WNBA Season Preview: Indiana Fever


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Last season was not about winning for the Indiana Fever. It was about developing their group of young players and 2022 draft picks. Ranked at the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive ratings, their record reflected that. Now, that very same rebuild is still far from done and the same mission will dictate the Fever’s 2023 season once again.

While this season might not bring much winning, it will bring some interesting new faces to Indiana, like this year’s number one draft pick Aliyah Boston and seventh overall pick Grace Berger. With Boston joining Kelsey Mitchell and last year’s lottery pick NaLyssa Smith, the Fever seem to have their building blocks for the future almost together now, but they are also bringing back pretty much everyone else from last year’s roster.

Most probably new head coach Christie Sides’ starting lineup will be Erica Wheeler, Kelsey Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, NaLyssa Smith and Aliyah Boston. The bench would then feature Grace Berger, Emma Cannon, Queen Egbo, Emily Engstler, Maya Caldwell and two players out of Kristy Wallace, Destanni Henderson, Lexie Hull and Taylor Mikesell. If they wanted to keep all three young prospects in Henderson, Hull, and Mikesell around, which certainly has its potential upsides, one of them could also take Caldwell’s place on the bench. No matter how the roster and rotations eventually pan out, this team still has a lot of development to go through on both ends of the floor as well as figure out certain fits and compatibility issues.

The only new arrivals from a quiet offseason are free agent signings Maya Caldwell and Erica Wheeler, and Kristy Wallace, who came over from the Atlanta Dream in exchange for Danielle Robinson. Wheeler, who is already 31-years old, might seem like an odd choice for a rebuilding team focused on its young talent, but the Fever had their reasons for signing the veteran to a two-year max deal. First of all, they could use some veteran guidance and an experienced voice in the locker room. Secondly, the Fever have not yet found their point guard of the future, and Wheeler can help them bridge the gap. That point guard might very well come out of the 2024 lottery, in which the Fever will undoubtedly have another pick, but for now, the Fever will first have to focus on determining their final roster and making it through the season. They assembled a group of interesting and promising players, but unfortunately, they won’t be able to keep all of them.

Wheeler and Mitchell, for example, have had some hiccups when they shared a backcourt in the past. Boston’s and Egbo’s skillsets are too similar to play them together, meaning that Emily Engstler would be the best option if the Fever wanted to have a third big next to their starting frontcourt. In that starting frontcourt there is a positional overlap between Boston and Smith, so Smith will be asked to extend her offensive game as the power forward to accommodate the team’s new star center. Furthermore, the team lacks perimeter and point of attack defense as well as some shooting outside of Mitchell, while a number of their players is also still getting used to the WNBA level. All these issues will have to be addressed by a first-year head coach. Sides has quite the coaching resume and is more than fit to run a team, but it might take some time for the young team to get used to a new coach, a new system, and the new culture Sides will establish in Indiana.

Thus, despite having an immensely promising young roster and a talented coach, the Fever might not play the prettiest basketball at times. This is not a team for casual basketball fans who just want to see some awesome plays and buckets, but that is okay. Losing and struggling through games is a part of rebuilding and while this young group develops, there will also be plenty of bright spots.

For one, even though there are certain issues to work out, Smith and Boston could form a formidable frontcourt somewhere down the line. Mitchell could make an All-Star game sometime in the near future. Engstler is on her way to become a great defensive playmaker. With Egbo as their backup center behind Boston, the Fever have rim protection and rebounding secured for pretty much the entire game. In other words: the Fever have a promising young core that is setting the foundation to be a competitive team in the future and has a clear direction.

Nevertheless, a postseason appearance or even some playoff success will have to wait a little longer for this group. The Fever will once again, and by design, finish at the bottom of the league, although they likely will exceed their five wins from last season and be more exciting to watch.