Longer 3-pointers? No problem

By Tom Rietmann | May 13, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Indiana Fever staged its march to the 2012 WNBA championship, 3-point shooting played a vast and important role.

This season, with a change that makes the league's 3-point line significantly longer, don't expect much to be different for the Fever. Indeed, Indiana players interviewed during Monday's media day all embraced the extended arc, which moves to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches from 20-6 1/4.

“I honestly like that they're moving it out,” said Tamika Catchings, who was league MVP in 2011 and the WNBA Finals MVP last year. “It's just another challenge for the game. You will get a better feel for your pure shooters.”

Pure shooters are plentiful on the Fever roster.

Indiana has led the WNBA in 3-point team accuracy the past two years. Last year, the Fever tested the league record for successful 3-pointers per game, finishing at 7.94, shy of Phoenix's 2007 mark of 8.32. Five Fever players hit at least 25 regular-season treys, led by Katie Douglas' team record of 80.

Douglas says the new WNBA arc will pose no problem for her. The extended line is the same that's been used in international play for years.

“It really doesn't affect me at all (because of playing overseas during so many WNBA off-seasons),” said Douglas, whose 80 3-pointers tied Becky Hammon for the WNBA lead. “I do think for other shooters who aren't as comfortable, it might affect their percentages a little more. Time is going to tell.”

In 2011, Fever guard Jeanette Pohlen led the WNBA in 3-point percentage (46.8) as a rookie. This past winter, Pohlen's practice time was cut back dramatically as she recovered from knee surgery, but the new line still shouldn't be difficult for her because she has always conducted drills from longer distances.

Pohlen enjoys working within a Fever offense that employs an inside-out attack, probing for close-in shots but never fearing to use 3-pointers as an alternative. With players such as Phoenix's 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner entering the league, working inside too often could become counter-productive. Having a bevy of strong outside shooters like the Fever will be an immense advantage.

“Honestly, I think (the extended 3-point line) will be good for the game,” said Pohlen, who hopes to be cleared for full-scale work with the team by midseason.

Indiana guards Erin Phillips and Briann January are regular contributors from the arc, too. January likes the new distance and also views the league's new defensive 3-second rule as a plus. Defenders will have to move in and out of the lane and won't be allowed to clutter inside play.

“I think it's going to affect the game positively, just to spread the court and open things up,” January said. “With the addition of the defensive 3-second rule, it's going to allow a lot more action to go on. I think that's great.”

Phillips echoed January's statement. Nobody impacted the 2012 WNBA playoffs more from the 3-point arc than Phillips, who hit 15-of-29 (51.9 percent) during Indiana's run. She hopes for more of the same from herself and the team.

“We do a lot of things down the middle of the floor,” Phillips said about the Indiana offense. “We have such good 3-point shooters, so we can spot up in the corners. People have to guard us and respect the 3-point shot. It's going to open up a lot in the middle of the lane.”

Phillips' 2012 postseason performance from 3-point distance proved timely. The Fever needed her marksmanship after Douglas and Pohlen suffered playoff injuries.

“When I'm at my best is when I let things happen naturally within the flow,” Phillips said. “When I was open, I just shot it. I just let it fly. I got in a real nice rhythm. There wasn't really a thought process.

“I honestly wasn't nervous (in the playoffs). I was playing with this group and was really comfortable.”

NICE START FOR CLARENDON

Fever Coach Lin Dunn liked what she saw from rookie Layshia Clarendon in last weekend's preseason opener at San Antonio, an 80-75 victory for Indiana.

“I thought she showed a whole lot of poise and composure for a rookie,” said Dunn, who watched Clarendon contribute 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. “The more we've seen of her, the more we realize that she was probably a steal with the ninth [overall pick in the draft].”

Clarendon, a 5-9 guard from California, has displayed a lot of maturity at training camp. She arrives for work early, solicits advice from the veterans and asks all the right questions. And she comes with a plan.

“I don't set a lot of big-picture goals, like 'rookie of the year' goals,” she said. “I set everyday goals, things like getting better in practice today, being vocal, giving it your all. If you take care of the little things, it's going to come.”

DOUGLAS ON COMEBACK TRAIL

Katie Douglas missed the WNBA Finals last year after suffering a severely sprained ankle that ultimately required off-season surgery. Indiana's veteran standout recovered sufficiently to spend a few weeks playing in Russia before reporting to Fever training camp, but Dunn continues to be careful with Douglas' on-court time.

“To be honest, she's still tentative, she's still wary, as we expect her to be,” said Dunn, who played Douglas for 17 ½ minutes in the preseason victory at San Antonio. “It's going to take her some time to feel real comfortable and safe on (the ankle).”

CATCHINGS FEELING 'ENERGIZED'

Tamika Catchings isn't concerned about complacency impeding Indiana's push for a 2013 championship. Watch for this year's Fever team to play all-out as usual while not feeling the pressure of past seasons when near-misses derailed championship goals.

“I feel great. I feel more energized,” Catchings said about her physical status, adding that the team looks to a season that's “going to be fun. Everybody has a little extra pep in their step.”

Last season, the Fever marched to the title while often relying on reserves to fill in for key injured players. That learning experience should benefit Indiana's younger players in 2013.

“That's the beauty of this team,” Catchings said. “Everybody knows what they have to do to help this team win.”