August 1, 2022
How will the Indiana Fever adjust with Kelsey Mitchell out?
The Indiana Fever will be without star guard Kelsey Mitchell for the rest of the 2022 WNBA season due to a foot injury.
Indiana Fever ball handler Kelsey Mitchell will not play again during the 2022 WNBA season because of a left foot injury.
The Fever announced on Saturday that Mitchell is dealing with a partial plantar fascia tear in her left foot and will miss the team’s final five games. It will be the first time that Mitchell has missed time in her career — she had played in all 153 possible games since being drafted prior to this injury.
“She’s definitely a warrior at heart. Believe me, this wasn’t easy for her to do — shutting down,” Fever head coach Carlos Knox said. “It’s for the betterment of her.”
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Mitchell was having a career year, even as her team has struggled to pull out wins. Her points (18.4) and assists (4.2) per game averages are both career highs, and the Fever’s offense has been nearly 11 points per 100 possessions better with Mitchell on the floor, per pbpstats. She is Indiana’s leader and offensive star.
The dynamic ball-handler, who is in her fifth season, had a strong case to be named an All-Star this year. One week ago, Mitchell dominated against the Dallas Wings with a 34-point, five-rebound, six-assist, three-steal and two-block performance, which kept her on the fringes of the All-WNBA conversation. Now, with this injury that has ended her season, she will likely not receive that distinction, even if her peers around the league recognize her impact.
“She’s the head of the snake, she’s pretty much the heart of the Indiana Fever,” Las Vegas Aces forward and MVP candidate A’Ja Wilson said of Mitchell on Friday. “In my eyes, she’s an All-Star the way that she puts on. I don’t think people understand the growth that she’s been through… she’s grown. She’s passing, she’s shooting on all three levels, and that’s tough. She’s quick.”
Knox shared that a few players could see their playing time grow without Mitchell healthy, and Tiffany Mitchell started on Sunday in her place. With five games left and the postseason out of reach, the Fever are in development mode, so expect younger players such as Lexie Hull, Destanni Henderson and Khayla Pointer to receive an increase in their playing time with Mitchell sidelined. Despite Pointer not playing at all, those played a combined 51:11 on Sunday in the first game with Mitchell on the shelf.
Looking ahead, this injury shouldn’t be one that bothers Mitchell into next season. “I think it will be an end-of-this-season thing,” Knox said of the timeline, stressing that Mitchell being out is more about caution than anything. That’s good news for Indiana, both because it’s obviously preferable to have Mitchell than to not, but also because it’s important to have clarity heading into a pivotal offseason to build around Mitchell (who is under contract through 2024) and the five rookies.
Without Mitchell, the Fever will struggle. Indiana had lost 13 games in a row dating back to a June 19 win over Chicago at the time the injury was announced, and losing Mitchell will only make winning more difficult. Others will have to step up in the squads final games if the Fever are going to notch another win and reach their win total from the 2021 campaign. In their first game without Mitchell, Las Vegas rolled in Indianapolis 94-69.
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The Indiana Fever now have 11 active players and seven of them are rookies. Expect many younger players to initiate offense with Mitchell sidelined, as they did on Sunday. The Fever offense looked clunky at times against the Aces — Indiana only managed three shots inside of five feet in the first quarter of the game and 19 in total, per the league’s shooting charts. For reference, Indiana averages nearly 25 shots per game from this distance, so attacking the basket was difficult without the Ohio State product. That trend may continue as the season comes to an end, but those reps could benefit Indiana long-term and may be the only silver lining from Mitchell’s injury.
“I really look at that as being a nice opportunity for some younger talent to step up,” Knox said. “The thing that I like the most about it is that they are willing and ready.”
Henderson, in particular, stood out in the Fever’s first game without Mitchell. She played for over 31 minutes — a season-high — and drove to the basket more often than in past games. She played in Danielle Robinson’s point guard spot more so than Mitchell’s off-ball role, but Henderson was still tasked with more scoring duties than normal and took advantage. The rookie guard finished with 16 points and four assists on Sunday.
Mitchell’s injury puts a wet blanket on the Indiana Fever’s last four games — she was often the team’s primary source of offense and Fever battle some strong opponents to close out the season. But with 2023 in mind and opportunities appearing for young players, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Knox and the roster will regroup and see what they can learn without Mitchell during the final two weeks of the season.