Although the Indiana Fever failed to make the playoffs for the seventh-straight season, 13 wins tied for the most the team has won during their seven-season absence from postseason play. And, seven seasons after the retirement of Tamika Catchings, the Fever finally have a foundational franchise player in Aliyah Boston, someone capable of not only leading Indy back to the playoffs but also of hanging a second banner.
Here’s what went right, what went wrong and what’s next for the Fever:
What went right?
This section could be filled with more praise and platitudes for Aliyah Boston. The No. 1 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft and soon-to-be Rookie of the Year immediately established herself as an efficient offensive force and defensive floor raiser. With her production on both ends of the floor, she added her name to lists that only feature league legends.
First-year WNBA players to average
1+ SPG, and
Lisa Leslie (1997)
Tamika Catchings (2002)
Candace Parker (2008)
Breanna Stewart (2016)
Aliyah Boston (2023)https://t.co/OZtSYAaDE1
— Across the Timeline (@WBBTimeline) September 10, 2023
However, it is more than Boston’s on-court impact that made 2023 a success, and will make future seasons a success. A natural leader with a charismatic personality, Boston possesses the characteristics desired of a franchise player—able to command the respect of teammates and inspire the passion of fans.
Indiana’s reasons for optimism also extend beyond Boston. NaLyssa Smith, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, showed increased sizzle as a scorer. Also selected in the 2022 draft, Lexie Hull proved to be a reliable rotation piece before a season-ending shoulder injury. Grace Berger, the seventh selection in the 2023 draft, steadily worked her way into head coach Christie Sides rotation over the course of the season, providing the kind of sure, steady two-way that suggests she’ll have a long career in the WNBA.
And then there’s Kelsey Mitchell, who remains the W’s most underrated star. With some of the best handles and one purest jumpers in the league, Mitchell, finally, earned her first All-Star selection in 2023 as she put together the most efficient scoring season of her career.
“I think together we did some really great things. Our personal goals got intertwined with what we wanted as a group.”
Kelsey Mitchell talked about the bond between this year’s team and how her teammates helped her become a first-time WNBA All-Star. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/WB7rutW4jE
— Indiana Fever (@IndianaFever) September 15, 2023
Indiana also deserves credit for playing hard until the final buzzer of the season sounded, in spite of elimination from playoff contention. The Fever finished the season by winning five of their final eight games, playing spoiler as they defeated several teams fighting for playoff positioning.
What went wrong?
Yet, the Fever’s promising pieces didn’t quite fit together for most of 2023, as it took until the season’s final stretch for the team to play their best basketball. Indiana still finished the season 14 games under .500 and out of a playoff race that saw four sub-.500 teams make the postseason, in large part because they lost 12 of 13 games around the season’s midpoint.
Sides, in her first season as head coach, seemed to struggle to find optimal lineup configurations, with Indiana inconsistently coalescing into a whole that was better than the sum of the parts. This especially was the case on the defensive end. In addition to the aforementioned Boston, Hull and Berger, Kristy Wallace, Erica Wheeler, Maya Caldwell and Emma Cannon are committed defenders. Yet, the Fever finished the season with the second-worst defensive rating in the WNBA. In particular, they failed to prevent opponents from taking and making 3-pointers, giving up the second-most 3-point attempts per game as they allowed opponents to shoot a league-best 37.5 percent from deep. They also fouled too much, sending opponents to the line for more than 20 free throws per game.
So, even though the Indiana offense significantly improved, elevating from an offensive rating of 95.2 in 2022 to 101.8 in 2023, it was not enough to overcome the points they surrendered from behind the arc and at the line.
Based on comments made during Indiana’s exit interviews, the franchise seems set on accelerating the team’s path back to the playoffs, importing experienced talent to augment the team’s young core.
Quick takeaways from the Fever exit interviews:
-Aliyah Boston, Christie Sides and Lin Dunn all mentioned that making the playoffs is the goal next season. That’s the target.
-The Fever want to add a veteran free agent with playoff and if possible championship experience. pic.twitter.com/Vl1AYmwEqf
— Taka Kauri (@takamaikauri) September 12, 2023
The Fever will have an estimated $470, 259 in cap space, enough to lure a pair of high-caliber free agents to Indiana. Among members of the 2023 team, Emma Cannon and Amanda Zahui B are unrestricted free agents, while Maya Caldwell is a reserved free agent.
Indiana also will have the best odds to land the No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. Considering Dunn mentioned shooting as a need for the franchise during exit interviews, it seems like a certain shooting dynamo from Iowa would be first off the board if the Fever are blessed with a second-straight No. 1 pick. Imaging a perimeter duo of Caitlin Clark and Kelsey Mitchell and a post tandem of Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith flanked by a cast of solid role players…yeah, Fever basketball might officially be back in 2024.
.@IndianaFever GM Lin Dunn says women’s basketball has been like the best kept secret in sports. Now that the Big Ten and SEC have great TV deals, it’s bringing more fans to WBB.
Dunn knows that if she can draft Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, it will be a huge boost – esp. in the stands pic.twitter.com/XMgFojW993
— Angela Moryan (@SidelineStormer) September 12, 2023