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2019 Season Preview: Indiana Fever

The 2019 WNBA season tips off on May 24. will be previewing every team in the league. See below for a breakdown of the Indiana Fever.

2018 Recap

Record: 6-28; 12th in league standings; did not qualify for Playoffs for second straight season

History: Finished with a franchise-low six wins, one of just three single-digit win seasons in franchise history

Leaders: Points – Candice Dupree (14.2), Rebounds – Natalie Achonwa (6.9), Assists – Erica Wheeler (4.1), Steals – Victoria Vivians (0.941), Blocks – Achonwa (0.7)

Team Stats: 95.3 Offensive Rating (12th), 106.7 Defensive Rating (11th), minus-11.4 Net Rating (12th), 47.2 Rebound Percentage (T-11th), 48.9 True Shooting Percentage (12th)

Offseason Moves

Free Agency: Re-signed Natalie Achonwa, Shenise Johnson and Erica Wheeler

Draft: Added Teaira McCowan (No. 3), Paris Kea (No. 25) and Caliya Robinson (No. 28) in the 2019 WNBA Draft

Injury: Lost Victoria Vivians for the season due to injury (ACL)

Players To Watch

Teaira McCowan – rookie impact

While the lottery odds did not play in their favor, the Fever filled a major need with the selection of 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan from Mississippi State with the third overall pick in this year’s draft. The Fever finished tied for last in rebound percentage (47.2%), last in block percentage (5.6%) and last in effective field goal percentage allowed (52.2%). With McCowan, they add an elite rebounder (13.5 per game) and rim protector (2.4 blocks per game) to anchor their defense. While the transition to the WNBA may be a challenge, McCowan’s ability to rebound and protect the paint should translate fairly quickly as she works on other facets of her game.

Kelsey Mitchell – sophomore surge

Mitchell, the second overall pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft, was named to the All Rookie Team last season after averaging 12.7 points (3rd among rookies) and 2.7 assists (2nd among rookies) and making 70 3-pointers – the third most by any rookie in WNBA history. After an impressive rookie season, what will Mitchell have in store, now that she has a full year of professional experience under her belt?

Natalie Achonwa – continued rise

Achonwa had a breakthrough season for Indiana in 2018, as the fourth-year pro averaged career highs across the board (10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks in 26.0 minutes per game). She was the only Fever player to start every game last season and her six double-doubles tied for 12th in the WNBA. Can she build off that momentum in 2019 and help lift the Fever along the way?

Shenise Johnson – return from injury

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Shenise Johnson suit up for the Fever, having suffered a torn left ACL on July 7, 2017 that not only cost her the rest of 2017 (cutting short a campaign that saw her averaging a career-high 11.3 points), but the entire 2018 season as well. Unfortunately, Johnson’s return from an ACL tear coincides with the loss of another talented guard to an ACL tear, as Victoria Vivians will miss the entire 2019 season after being injured in March. Johnson’s return will help fill that void as Vivians finished second in minutes (27.1) and was the team leader in 3-point percentage (39.9%), free throw percentage (93.1%) and steals (0.941)

Candice Dupree – steadying force

Dupree is set to enter her 14th WNBA season and is showing no signs of slowing down. In 2018, she led the Fever in scoring and posted averages that nearly match her career averages identically. On a team full of young players, it is great to have a veteran like Dupree that can be called upon to lead the team both on and off the court. She enters the season ranked eighth all time in points (6,057), rebounds (2,775) and third in field goal percentage (50.1%).

Three Questions

Will Last Year’s Late Season Surge Carry Over?

Much of 2018 was a struggle for the Fever, as they finished with a franchise-low six wins on the season. Three of those wins, however, came in the final three weeks of the season. After going 3-23 through the first 26 games of the year, the Fever went 3-5 to close out their schedule.

Was that a signal of a young team learning how to win games? Was it a result of facing non-playoff teams? (Note: their final three wins came against fellow teams that missed the postseason, while their first three wins came against 2018 playoff teams, including the previous two champions) The Fever hope it is the former, which could point to a faster start to the season in 2019.

Can The Fever Switch From Young To Ready?

Indiana rolled out one of the youngest rosters in the WNBA last season, with many key contributors having fewer than four years experience, the exceptions being veteran forward Candice Dupree and guard Cappie Pondexter (who joined the team midway through the year and retired during the offseason).

While the team’s youth played a role in Indiana’s lack of wins last season, the experience that those players gained should, in turn, play a role in their future success. Rookies Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians both averaged more than 24 minutes per game last year. Was it a trial by fire? Sure, but there is no better teacher than experience and playing those minutes helped speed up the college-to-WNBA transition.

Can The Fever Start A New Playoff Streak?

The Fever hold the WNBA record for consecutive playoff appearances with 12 straight trips to the postseason from 2005 to 2016. Since that streak was snapped – which coincided with the retirement of Fever legend and now Vice President of Fever Basketball Operations, Tamika Catchings – Indiana has won just 15 games over the past two seasons and started a new streak of missing the playoffs.

While they have a deep hole to climb out of, contending for a playoff spot and starting a new streak of consecutive playoff trips has to be the goal for this team.