’s best three games in terms of assists at the rim have come in the Fever’s last six games. Most of the games in which she had multiple assists leading to 3-pointers have come since she made those comments. Clark is undoubtedly an instinctual player, yet she is adjusting her feel.

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Getting to this point took teamwork. The Fever had a brutal early-season schedule, both in terms of opponent quality and frequency. They have a .500 record when they don’t play the Sun or the New York Liberty. Those are the two best teams by record in the league, and they have the two players who have defended Clark the best so far in Sun guard/forward DiJonai Carrington and Liberty guard/forward Betnijah Laney-Hamilton. The rookie star has gone up against tough competition often.

“We’re trying to build chemistry during games, and that’s a really hard thing to do,” Clark said.

She had to watch film and talk with coaches to figure things out. Some of it, as head coach Christie Sides explained, was about keeping advantages. That meant a lot of things, like keeping a dribble alive and finding the shots that are created by Clark’s gravity.

“Me and [assistant] coach Jessie Miller watch film with each other from every game. She’s been really helpful on offense and defense [with] ways that I can improve,” Clark said about who inspired her on-court changes and effectiveness. Being patient, driving and keeping her dribble have been important.

“I already feel like I’m starting to get the hang of things a little bit better. I think my game is starting to change a little bit of how things are called, how things are played. But at the same time, [I’m] still trying to be myself and do what I do, too.”

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark sits on the bench and laughs with assistant coach Jessie Miller.
Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (left) and assistant coach Jessie Miller sit on the bench before a game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on June 10, 2024. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

She’s been using these changes to find space. Clark took nine off-the-dribble jumpers in her 30-point game against the Mystics on July 7, per Synergy. She took nine in the Fever’s first win of the season against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 24 and seven in a victory over the Chicago Sky on June 1. The top pick in the 2024 draft wasn’t reaching those numbers earlier in the season.

“I’ve definitely been able to get some easier looks,” Clark said on May 31 of her change in approach. “I feel like I’m definitely a few games away from really breaking out and having one of those really good performances.”

That last line is noteworthy, and Clark had excellent games both before and after sharing that. It’s hard to imagine what the perfectionist considers a “really good” performance if 30 points, five rebounds and six assists against the Sparks didn’t qualify.

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Even if Clark’s numbers aren’t consistent, or at least where she wants them, her impact on the offense is undeniable. For example, the Fever have a better true shooting percentage with the young guard on the floor than off. That is a testament to both her abilities and the gravity she has on the court.

“We had a really good video session the other day … just talking about advantages. What she creates, the advantages we get because of what she draws. She’s getting double-teamed the minute she crosses half court,” Sides told reporters on May 28. “We’ve been trying to show [the team] these different moments where, when she’s in this position and this happens, where the next pass is. … She just puts us in three-on-two situations with how she draws the defenders. So just showing her all those options.”

Related reading: ‘People should not be using my name to push those agendas’: Caitlin Clark speaks to those weaponizing her name

There have and will be bumps in the road for Clark. After her seven-point, seven-turnover outing in a win against the Atlanta Dream on Thursday, she returned to the hardwood for more practice almost immediately after the game. She wants to get better.

She’s also improving with game reps and figuring out how her gravity and live dribble help herself and the Fever. With more practice time and more home games coming, perhaps the Fever will soon break out offensively.

“From game to game, I think I learned a lot,” Clark said. Maybe after a few more games, she will reach her ridiculously high bar for a breakout night.

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Written by Tony East

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

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