July 15, 2023 

How Indiana’s Kelsey Mitchell climbed the mountain to her first All-Star Game

'It's been surreal because I know how much I've been through'

Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell is finally, deservedly, a WNBA All-Star. After years of being close to earning the honor, the 27-year-old broke through in 2023.

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Last year, until a late-season whimper hurt her scoring average, she was on pace to be the second player ever to average 19 points and four assists per game without being named an All-Star. Her best career season prior to that was in 2020, when there were no All-Stars. It wasn’t meant to be.

Many people thought that Mitchell would get an All-Star nod in 2022. The Fever were in Phoenix when the WNBA announced that, surprisingly, she didn’t. “I was pretty emotional,” she said that day. She totaled 43 points and nine assists in two games against the Mercury on the nights surrounding the announcement.

Mitchell FaceTimed her parents when she found out she didn’t make the cut. She described her family as blunt but honest people. But at that moment, her mom knew that she needed love. So Mitchell cried and had a therapy session with her mom over the phone.

“I think for me, for so long, people always tell you what you could do better to be named [an All-Star] and how to be a part of the conversation,” Mitchell said in June 2022. “Just when you think you’re making strides, something else brings you down. It’s unfortunate.”

Mitchell had to zoom out and reflect on her journey to stay grounded. She’s been through a lot and thought she was deserving. Then-Fever teammate Emily Engstler, sitting next to Mitchell during a media session, also said that Mitchell had earned the honor.

This year, Mitchell came to training camp on a mission. Her teammates noted that she looked faster, but it wasn’t just that. She could also control her speed and slow down more effectively, which made her more difficult to contain.

Her outside shot looked better, and she knocked down 41.3% of her triples through 12 games. In general, she still had her ability to take over games, but having improved teammates made Mitchell’s life easier.

Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell shoots a mid-range jump shot with her left hand. No defender is close enough to contest it.
Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell (0) shoots against the Washington Mystics at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on July 7, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

That increase in efficiency, and better control of her tempo, have Mitchell playing near her best this season despite the stats not reflecting it. Indiana’s net rating is 3.21 points per 100 possessions better with Mitchell on the court than off, per PBP Stats. Her impact continues to expand.

Now, she is a 2023 WNBA All-Star. She found out a few days before it became official, and she needed time to reflect on the accomplishment.

“It’s a surreal feeling. I got the call and I was kind of like, ‘Huh?'” she said. “It’s been surreal because I know how much I’ve been through, I know how hard life has been for me,” she added before pausing to gather her emotions. “It’s been a long time coming.”

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Last year, Mitchell shared her emotions with her family, but this year, after receiving the great news, she didn’t tell anybody at first. Instead, the Fever guard enjoyed the moment alone. She wanted to focus on the achievement and the journey.

“I got the call. I took it in … it was better that way,” she said.

On July 1, when the WNBA announced the All-Stars for this season, the Fever had a typical practice. They had just gotten back from a long road trip (that, fittingly, ended in Phoenix) and would host the Chicago Sky the next day, so it was an important session. Head coach Christie Sides had a lot to go over on the court and in the post-practice huddle.

After getting through her instructions, Sides changed her tone.

“We have an announcement,” Sides declared. “We’re going to give three big claps to Kelsey Mitchell for being named to the All-Star Game!”

The entire Fever team huddled around Mitchell in celebration.

A few moments later, assistant coach Jessie Miller shared a hug with Mitchell. Then a video coordinator congratulated Mitchell, and they too hugged. It was an emotional, positive moment for a player who has been working toward this honor for years.

Sides was amped for her player, too. The now-head coach of the Fever was an assistant for the team when Mitchell was originally drafted, so she has seen the growth from the start. That makes this even more special for the first-year bench leader.

“I’m so happy for Kelsey,” Sides said. “It’s unbelievable … The smile was incredible.”

Mitchell is averaging 16.7 points and 3.0 assists per game this season. Those numbers aren’t her career bests, but that is misleading. Her usage rate is 23.6%, which is a career low. The Fever can play through Mitchell, but they don’t have to, unlike in past seasons.

That is a part of her All-Star story. For years, she was the alpha for a team and learned what it takes to be an on-court leader. She honed her skills and became one of the WNBA’s best players. Now, she is easing back to the role that makes the most sense for her on the new-look Fever, and picking her spots has made her more effective.

Some of her advanced stats this season rank among her career bests. Without needing to use all her energy on offense, Mitchell’s defense has improved. Indiana being a better team than in past seasons helped the guard’s All-Star case, but part of the reason the team is better is that Mitchell has grown.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to keep working,” Mitchell said.

She wants more. She wants to turn Indiana into a contender. That has always been her ultimate goal. But the All-Star honor is the culmination of a long, tough journey for Mitchell, and all the emotions that peaked in 2022 and 2023 will be evident on the court in Saturday’s All-Star Game.

Written by Tony East

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

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