WNBAlien 2011 Previews: Indiana Fever

PG: Briann January/Erin Phillips/Shannon Bobbitt

SG: Katie Douglas/Shavonte Zellous/Jeanette Pohlen

SF: Tamika Catchings/Shyra Ely

PF: Tangela Smith

C: Tammy Sutton-Brown/Jessica Davenport

—–

Head coach: Lin Dunn

Significant additions: Smith and Phillips. If Ely and/or Pohlen prove significant, it’s a bonus.

Significant losses: Ebony Hoffman, Tully Bevilaqua

—–

Here we have another team that hasn’t changed much since last year, but with a couple of key differences from Connecticut’s stand-pat plan. Firstly, they were 21-13 last year, which makes sticking with what you’ve got far more palatable. Secondly, they’ve got Tamika Catchings, and that’s always a good base to start from. They got a little younger and quicker at point guard, and a little taller and older at power forward, and that’s about it. Beyond that it’s the simple hope that Tamika and friends can drag them one step further than the Fever have ever managed to go before.

For the fourth year in a row, Indiana feature Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas as their starters on the wing, and as they go, so go the Fever. Catch has been doing it all ever since she entered the league nearly a decade ago, and when her help was lacking last season she stepped it up yet another gear. My pick for MVP last year (yeah yeah, have at it Cappie and Lauren fans), she shot 48% from the floor, 45% from three-point range, and threw in 7 boards and 4 assists per game while upping her ppg average to over 18. All while dragging an underperforming roster to that 21-13 record. Oh, and she won her fourth Defensive Player of the Year Award, too. Her scoring’s gotten increasingly efficient, which is what we all used to hold against her, and she’s still the same tenacious do-everything player in every other aspect of the game that she’s always been. She may find herself playing more power forward this season, simply because of how Lin Dunn’s put the roster together, but don’t expect that to change much about what she does on the floor. Douglas had an odd season last year. Fighting through injuries like many others, her percentages were actually pretty good, but the raw point production decreased enough that she didn’t have the same impact on games as in years past. The Fever need her to score. Catchings needs a reliable sidekick putting up 15+ per game to take some pressure off her and Douglas has to be it. She’s certainly capable with that smooth outside stroke and hopefully this year she’ll be healthy enough to reassert her game. It goes without saying that Douglas/Catchings will once again be a horrible prospect for teams to face defensively.

The rest of the perimeter options in Indiana almost makes it seem like Dunn is hoping that if she collects enough of them, someone will have to show up on any given night. Briann January is the probable starter at point guard because she’s been there the longest, and the Fever have been trying to turn her into their ‘point guard of the future’ ever since they drafted her. Tully Bevilaqua is gone, removing the veteran safety net, so the spot’s there for the taking if January steps up and grabs it. She’s always been quick, an annoying defender, and capable of breaking a team down and getting to the rim. Unfortunately, her efforts at running the offense and hitting shots haven’t been quite so impressive, which is why Dunn kept resorting back to Tully. This year there’s a different Aussie on the roster as an alternative, Erin Phillips, who fell into Dunn’s lap when Seattle needed cap room for Katie Smith. A somewhat similar player to January, Phillips is a combo guard who can score in bunches and play the point if you need her to, but she may well be better off playing at the 2. She had an excellent season in Europe, but almost exclusively alongside a point guard, rather than running the offense herself.

Shavonte Zellous, acquired in the middle of last year, is also still around. Yet another quick scorer who can get to the hoop (and the foul line) when she’s in the mood, Zellous had a poor year last season after starting off as part of the mess in Tulsa. The year before as a rookie in Detroit we saw a player who drove opponents nuts with her ability to draw whistles from the officials. If she can find that again she’ll be hugely useful off the bench behind Douglas. Also coming off the pine for the Fever, rookie Jeanette Pohlen could get minutes at either guard spot and even at the 3, while Dunn also kept Shannon Bobbitt as yet more insurance at the point. Bobbitt is tiny but quick, and her complete inability to put the ball in the hoop curtailed her chances of surviving in LA. Pohlen played her way into the first round as a senior at Stanford but may well find herself doing a lot of watching from the bench this year.

Down low the Fever have swapped in a new power forward but don’t let the change in appearance fool you – it probably won’t make much difference. Ebony Hoffman liked to meander around the perimeter shooting jumpshots rather than using her stocky frame to good effect down low, and the last couple of years not too many of those shots were going in. She left for LA, so Indiana brought in Tangela Smith, a player who likes to meander around the perimeter rather than using her lanky frame to good effect down low. Noticing a theme? Smith is just like Hoffman, assuming you used a rolling pin to flatten her out. Tangela had to play a lot of center in Phoenix, so she may find it a relief to be mostly guarding slightly smaller players. On the other hand, Indiana play a far more deliberate, physical style, so the pounding on her body may only be getting worse. She should be a solid replacement.

At center, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Jessica Davenport will try to combine to provide somewhere approaching 40 minutes of solid basketball. It wasn’t always there last year. Sutton-Brown is the defender and rebounder, but her dumb fouls and mental lapses on offense can drive fans crazy. Davenport is the younger, bigger option, with significantly greater offensive prowess. However, she can have trouble moving that big frame around to rebound or help on defense. If only science had found a way to combine them into Tamsica Sutton-Browvenport the Fever would be set. And have an extra roster spot. As mentioned above, the post options are a bit thin on the ground in Indiana (vaguely serviceable backup Jessica Moore was cut in favour of Bobbitt), so Catchings will spend time at the 4, as will her backup Shyra Ely. Ely’s career appeared finally to be on the upswing after an improving season with Chicago in 2009, before blowing out her knee and missing the whole of 2010. We’ll see if she’s all the way back; if so, she could be useful in giving Catch a little time to rest.

It’s the Fever again. Same old, same old. They’ll be in the playoff mix, they’ll be a pain in the ass to play against, and a lot of their games won’t be all that pretty. Catchings will likely be in the MVP conversation again, although she’ll be hard pressed to replicate those numbers from last season. If Douglas has her mind on the job and her body in one piece, and they can find some half-decent production at the point guard spot from somebody, they should be fighting it out for the Eastern Conference crown. Yet again.

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