2018 record: 6-28, last place in Eastern Conference
97.8 Offensive Rating (12th out of 12)
109.7 Defensive Rating (11th out of 12)
77.0 Pace (9th out of 12)
G Tiffany Mitchell
G Kelsey Mitchell
F/G Betnijah Laney
F Candice Dupree
F Natalie Achonwa
F Cappie Pondexter*
G Erica Wheeler
G Shenise Johnson
F Erica McCall
C Kayla Alexander
F Asia Taylor
F Stephanie Mavunga
* indicates unsigned
The Fever finished up with their worst record in franchise history. More depressingly, their second worst season came in 2017 when they went 9-25. They’re retaining Pokey Chatman as they continue their rebuild after Tamicka Catchings’ retirement.
I write this on the day of the WNBA Draft, so their fortunes could change in about 12 hours, but so far their offseason has been bleak. Victoria Vivians, who started 26 games last year and was their top three point option, tore her ACL and will miss the entire 2019 season. Despite having the worst record in the WNBA, the Fever fell to the third pick in the 2019 draft. Despite receiving a lower spot than expected in the draft, Indiana does benefit from two aspects of this draft: one, it’s deep, so the odds are that they will have a few different options for contributors available to them at number three. Two, it doesn’t have a clear number one pick like A’ja Wilson that would be able to help improve their record right away.
Indiana needs improvement on both sides of the ball, but their interior defense is particularly of concern. Their opponents made 60.6% of their shots around the basket, which was the second worst mark in the WNBA. I think shoring up this aspect of their defense will be a key part of their draft strategy. If they’re fortunate, Teaira McCowan will fall to them at the number three spot. If not, there will be other options like Kalani Brown.
Natalie Achonwa was arguably their MVP last season. She was their leading rebounder and third in scoring on a per game basis. She was an efficient interior scorer while handling a moderate size of the offense. She was also second on the team in total rebounding percentage, barely behind Stephanie Mavunga. Achonwa had her best season by BPM (box plus minus) in 2019. Indiana will hope she can improve on that.
Candice Dupree was the team’s leading scorer last year and will continue to provide a steady influence on the squad. She was a strong defensive rebounder and a solid scorer with a 22.1% usage rate. Dupree’s numbers have fallen off slightly from her peak play in 2014 & 2015, but she’s still an above average forward.
A lot of the Fever’s hopes for improvement hang on the young combo of the Mitchells. They both need to improve their scoring efficiency; Tiffany shot a 39.9% eFG% (effective field goal percentage) on a 19.8 usage percentage, while Kelsey had a 43.2% eFG% on a very high 28.4 usage percentage. The league average for eFG% was 45.0%. Of the 97 players in the WNBA last year who launched 97 field goal tries, Kelsey ranked 79th and Tiffany ranked 90th. Kelsey did show some signs of being a capable point guard with a respectable 20.6% assist percentage. Tiffany’s yet to put up a PER above 15 – used as a marker for an average player – in a season so far in her WNBA career, and her BPM has never ben above -3. Both need to step up their games to hang with the league’s elite guards.
Cappie Pondexter (currently unsigned) is a former seven-time All-Star but her production has fallen off significantly over the last two seasons. Her PER reached a career low in 2017 at 9.09 and finished at 10.11 in 2018. She had finished above 20 in five of her first seven seasons. She’ll need to defeat Father Time in her age 36 season to get back to a level where she’s a clear positive player on the court.
The Fever’s only free agency addition to date is Betnijah Laney. A 6’0” wing, Laney signed from Connecticut where she ranked ninth in minutes played. Her PER of 12.3 and BPM of -0.21 were middle of the road, but far better than where she was in her first two seasons in the league while with the Chicago Sky. She also had a decent 51.4% true shooting percentage on a low 14.5% usage percentage. She’ll provide solid depth off the bench.
Erica Wheeler is a solid backup point guard, though her shooting last year hit worryingly low levels with a 38.8% eFG%. Shenise Johnson was having a great 2017 season until she tore her ACL; hopefully she’s recovered fully and will be able to re-establish herself as a strong guard option for the team. Erica McCall improved from “atrocious” to “below average” in BPM last season; if she could match her great offensive rebounding from last year with her strong defensive rebounding from 2017, she’d at least be a great option on the boards for the Fever.
Kayla Alexander fell off from her performances in 2016 & 2017 in San Antonio, in part because her turnover numbers went up while her assists and offensive rebounds declined. Asia Taylor’s numbers in 2014 & 2017 indicated a solid, end of bench player, but she fell off terribly last year. Her eFG% fell to 32.8%, her offensive rebounding rate hit an all-time low, and her turnover rate was worse than her rookie numbers. Stephanie Mavunga was a pleasant surprise as the 14th pick last year. A strong rebounder, she also scored efficiently, even if it was often as a last resort. She could have a long career as a solid role player, but the fact that there’s an actual argument that she’s the best big on this roster pre-draft is not a great sign for the team’s strength.
Excluding Achonwa, Dupree and maybe Victoria Vivians, this roster has no clear above average players, and it certainly lacks a player that will be a guaranteed star in 2019. The rebuild will continue in 2019, and there is a distinct possibility that they’ll finish with the worst record again this year.
Edit: Initially forgot that Cappie Pondexter is a free agent. I’ll leave her listed in case she gets picked up again.