Embracing the Rebuild is Working for Atlanta and Indiana. But What Comes Next?

The Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever have made real progress in their respective rebuilds. After two years, in the case of Atlanta, and more than two in the case of Indiana, of aimless attempts to be the 7th or 8th seed without much success, both teams are set up much better to one day make a run in the playoffs.

For both Atlanta and Indiana, the key first step was the top of the 2022 draft. The Dream used their own third pick and some of the return they got for trading Chennedy Carter to trade up to select Rhyne Howard. Eighteen games in, all signs point to Rhyne Howard being good enough to at least be the second best player on a team that competes deep into the playoffs. She joins Aari McDonald in interesting young talent. McDonald will hopefully join Howard as a starter on said team, but she seems likely to at least be a good backup, as she has raised her true shooting from a below average 48% to an acceptable 56% as a sophomore.

The Fever, in turn, took NaLyssa Smith with the second pick. While Smith has not been as consistent as Howard, she has certainly looked the part of a player who could one day be a key piece on a good playoff team. The Fever also added more young talent than Atlanta alongside Smith in Emily Engstler, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson. If even one of those players can be a starter on a good playoff team, that is good for the Fever.

The Dream were more beset by bad luck than poor roster decision in 2021, but still had to respond to where they ended up. They were smart enough to recognize that once the relationship with Chennedy Carter was beyond salvage, they needed to recoup what they could. They received a competent point guard in Erica Wheeler and a pick that they already flipped for a potential star. New ownership made some fine choices with Dan Padover brought in from the Aces to run the front office and Tanisha Wright as coach.

The Fever, on the other hand, were undone by poor roster decisions more than bad luck. They were not young, nor good, an unfortunate combination. They picked players who were not good enough, in drafts without sure things. They overpaid, relative to the cap, for aging veterans who were not going to take the Fever anywhere. I am happy for Danielle Robinson getting paid, but signing a 32 year old point guard who doesn’t shoot 3s was a curious decision at the time and has not made more sense in hindsight. With Tamika Catchings moving on and Lin Dunn as interim manager, the approach has become much more sensible.

Indiana is already out of the playoffs, so they should be focusing on seeing what they have with the younger players on the roster. Atlanta has a more interesting conundrum in that they would be in the playoffs as the 8th seed if the season were to end today. While playoff experience is worth something, given the way the WNBA draft works with two year cumulative records, the Dream would be sacrificing the 2nd best odds at a top 2 pick for the privilege of being waxed by the Las Vegas Aces.

Losing a couple of playoff games will not help the Dream as much as Aliyah Boston, Haley Jones, or Diamond Miller would. Rhyne Howard still has work to do to show that she can be engine of a good offense. She may be better suited to using her shooting to play off someone more equipped to break down defenses. Add one more top draft pick if you are Atlanta, and then see who might be interested in signing with two top draft picks, one in Howard already an established All-Star caliber player.

Indiana will have a high draft pick in 2023. They should once again use their cap space to take on unwanted contracts from other teams, a la the Bria Hartley trade, rather than trying to sign a free agent like Brionna Jones. Jones is very good, and should earn a larger contract from someone not the Sun next year, but not so good to lead the Fever higher than a 7th seed. Indiana likely should be aiming for another decent pick even in the 2024 draft, as Indiana is less likely than Atlanta to get decent veterans to sign there unless there is already a top team in place. Caitlin Clark or Paige Bueckers would pair very nicely with NaLyssa Smith and co. Then Indiana can really be ready to contend.

2022 WNBA Season Preview Part 2: Indiana, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Minnesota.

Part 2 of 3 of my WNBA previews. Click here for part 1. Here is Indiana, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minnesota. As before, this will cover a key question for each team and the top 7 most interesting rotation players.

Indiana Fever

Key Question:

What does this team look like in 2025? More than Atlanta, Indiana has a realistic sense, finally, of where their roster is at. Indiana has to nail and be lucky with their draft picks since free agents are not signing in Indiana. And while the Fever know more than I do, there was some very confusing picks made by them in the most recent draft. If one of Lexie Hull or Queen Egbo turn into borderline starter quality players, then the picks worked. The main concern I have with both drafting both is the lack of upside. It is possible to see how either could be decent W players, but the odds of either becoming even above average starters seems low. NaLyssa Smith was a good pick, but whether she is a star or merely a good W player will be fun to watch as well.

The decision to trade Teaira McCowan showed the Fever are not going to try for the 8th seed at all costs. A step back this season for a chance at Aliyah Boston and better days in the future is smart. This year will be one of evaluating the draft picks they have as well as hiring a new general manager, who will then have to decide whether Marianne Stanley is the right coach to move forward with. Stanley is a Hall of Famer, but unlikely she is coaching this team for much longer.

Starters:

Danielle Robinson: The contract was too much and for too long, but Robinson is a fine player and the fact that this team in theory has more shooting than last year’s should be to her benefit. Too soon probably to cut her salary and not the worst idea to have a solid veteran point guard to help the rookies become acclimated to the league. If she ever could shoot it from 3 it would be nice, but probably not at this point going to happen.

Kelsey Mitchell: One of the better scorers in the W, now that she is on a max contract, should be looking to up her playmaking and defense. She’s unlikely going to be as good as Jewell Loyd in those areas, but the gap does not have to be as big as it is now. Her 3 point rate has also gone down every year of her career, which for such a good shooter is not ideal.

Lexie Hull: Hull may not start right away, but she in theory provides the shooting and defense this team has been lacking from the 3 position the last few years. She will not be as good as a rookie as Tiffany Mitchell, but teams might actually guard Hull at the 3 point line, which would benefit the rest of the starting lineup. Does Hull have the foot speed to defend quicker 3s and 2s? Something to watch.

NaLyssa Smith: Should walk into the W as one of the best athletes in the league. How will that translate? Will they show up in block and steals and how is her finishing going to be at the W level? Stretching her game out will be important long term, but not something to worry about as a rookie.

Queen Egbo: This team has no good centers with W experience. I don’t know if this team could be worse defensively than the last few, but if they end up with 2 rookies in the front court, it could get ugly. Long term my questions about Egbo are on the offensive end far more than the defensive, but she may take her lumps as a rookie on both ends. 

Reserves

Tiffany Mitchell: As unusual as it is, once again Mitchell shot nearly 90% from 3 and under 30% from 3. Usually those go hand in hand, but not with her. She is best with the ball in her hands given her lack of shooting, but is not a great finisher in the paint even given her athleticism, nor much of a playmaker with an even assist to turnover ratio. Big year as an unrestricted free agent to see what her next contract will be.

Emily Engstler: Does her high level feel allow her to defend multiple positions? How does her elite help defense translate? The offensive concerns are there, but she will have the time to figure those out if she can defend at the W level. Showing she can play some 3 and not only the 4 would be helpful as well.

Las Vegas

Key Question

What is A’ja Wilson’s best position in the playoff, at the highest levels? And if the answer is at center, does this team have enough quality perimeter play to be able to play her there? And if it is at power forward, who is that center that can help the team defend and not get in the way of Wilson on offense? 

My suspicion is the answer is center. If you have a Liz Cambage level center, you make do, but this iteration of the Aces does not. Here is where the selection of Mya Hollingshed made sense and her subsequent waiving so surprising. This team needs a few of the 3/4 types who can shoot 3s. They don’t need offensive creation from those spots, which makes it slightly easier to find, but that archetype is still hard to find. If Hollingshed simply was not good enough ok, but she should have been kept if there was any chance of her growing into a contributing player.

In a playoff series, Dearica Hamby should be starting and if she is ready Kierstan Bell behind her. The centers on the roster can take the minutes when A’ja has to rest, as few as possible. Given Kiah Stokes and Theresa Plaisance are the only centers on the roster after cuts, signs are looking good.

Starters:

Kelsey Plum: Speaking of players who should be starting. Kelsey should also be encouraged to fire away from 3 off the dribble whenever she feels comfortable. Outside of Diana Taurasi, no one in the W can bend defenses the way Plum can beyond the arc. Her improvement finishing in the paint has made her ability to shoot from 3 even more deadly, since she can better drive a hard close out.

Riquna Williams: Quietly had the best season of her career in 2021. Even in the Aces system under Laimbeer, she got up nearly 5 3PA attempts per game. That can and should go up under Hammon, to the 6 she shot in LA, or even 7. Even if her 3 point percentage dips a bit with harder attempts, teams will guard her more closely if she firing away out there.

Chelsea Gray: Gray at this point is best used as a wing who can pass like a point guard. She can guard other teams wings using her strength, and not forced to guard speedy point guards. On offense, something the Aces could try are small-small pick and rolls with Gray and Plum. If the opposing point guard switches onto Gray, let her get to work in the post. If they don’t switch, let Plum attack the advantage.

Dearica Hamby: Hamby can often take the more difficult front court matchup, even if she is giving up quite a bit of size, and she offers just enough stretch to help out Wilson. More willingness to shoot would be nice, but not necessary. Assuming health, if she still comes off the bench she should still be getting closer to 32 minutes per game, not 24 she got in 2021.

A’ja Wilson: My pick for MVP this year, because she should be continuing to improve and her raw numbers will be back up as she will be the focal point of this team. W MVP voters tend to prefer players on a top 2 team, but might as well start pushing for a player who drags a somewhat lesser roster to 3 or 4, where It hink the Aces will finish. 3 point shooting is the obvious thing Wilson could add, but passing is more important and should continue to improve. Last year was Wilson’s best passing season and this one  could be even better. 

Key Reserves:

Jackie Young: A 36 game player, not an 8 game player so far in her career. Jackie Young and the Aces need to try to figure out what to do with her when playoff defenses sag off of her and she stops having such a dramatic advantage in size and strength. Either play her at point in bench units with shooting around her or she needs to shoot 3s herself. Otherwise we may be on year 4 of her minutes being cut in the playoffs. Would also help see what her next contract will be, as she enters restricted free agency. 

Theresa Plaisance: I subscribe to the idea that gravity is what the defense gives to an offensive player. This is a product of the actual effectiveness of a player and their willingness to shoot. More attempts at  mediocre percentage will lead to more spacing than a 40% shooter who only shoots once in a blue moon. Plaisance may not be the most effective 3 point shooting big at 30%, but her willingness to fire is worth something, at nearly 8 attempts per 40 minutes. If Wilson is going to play the 4, she may an answer at the 5, though defensively that would not be ideal.

Los Angeles

Key Question:

Just how good are Liz Cambage and Chennedy Carter? Both players for different reasons are hard to place in proper tiers. Carter due to lack of playing time for ~reasons and Cambage because of playing on deep Aces teams and a possibly underperforming Wings team. I have questions about how a team with Skyler Diggins-Smith and Cambage barely made the playoffs in 2018. If Cambage is closer to top 5 than I think, this Sparks team may be able to make it far in the playoffs. If Carter would have challenged for the All-Star team, maybe this team even makes noise in the semifinals and challenged for the finals if both players play up to their considerable potential.

If Cambage is closer to 15, Tina Charles like, and Carter is more solid starter, this Sparks team could be closer to another lottery trip. Assuming health of the veterans, something that did not occur in 2021, I think this team will be closer to 4th than 9th, but the downside risk is real, given the Sparks gave up their 2023 pick to Atlanta in the Carter trade. There is a reason my first W game of the year will be Sparks at Fever. This is my most interesting team of 2022. 

Starters:

Chennedy Carter: Devastating first step and the ability to finish around and through contact. Inconsistent shooter and defender, but has the tools to be good at both. Hopefully the Sparks put the ball in her hand let her get to work, since this is a team that could not score in 2022. This is a team that does not need to get cute on offense. Post ups for Cambage and high pick and rolls for Carter until other teams show they can stop it.

Kristi Toliver: Hopefully with a better roster and better health, Toliver can have a bounce back year. A back court of Carter and Toliver may not offer much defense, but Toliver is such a good fit on offense next to Carter I want to see it. Toliver can provide second side ball handling once Carter has kicked out a pass and Toliver could feast on open 3s from both Cambage and Carter.

Brittney Sykes: Teams won’t guard Sykes outside of the paint, but someone needs to play perimeter defense. While DPOY level defense is unlikely, Sykes is a good defender. Hopefully she can effectively cut when off ball and use that athleticism to finish, something that she has not been as good as one might hope.

Nneka Ogwumike: I would like to see Fisher stagger Cambage and Nneka so that both can play the vast majority of available minutes at the 5. The Sparks should try to limit as much as possible how much they play with neither Nneka nor Cambage on the floor. Nneka is such a crafty cutter and just enough of a shooter to make the pairing work, but she is clearly also this team’s second best center.

Liz Cambage: Can she be put in position to play 30+ minutes in the playoffs? And what kind of roster needs to be constructed to help her defend well enough to win a championship? Two questions to watch for this year. Keeping her minutes down in the regular season is good, but for a Cambage lead team to win in the playoffs, she needs to play more. The offense in time with Cambage can be elite, but the question is how does LA build a good enough defense moving forward. Cambage is a fine defender, but at the highest levels can be forced to guard in space in ways that is just hard for any 6’8” center.

Key Reserves:

Jasmine Walker: Is Walker, drafted in 2o21 but hurt last season, ready to be the backup stretch 4 this team could use with Nia Coffey gone? She would be able to play 4 out around either star front court player, allowing Carter to also play in even more space. Walker seemed in college to be a decent, not great athlete, and will have to have good technique to hold her own on defense. 

Katie Lou Samuelson: There is a world where Samuelson has improved her defense and is able to shoot the lights out, where she ends up the starting 3 over Sykes. I don’t know that she has the strength to play the 4, but I would like to see her and Sykes together. A lineup of Carter-Toliver-Samuelson-Walker-Cambage would be fun. Might score 110 in 40 minutes and give up 100. 

Minnesota Lynx

Key Questions:

Other than whether Napheesa Collier will play this season and how much, the other question is did Cheryl Reeve fail to anticipate the new salary cap system and overpay, relative to the cap, Natalia Achonwa and Aerial Powers? Achonwa was the more notable miss in free agency, but Powers has the bigger contract to live up to. The Achonwa contract likely cost them both Crystal Dangerfield and their 2021 first round pick Rennia Davis. Reeve is a great coach, but as a GM the last few years has not done as well.

Powers was the more defensible contract, but still may be overpaid relative to the cap. A back court of Powers and Kayla McBride did not have enough passing or ball handling, hence the scramble for Laysha Clarendon last year and the last minute signing of Odyssey Sims this year. But it is still a question if Powers have the size and strength to play the 3. She may, but will be interesting to watch. Reeve may have paid top dollar to two players who play the same position in McBride and Powers, who are both signed through next season also. 

Starters:

Odyssey Sims: Sims, the surprise signing on 5/3 by the Lynx to presumably start at point guard, can be a decent player, though 2021 with the Dream was rough. She only sort of does the things necessary to be a point guard. She generates low efficiency shots for herself and can make the basic passes. One outlier season in 2019 with the Lynx she had an above average passing season. But coming off a year with a sub 43% TS is tough. By comparison, Jasmine Thomas has had a TS ever year since 2016 right around 50%. And Sims is not nearly the defender Thomas is.

Kayla McBride: A wonderful catch and shoot player, McBride is also a fine defender, particularly using her strength against bigger players. A tick below star level because she isn’t generally going to create shots for herself or others, she is still very effective. 

Aerial Powers: A somewhat tough season in 2021, but could bounce back. Her 3 point shooting was below the 33% where it really needs to be to be a positive and her turnover rate spiked. Starting year 2 with a new point guard signed 3 days before the season and a converted 2 guard as backup and both true point guards waived from the roster is not ideal, but here is hoping.

Natalie Achonwa: Achonwa is not who I would start, I would prefer to see if Angel was ok to try out playing the 4 in a smaller lineup with Achonwa backing her up to limit Angel’s minutes. But I bet Cheryl Reeve will go with the big she signed to a large contract. Achonwa does not provide any stretch as  4, nor is she particularly adept at chasing the faster 4s in the league. But then again, she also gets overwhelmed by the bigger centers. She is a W level player, but will be curious how Reeve uses her this year with better options in Napheesa and Damiris Dantas out to start the season.

Sylvia Fowles: Enjoy her final year. The best defensive center in W history, someone who thrived both in the more interior oriented game during her early days but has been able to stay just as effective in the pace and space era by impeccable defensive positioning and understanding. Watching her stymie guards who are 15 years younger and more athletic is a joy. 

Key Reserves:

Bridget Carleton: Though some of the other cuts by the Lynx were ones I do not agree with, Carleton being on the team is good. If not Angel, Carleton could also start at the 4 instead of Achonwa. Thanks to Stephen Trinkwald of the Double Down WNBA podcast for pointing out that would be worth trying.

Rachel Banham: I would not have kept Banham. While a good shooter, I don’t think she offers sufficient playmaking to be a point guard, even a backup one, nor does she offer enough on defense. I look forward to being wrong though and if she has a career year, I will enjoy every moment of it if she performs well, even if i I would have kept Crystal Dangerfield.

2021 Season Preview: Dallas, Indiana, and Las Vegas

Here are three more team previews in preparation for the upcoming season. The team that for the past few years has been the most confusingly run, the Dallas Wings, the current team that is the most confusingly run, the Indiana Fever, and my tentative pick to win the title this year, the Las Vegas Aces.

Dallas Wings

Arike Ogunbowale: An all-WNBA player a year ago, now comes seeing just how high her ceiling is. I’ll be looking for more consistent defense, improving her 3 point shooting, particularly off ball, and continuing to improve her true shooting %, which accounts for the value of 3s and free throws. Her TS% was 10 points lower than Diana Taurasi, 53% to 63%, in 2020. Ogunbowale can close that gap, but by how much will be the test.

Marina Mabrey: Showing that she can shoot from 3 and pass is a good first step. Now, can she earn free throws after hardly earning any trips to the line? Put pressure on the rim off of the pick and roll? Shot a fine percentage in the paint, but did not get there much. Not a bad defender, but is she the best fit on that end next to Ogunbowale, someone who may never be better than average?

Kayla Thornton: Should benefit from being slotted into a lower usage role. Needs to shoot 3s even if they do not go in. Good multi-position defender whose versatility works well with the various young pieces Dallas has. 

Satou Sabally: Extremely promising rookie year. Hopefully her 3 point shooting from Turkey comes with her to the W, as that was one part of her college game that abandoned her in 2020, shooting only 20% from 3. The sky is the limit for her.

Bella Alarie: Defensively had a strong rookie year. And on a team that could use more defense and does not need offense as much, could earn a starting nod. But her offense will hopefully come, as someone who can likely shoot 3s and make some plays off the dribble. 

Key Reserves

Isabelle Harrison: Over matched as a starting center, but she might end up in that role again if none of the young bigs are quite ready. But she is a good backup center, so long as she focuses on defending and only scoring off of passes from teammates. No more Harrison post ups when either Ogunbowale or Sabally are on the court, please. 

Allisha Gray: Signed a good contract for the Wings this off season. A good sign that she was willing to stay. Not a bad contract for Gray, but thought she could have gotten more if she had tested restricted free agency. On the court she is solid at everything but does not really stand out in any area. If Dallas goes small more, she can definitely play the 3, as she has good size. Last two seasons her 3 point shooting has improved, a key for her to play next to Ogunbowale and Sabally.

Tyasha Harris: Same question as her rookie year. How is her off ball shooting from 3? Can she be the ideal pairing with Ogunbowale, or is she more likely a backup point guard who needs the ball in her hand to be effective. Played well in limited minutes as a rookie. Her good size for her position and thus ability to guard either guard position does pair well with Ogunbowale.

2 Key Questions

  1. This year and next the Wings do not have to worry that much about the cap given the number of rookie contracts they have. But 2022 is coming and decisions will need to be made eventually. Arike is a max player, as is Sabally if she lives up to her potential, but the clock is ticking on the rest of the roster. The hardest part of a rebuild is done, with two players who could be the best players on a semifinal team, but the next step of who to put around them is tricky. Which young players can be kept? Will any free agents choose to come to Dallas who are worth it? Especially important for the Wings to be careful handing out protected contracts to veterans, as the Astou Ndour and Moriah Jefferson contracts have not been successes.
  1. In a high leverage playoff game, Satou Sabally and Awak Kuier’s best positions seem likely to be the 4 and the 5. Both eventually will have the size and length to play there, while providing elite shooting and skill at those positions. The question becomes where does that leave the team’s more traditional bigs in Bella Alarie and Charli Collier. Having one as a nominal starter who plays lots of minutes, but is benched in high impact moments, may make sense, but ought to be reflected in their eventual second contracts.  

Indiana Fever

Danielle Robinson: Surprised me with how good she was for the Aces in 2020, so it’s possible she does it again, but who were the Fever outbidding when they offered her a 3 year guaranteed contract at $155,000? How many other teams needed a starting point guard at all, much less one who does not shoot 3s, relies on athleticism, and is heading into her age 32 season?

Kelsey Mitchell: The best player on the Fever. The one player who could definitely be a good player on a team that makes some noise  in the playoffs. The 3 point shot is the foundation of her game and she should be trying to get to 10 attempts per game, but it was the jump in her 2 point percentage in 2020 that was really promising. After 2 season below 40% she hit 50% in 2020. Continuing that is key to maximizing her offense. Some defense would be nice, but she is at the bottom of the reasons the Fever struggled there.

Tiffany Mitchell: Among the more confounding offensive players in the W. Generally good 3 point shooting and good free throw shooting go hand in hand, but not here. A player who shot 23% from 3 and 95% from the free throw line in 2020, she is a shooting guard who is better with the ball in her hand miscast as a 3 and D wing. But the team traded Kennedy Burke, who is actually the right size and shoots 3s, for a rookie. So T. Mitchell it likely is at this spot.

Lauren Cox: What is her best position long term? The Fever want to play her at the 4 and it is plausible that she will have enough passing and shooting to make it work on offense. However, I still suspect long term she is a center. Will the Fever play her there? Can she chase around quicker 4s?

Jantel Lavender: Lavender is a consummate professional, but easily the most confusing contract of free agency. A 3 year guaranteed contract for $175,000 for a 32 year old player at a position that contributors can be found later in the draft or after training camp cuts, if the ones the team has drafted in back to back drafts are not the answers. 

Key Reserves:

Teaira McCowan: McCowan has so far to go to be a starting center defensively in the W, but some progress is a hope this year. Offensively she is impactful, but the Fever were one of the worst defenses in WNBA history in 2020, and got worse with McCowan. 

Kysre Gondrezick: The most surprising draft pick in 2021, she has as good a chance to earn minutes as any player in this draft. She does play the same position as Kelsey Mitchell, but the Fever should be trying to see if they can play together. 

Kathleen Doyle: Unclear if she is a W player but there will be opportunities to be had to show that she is. With Julie Allemand in Europe with Belgium responsibilities, now is the time for Doyle to show what she can do. Even in limited minutes as a rookie, hard to have as limited an impact as she did, but this year should be a more true test of her abilities. A TS% of 32 is hard to do.

2 Key Questions:

  1. Other than Kelsey Mitchell, who on this team is good enough to start in the WNBA semifinals? The 2020 Aces or Sun could have really used Kelsey Mitchell’s shooting and shot creation, but who else would have been playing in either series? Danielle Robinson started for the Aces, but is not getting younger and has a game built on speed, which tends to age poorly. 

Julie Allemand is turning 25 this year and is at a position that players tend to peak later, so she has a chance. But I’m hard pressed to see anyone else on this team reaching that standard. Championship or bust is an unrealistic standard in sports, but being one of the best 4 teams, in my view, should be the goal. Instead, the Fever seem to be scrambling to be the worst team in the playoffs.

  1. Rhyne Howard time? The lottery has not been kind to the Fever recently, but this is not the year to be giving up on the draft. If once again the Fever do not get the #1 pick, there are other players who would have gone #1 in the 2021 draft. NaLyssa Smith’s position in the W is less clear than Howard, but she would immediately be the best athlete and the only true 3/4 on the roster.  

Las Vegas Aces

Projected Starters:

Kelsey Plum: Coming off of a devastating injury, how Plum plays may be the driving factor in whether the Aces are a good playoff team or a championship team. In 2019 she showed against the Mystics that she could get her own shot even against a locked in, experienced defense, something the Aces sorely lacked in 2020. Might be a year away from full recovery, but here’s hoping she can regain enough to make an impact this year.

Chelsea Gray: For a player who has been considered in the conversation for best point guard in the W, her last 3 playoffs have been underwhelming. Gray is good at using her size and savvy in the regular season, but appears to be overtaxed as the primary shot creator against the best defenders in the playoffs. If the Aces use her as an off ball threat, and she can hit enough open 3s, she should be a good fit. But she may be better as an of ball guard now than point guard.

Angel McCoughtry: How real was her shooting improvements? Career splits of 46/29/80 shooter, she shot 52/47/88 in 2020. Assuming she stays healthy and her minutes limit continues, she will hopefully maintain her impact as a smart, big wing with good athleticism, but the shooting in 2020 might be an outlier. Even if her 3 point shooting percentage falls, the team could benefit from her taking more attempts.

A’ja Wilson: A deserving MVP candidate, can she change her game to play next to Cambage? Her best position is likely center, especially if she continues to not shoot 3s. In the regular season the fit between her and Liz Cambage should not be an issue, but this is a team with championship aspirations. Continuing to improve her passing in the post and when facing up would be helpful.

Liz Cambage: A dominant post player, she still has room to subtly improve basically everywhere. A good passer, but could improve there. A good defender, but someone who playoff offenses can sometimes take advantage of in space.

Key Reserves

Dearica Hamby: A super sub, who is she better next to, Wilson or Cambage? And does Laimbeer ever go small in the playoffs in key moments. And if he does, who plays next to Hamby? Wilson, for more mobility on defense? Or Cambage, as the player more adept at passing out of doubles and keeping a 4 out offense humming?

Riquna Williams: We have seen the limitations of the back court of Chelsea Gray and Williams, but for all the talent of the Sparks front court of Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, they did not have the post up skills off Wilson and Cambage. Williams should be able to feast on open 3s. And even playing for Laimbeer it is hard to see her not getting her shots up.

Jackie Young: A solid regular season player in 2020, she really struggled in the playoffs. In the playoffs, when starters play more and teams are better, she no longer had the same size and athleticism advantage, and her lack of shooting was even more glaring. An issue for the Aces team wide, but Young went from 26 minutes in the regular season to 20 minutes in the playoffs, with a low of 9 in games 4 and 5 against the Sun.

2 Key Questions:

  1. This version of the Aces has to try to win the championship this year. If Kelsey Plum is not back in shape, does this team have any moves to bolster their back court? What could the Aces get for Jackie Young and a couple of picks? With Angel McCoughtry, Liz Cambage, and A’ja Wilson entering free agency, the Aces will not be able to keep all 3, without McCoughtry taking a steep discount. Now or never for this group.
  1. Why did the Aces offense fall off so badly in the playoffs last season? In the regular season in 2020, the Aces were second in the league with an offensive rating of 107.3. That tumbled all the way to 93.4 in the playoffs. Dearica Hamby being hurt certainly played a role, but the Aces should be asking themselves if all the clever sets they run to mask their lack of shooting in the regular season, as well as relying on transition offense, are simply less valuable in the playoffs. When teams could scout and lock in, they did not have any counters to teams loading up on their best player.

    While the returning players will help, as the team did not face this same drop off in 2019, notably Plum who won the starting spot in the 2019 playoffs, this team is still not exactly overflowing with shooting relative to their competition. Depth has been a strength, but that matters less in the playoffs, as starters play more minutes. While my pick tentatively for the championship, definite the whole is less than the sum of its parts potential here.

Looking Forward: Who is the Indiana Fever’s Future Star?

The major question about the Indiana Fever as we come up on the end of the regular season is the same as the one before the season started. Who on this team can be projected as a top 10 player in the WNBA? Who is the high upside player the Fever should be building around? There is less clarity on these questions than for any other team in the WNBA. 

There is little movement of top players in the WNBA and what little there is unlikely to benefit the Indiana Fever. Indiana is not a destination top players sign with as a free agent or force trades to. That leaves the draft as the best chance to find top players, the kind that can return the Fever to playoff contention.

The Fever have been rebuilding since Tamika Catchings retired after the 2016 season. They have had top picks in the 2018-2020 drafts Over those three years the Fever took Kelsey Mitchell with the 2nd pick in 2018, Teaira McCowan with the third pick in 2019 and Lauren Cox with the third pick in 2020.

Draft misses occur. The Fever are far from the only team who likely regret passing on Napheesa Collier. The concern with the drafting record of the Fever is it is unclear what the process behind the drafting was. Drafting the clear best player but often there is not a clear best player at a given draft slot. Within tiers of players with relatively similar outlooks, teams should take into account the kinds of stars it takes to win in the WNBA. The Fever do not appear to have done this.

The 2020 season has shown that the WNBA is only accelerating into the trend that the most important type of player is the big wing. Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, and Candace Parker are all in the hunt for MVP for a reason.

After those players, the next most important type of player is a guard who can shoot threes off the dribble at a decent rate. Courtney Vandersloot, Arike Ogunbowale, and Diana Taurasi have different playing styles, but all are able to hit threes off the dribble if defenses give them too much space. As is no coincidence, they are the guards contending for first team all-WNBA.

Kelsey Mitchell can shoot threes of the dribble and make them at a high rate, and no big wings of note were taken after her. It is the next two drafts that raise questions. The Fever took McCowan over Napheesa Collier and Ogunbowale in 2019 and Lauren Cox over Chennedy Carter this past draft. Collier is going to miss first team all-WNBA only because of how stacked her position is. Ogunbowale may miss, but only because Taurasi is still killing it at 38. Carter would be rookie of the year had she stayed healthy.

Kelsey Mitchell has the shooting and athleticism to at least play like Diana Taurasi. While it is unfair to expect anyone to reach Taurasi’s level, Taurasi can still be an example to show where Kelsey Mitchell can take her game. Here we can compare Taurasi’s 2018 season, when at age 36 she led the Mercury to within minutes of the WNBA finals, to Kelsey Mitchell.

PlayerTS%3PA/ gameFTA/ GameAssists
Diana Taurasi (201863%8.85.95.3
Kelsey Mitchell(2020)57%6.73.22.8

Kelsey Mitchell may not need to go to quite the foul seeking limits that Taurasi does, she can still increase how many she tkaes per game. She also has the ability to sometimes take a step or two back and shoot deeper threes, while also limiting how often she takes a step or two in to take a long 2, instead of just shooting the 3.

Unlike Mitchell, who has a path to stardom, even if Lauren Cox and Teaira McCowan reach their potential, and become the best versions of themselves, it is hard to see either being as good as Napheesa Collier or Chennedy Carter. Collier is giving the Lynx great minutes at either the 3 or the 4 and shooting 36% from 3. Chennedy Carter even without a reliable three point shot can break down opposing defenses and if she continues to improve her shooting off the dribble, her upside is as high as any guard to enter the league the last few years.

Teaira McCowan has started only half the Fever’s games, and has been quite likely the least effective center on defense in the WNBA. She is not solely to blame for the Fever having the worst defense in the WNBA, but she has certainly not helped.

For a league that is trending smaller and emphasizing shooting, drafting two likely centers back to back is a bold decision that leaves questions about where the Fever are headed. Cox, in admittedly few minutes, did look able to move her feet and play defense, and even hit a few threes, but most of her best defensive minutes were at center. Hopefully we see more of her next year, as the combination of covid-19 and a knee injury limited Cox to 13 minutes per game in only 14 games.

The Fever will for the fourth year in a row have a high draft pick in the 2021 draft. Rennia Davis of Tennessee has the look of a big wing of the future. If she is not available when the Fever draft, taking a chance on a wing who has not quite figured out the shooting would make sense.

Tamika Catchings, the Fever great, is running the Fever now. It is quite the coincidence that the player the Fever most need is a player like Catchings. Whether the Fever can find such a player will go a long way towards whether the Fever can make it out of the doldrums of a rebuilding team.

WNBA Awards So Far: MVP, Rookie of the Year and more

We are at the 40% mark of the 2020 WNBA season, with each team having played 9 games. To get a sense for where we are at in this season, here are my picks for a few of the awards if the season ended today. Here are my picks for MVP, rookie of the year, defensive player of the year, and most improved player

MVP:

1.  Breanna Stewart

Stewart is averaging 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, on 61% true shooting. She is averaging 2 steals and 1.3 blocks. Even with Sue Bird missing a few games this Storm team has not missed a beat. Stewart has been the best player in the league. I would not rely on a single advanced stat to prove Stewart’s case, but when she leads in PIPM, win shares, and is in the top 3 in the WNBA’s player impact estimate, it helps make the case. 

Her versatility is key to the Storm. She can effectively play the point guard on offense when the team is short handed, while still providing above average rim protection on the defensive end. Good luck having your power forward try to run the offense out of the high post. Damiras Dantas had the ball stripped multiple times by Stewart. She is a key part of the Storm’s trapping scheme, with her speed and long arms.

The big wing who can provide some rim protection while also offering shot creation on the other end is the most valuable type of player in modern basketball. With Elena Delle Donne and Maya Moore sitting out, Breanna Stewart is the best version of this player in the WNBA.

2. Sylvia Fowles

Fowles does not have the shot creation burden that other top MVP candidates do, and that in some ways can hamstring the Lynx. The flip side, however, is the Lynx can afford to play more limited defensive players around Fowles and still end up with a top defense. Crystal Dangerfield is 5’5”, if that. Dantas, Napheesa Collier, and Lexie Brown know where to be, but none are shut down defenders at this point. It is mostly because of Fowles that the Lynx are top 4, and were top 2 before Fowles missed a couple of games, in defense. In particular, her ability to combine being 6’6” near the basket and effectively defend in space makes her the front runner for DPOY.

While it may no longer be the most efficient play to throw the ball into Fowles when she is guarded by a decent post defender, she is still very effective in the pick and roll as a screener. She also will punish any switches, such that teams have to fight to get through her screens, leaving space for Dangerfield and Brown to excel. The one knock is she does not pass, with a negative assist to turnover ratio. Passing is not a necessary skill for a center like Fowles, but it does limit how she can be used a bit, along with her lack of shooting. Hopefully her calf injury is not too serious and we get to see more of Fowles this season soon.

3. A’ja Wilson

Apologies to Candace Parker, who I had penciled in here before looking closely at both players. Either one would be a fair choice here. Wilson has been a dominant scorer in the face of double and triple teams this year. She is third in the WNBA in usage among starters who have played 7 games, behind two ball dominant guards in Chennedy Carter and Arike Ogunbuwale. She has managed a TS of 55%, even though she has yet to shoot a 3 this season. That is a middling efficiency number,  but given how starved the Aces are of shooting and Wilson’s lack of a 3 point shot herself, it’s frankly amazing she has been even that effective.

Defensively, Wilson is not as airtight as a help defender as one would like from someone with her physical gifts. However, she is a very good on ball defender both in the post and when switched onto smaller players. She has been a key cog in one of the best defensive teams in the league this year. 

The main area in which Candace Parker is leaps and bounds ahead of Wilson is passing. Parker is a great passer, whereas Wilson has an assist to turnover ratio below 1. One day hopefully we will see Wilson play with more than 1 shooter in a modern offense, because that would give us a more accurate read on her passing. As it is, the few times she does pass, she is passing to players close to her who can’t shoot. 

Others Considered:

As mentioned, Candace Parker and A’ja Wilson are basically a coin flip at this point. I went with Wilson because the Aces have been slightly more successful, with a better net rating, but it has been great seeing Parker be so effective. She also provides more spacing than Wilson, allowing for LA to play a wider variety of bigs successfully. 

Angel McCoughtry stands out in advanced stats. I’m not sure the rest of the Aces are so limited to justify 2 MVP candidates, but she has been very good. Still a bruising force slashing to the basket, and she is even canning just enough threes to force teams to at least somewhat guard her out there, which is great for Vegas. 

Rookie of the Year:

This year the rookie of the year race looks like it’s going to be somewhat a battle over how to define best. In particular, how to balance a player who plays a lot of minutes for a bad team, and puts up ok numbers, vs. a player who puts up excellent stats on a good team, but only plays limited minutes. The Chennedy Carter vs. Ezi Magbegor conundrum, if you will. For now, I value contributing in large minutes at an ok level.

1. Chennedy Carter

Carter has been as advertised on offense. Her ability to get to the rim is already among the best in the WNBA. She is shooting it better than expected, 42% from 3 on 2.4 attempts per game and 88% from the free throw line. Her turnover rate is high, but paradoxically that is a good sign for a young point guard, as that generally improves with experience. Guard is the toughest position to play for young players, and she is already excellent.

Chennedy Carter’s defense has been poor, which drags down her rating in advanced stats like pipm that look at defense. However, her team is the worst defensive team in the league and it is hard to pin the blame for their struggles on that end on her. Rookies are generally bad at defense, and point guards have more limited impact than bigs on defense anyways. Here is hoping Carter can come back and play more this year, as she is currently out with an ankle injury.

2. Julie Allemand

Julie Allemand will not continue to shoot 56% from 3, or lead the league in TS% at 70. However, even with some regression to the mean, she will likely still be a plus shooter. She is a good passer, who while she has had some befuddling turnovers, is still sporting an assist to turnover ratio of 2.0, second to Tyasha Harris among the rookie crop of point guards. 

Defensively she struggles against bigger guards, but has held her own against other point guards, and has even turned in some highlight blocks. The Fever struggle on defense, but that is more on their bigs and wings than on Allemand.

3. Crystal Dangerfield

Crystal Dangerfield is a rookie playing nearly 30 minutes per game for a team that is currently tied for third in the standings. Her numbers do not stand out, but rather she has simply been solid across the board. For a rookie point guard on a good team, that is impressive. She even has room to grow, as I bet that her 3 point percentage of 31% will go up as the season goes on. She was an excellent shooter in college. 

Her height is always going to be an issue on defense, but she competes hard on that end and has not been the negative that some expected so far. That will likely change in the playoffs, when teams have the time to focus on exploiting matchups, but for the regular season, she has been very good.

Others considered:

Satou Sabally still looks like she could be the best player from this draft, but her shooting has been so bad that she is not on this list at the moment. 35% from 2 and 15% from 3 just does not cut it. She has moments of defensive brilliance, but as with many rookie wings and bigs, is still learning the nuances of pick and roll defense. 

Ezi Magbegor and Tyasha Harris are putting up the best numbers in smaller minutes. Magbegor is shooting 67% from the field and has earned the first off the bench minutes as a big on the best team in the league. She just does not play that much, and benefits from consistently being surrounded by excellent teammates. 

I have no idea why Harris is not playing more, it’s like Moriah Jefferson is killing it. Harris has a ridiculous assist-turnover ratio of 3.88 and is shooting 43% from 3. She’s bigger than Jefferson and can guard a couple of positions. She definitely could leap into the top 3, if given more playing time. 

DPOY:

Sylvia Fowles. She is simply the player on one of the best defenses in the league who is crucial to that defense. The team falls apart defensively without her. Breanna Stewart also has an argument, but she is surrounded by Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark, who are all first team all-defense caliber players. If Bill Laimbeer started Hamby, which he should, and played her 30+ minutes, she might have a case as well, given her versatility on defense between the 3, 4 and 5. 

Most Improved player:

This is not my favorite category, as even compared to other awards the criteria are ill-defined. For my sake, I don’t vote for 2nd year players for this category, since they almost always improve simply because it is their 2nd year. I also tend to stay away from players whose  improvements are mostly related to playing more minutes. Good to earn minutes, but not always clear if the player is actually better or simply taking advantage of the opportunity.

For these reasons, I am going with Betnijah Laney. She is only playing 5 minutes more per game this year, but she went from being an offensive liability in Indiana, to being at times the entire offense for Atlanta. She has also done this while maintaining her strong defense. It’s not her fault the Dream can not stop anyone.  

Myisha Hines-Allen has been impressive, even after cooling off after her strong start. She likely improved, but the big change has been that she is no longer buried behind 2 of the best players in the WNBA in Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman. Meesseman starts next to her, given the lack of effective true centers on the roster, and EDD is still rehabbing a back injury. 

Defending in Space: Sylvia Fowles vs. Teaira McCowan

Sylvia Fowles is a first ballot Hall of Famer who is still playing at a high level at age 36. The 6’6” center for the Minnesota Lynx is good for reasons that are clear when watching her. Her low post scoring, rebounding, and being really tall at the rim are obvious when watching her. An area of her game that is less obvious, but that has allowed her to thrive despite the changes in WNBA playing style over the previous 5 years, is her ability to defend in space.

Teaira McCowan at her best appears to be the best of the next wave of dominant centers in the WNBA. However, she has only started 3 of the Fever’s 7 games, and those starts were due to injuries. For the 6’7” center for the Indiana Fever to reach her potential, she will need to show that she can go from being a liability guarding in space to someone who can hold her own, even when teams repeatedly target her. 

The WNBA, like all levels of basketball, has realized over the past five years that 3>2. Since 2014, the percent of shots from the 3 in the WNBA has gone from 21% to 29% in 2019. That’s from this article in the Athletic ($) about the rise of the 3 in the W, worth reading if you have a subscription. This shift has shown no signs of slowing down this season, as more teams are even having centers like Kiah Stokes of the New York Liberty, who had never shot 3s before this year, fire away.  

While shooting more 3s is better than long 2s because of the extra point, it is not the only benefit to shooting 3s. The other reason 3 point shooting leads to better offense is that it helps create much wider driving lanes for players to attack off the dribble, thus improving offense in the paint as well. This forces centers to spend more time guarding in space against guards and forwards. Post defense is still useful for centers, but defending in space matters as much if not more.

Compare and contrast the 2019 Mystics and the 2015 Indiana Fever. The Mystics had the best offense in WNBA history with an offensive rating of 112.9 points scored per 100 possessions last year with pristine spacing. The Indiana Fever made it to the finals in 2015 and pushed the Minnesota Lynx to 5 games. They were 3rd in offense that year, with an offensive rating of 99.8. They led the league in percentage from 3, at 36%, but they only took 14.9 threes per game. The Mystics in 2019 took 25.4. The Lynx took even fewer 3s and were worse on offense, if you are wondering why I highlight the Fever here.

This can be seen just by looking at the spacing on the floor.

Sylvia Fowles was on the Lynx team that beat those Fever in that finals in 2015. She went from playing against that kind of spacing, to playing the Washington Mystics with 4 or 5 shooters at a time. This is a transition that has run other centers out of the WNBA entirely, or forced them to be situational players. Carolyn Swords, for instance, starts for the Aces, but typically plays between 10 and 20 minutes.

Fowles, however, has been able to keep up with the changes. She is excellent at defending in space. While not the swiftest player laterally, she is significantly more effective on this type of plays than many of her younger contemporaries, such as Liz Cambage or Brittney Griner. One can see this in that teams are disinclined to even challenge her. When she shares the court with Damiras Dantas, teams are more likely to run the pick and roll with Dantas’ defender. And Dantas is a fairly athletic big in her own right.

Sylvia Fowles here is defending a Courtney Vandersloot pick and roll. Vandersloot, of the Chicago Sky, is a good athlete who finishes fairly well at the rim. Even though Vandersloot has a head of steam, Fowles is able to move her feet and Vandersloot hits the bottom of the backboard. Fowles is decisive on where to go. Even one false move or hesitation and Vandersloot is at the rim with an open layup. 

Sylvia Fowles defends pick and roll successfully.

Fowles is able to do this against even the best slashers. Kahleah Copper, also of the Chicago Sky, is as fast as they come in the W, and at 6’2” has the size to finish over and around size. Fowles is called for the foul here, but that was a very questionable call.. She forces Copper to make a wild pass back out.

Fowles good defense on Kahleah Copper

Compare those plays by Fowles, against two talented players with experience in the W, with McCowan trying to defend pick and rolls involving the Wings’ 3 rookies, Tyasha Harris, Bella Alarie, and Satou Sabally. Alarie, being guarded by McCowan, screens for Harris here. McCowan seems unsure of where to be. She is not high enough to contest if Tyasha Harris shoots off the dribble from 3, which fair, that’s a shot the Fever is likely willing to give up, but then she is still completely unable to provide any resistance to Harris at the rim. She is standing on the wrong side of Alarie, and it’s not like Alarie suddenly flipped the screen.

McCowan not defending Tyasha Harris.

This is a regular season game with 3 rookies repeatedly targeting Tearra McCowan. Imagine if the Fever made the playoffs against a team like the Storm, what would happen. Here is another example, about a minute later in the same game against the Wings. Once again, Alarie is being guarded by McCowan, and screens, this time for Satou Sabally.  McCowan switches out onto Satou Sabally, thus leaving her on an island against Sabally. It does not go well for Indiana.

McCowan not defending Satou Sabally

Defending in space, both in the pick and roll and when switched onto a smaller player, is among the hardest things for a young big to learn in the pros. McCowan will get better at this part of the game, but she has a long way to go to reach the predictions some had of her being a top 10 player in the WNBA. While it frustrates Fever fans, this is likely part of why Marianne Stanley has opted to not start Teaira McCowan.

Sylvia Fowles, on the other hand, has a team that is starting a rookie 5’5” (if that) pg in Crystal Dangerfield and giving heavy minutes to other unheralded rookies near the top of the standings in the WNBA. She does have help, in particular Napheesa Collier is following up her rookie of the year campaign with another good season so far.  But Fowles’ ability to keep up with a changing league and stay as effective as she has is as impressive as it comes. Here’s hoping her calf injury is not too serious and she is able to come back soon this season.

2020 WNBA Season Preview: Indiana Fever

The Indiana Fever had a better year in 2019 than 2018, going from 12th to 9th, and just missing the playoffs. The next step, making the playoffs, will likely need to wait another year or two. While the Fever have some good pieces, it is unclear if this is a team with a player who can be a top 10 player in the W, much less top 5. That will define how this rebuild goes, and I am not hopeful.

While Pokey Chatman knew basketball well, Marianne Stanley will hopefully bring the style of the Washington Mystics with her. More 3s and better spacing on offense. Indiana does not have Elene Delle Donne, so the results won’t be as good, but the style should be playable.

Though the offense should be more dynamic, it was league average at 7th in 2019. The defense, at 11th, was even more of a struggle. In time, Lauren Cox will be able to help with this, but asking a rookie big to make a big difference on defense is a tall order. Year 2 Teaira McCowan should be better, as well, especially near the basket.

The Fever have lots of cap space, according to Richard Cohen, and so should a disgruntled star want out they could be a destination. The difficult part is convincing said player to want to go to Indianapolis. Indianapolis is an underrated city, and is the WNBA city I live closest too, but needless to say it is no LA or Las Vegas. 

Speaking of the difficulty of getting a star, this is why I would have taken Chennedy Carter over Lauren Cox. Lauren Cox’s floor is higher than Carter’s, as a solid big she should have a good WNBA career, but her upside is not nearly as high. For a small market team like Indiana, drafting is the only way to build a championship contending team, and sometimes risks need to be taken.

Unless Cox starts shooting threes at a high volume and increases her shot creation, which is possible, if not likely, it is hard to envision her becoming the kind of star a team can build around. Even a number 2 on a championship team seems like a stretch. Carter may not figure out her shooting to reach her potential, but if she does, watch out. 

The team seems to be in about the same position as last year. Major growth from Teaira McCown and Kelsey Mitchell are the best hope for a better than expected year, but this team is likely to finish in the same spot as last year, if not lower.

Roster Breakdown:

Notable Additions: 

Julie Allemand

Notable Losses: 

none

Draft Picks: 

First round: Lauren Cox 

Second Round: Kathleen Doyle

Third round: Kamiah Smalls (already cut)

Projected Depth Chart:

Guards: Erica Wheeler, Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell, Kathleen Doyle, Julie Allemand

Wings: Victoria Vivians, Bitnajah Laney, Kennedy Burke

Bigs: Teaira McCowan, Candice Dupree, Natalie Achonwa, Stephanie Mavunga. 

Julie Allemand is a 23 yr old point guard with high level experience in Europe. Given the Fever’s options at point are unsettled, she is worth a look. Kathleen Doyle and Stephanie Mavunga are the players I am least confident about making the team. 

Playing time breakdown:

Teaira McCowan is the one player guaranteed to be starting. She was an effective center last year who generated fouls at a higher rate than comparable centers like Sylvia Fowles and Liz Cambage. She shot only 57% in the restricted area, so a main goal should be to get that up into the mid 60s, where comparable top centers finish. 

She is so big at 6’ 7” that she is a deterrent at the rim, but will continue to need to work on defending in space, and the rest of the roster will need to play a style that minimizes her lack of mobility. But she is a key piece of the Fever’s future.

The swing spot for this team in terms of style of play is going to be the 4. Will Candice Dupree finally take two steps back and shoot 3s? Can Lauren Cox up the number of attempts she takes from 3 to make teams honor her out there? Either way, finding a way to add more shooting to the lineup will maximize Teaira McCowan’s effectiveness rolling to the rim and should be a priority long term for the Fever. 

My vote is for more playing time for Cox. Dupree is a smart player who has had a wonderful career, but she can be an effective backup and mentor for Cox, while Cox learns to play with McCowan. Cox will make more mistakes on defense, but also provide more rim protection.

Some analysts ($) have Candice Dupree playing the 3, but at this point in her career, her lack of foot speed and the lack of 3 point shooting makes that unworkable. A healthy Victoria Vivians would be ideal for this spot. At 6’1” Vivians was a phenomenal shooter in 2018, shooting 40% on 5 attempts per game as a rookie, before missing all of last year with an ACL injury. When healthy, she has the athleticism and size to guard the top wing scorers in the W, which would be big for a Fever team that was limited in two way players at wing in 2019.

Kelsey Mitchell will almost certainly start. The question that the Fever should be trying to answer this year is whether long term she is their point guard or shooting guard. Her assist % was low for a point guard at 19%, compared to her teammate Erica Wheeler at 35%. Her shooting and shot creation are valuable skills that are hard to find. Should she improve her pick and roll decision making, she has the outlines of a dynamic modern point guard who can shoot 3s off the dribble in the pick and roll. The hope for the Fever is in year 3 she is set for a breakout, a la Kelsey Plum last year.

Erica Wheeler is a solid point guard, especially if she shoots like she did last year, at 37% on a decent number of attempts per game. At 29 she is the second oldest player on the team, and as an undersized guard who relies on athleticism might not age well. But for this year, she and Kelsey Mitchell will likely play a lot of minutes together.

Tiffany Mitchell quietly received, after Bria Hartley, the most curious deal in the most recent free agency at $140,000 over 3 years, per High Post Hoops. She is the highest paid player on the Fever, and will likely not start this year. As previously discussed, they have the cap space to add a new player, and pay their players on rookie deals, so it might not cost them other opportunities, but I’m not sure her leaving for Atlanta would have been the end of the world. It seemed like Atlanta made out better when their offer was matched by the Fever. She would be, what, the fifth guard on the Dream?

Mitchell has more offensive ability than Laney or Burke, so she might be able to play backup minutes at the 3 as well as the 2, against certain matchups, but she lacks the size for that to be a long term option, at only 5’9”. She attacks the basket fairly well, but has shot under 30% her 3 years in the league who tends to get tunnel vision on drives.

Year 2 of Teaira McCowan and year 3 of Kelsey Mitchell give Fever fans something to look forward to. I am lower on the long term outlook of this team than some comparable teams. One of their players popping and showing unexpected growth would solve their lack of a star player. Until then, this is a team with a lower ceiling than is ideal. The rebuild continues.