Briann January/Sydney Carter
Shavonte Zellous/Layshia Clarendon/Maggie Lucas
Marissa Coleman/Karima Christmas
Tamika Catchings/Natasha Howard
Erlana Larkins/Lynetta Kizer/Jasmine Hassell
Significant additions: Howard, whatever they can get out of Coleman and Kizer
Significant losses: Katie Douglas, Erin Phillips, Jeanette Pohlen and Jessica Davenport (although all four were missing for huge chunks of last season as well)
While there is turmoil everywhere else, the Indiana Fever, Tamika Catchings and Lin Dunn just keep chugging along, showing up and winning games. That said, 2013 was a difficult season for Indiana. They suffered through so many injuries that it was hard to stay afloat, but the weakness of the Eastern Conference helped, they battled their way to the playoffs, and then made the Eastern Finals anyway after toppling Chicago in the first round. There’s been some re-shaping in the offseason as well, but if this franchise is nothing else, it’s reliable. With Catchings still there as the foundation, it’s hard to see them taking much of a backwards step.
However, they have lost players worth mentioning, even if they were largely players that they’ve grown accustomed to surviving without. Katie Douglas was Catchings’s primary partner-in-crime for several years, but after multiple recent injuries she’d missed a lot of time and the Fever didn’t want to guarantee her salary. She took a better offer from Connecticut. Before that, they’d already traded point guard Erin Phillips to Phoenix, which also weakened their perimeter options. Dunn never seemed to entirely trust Phillips to run the team, but she could hit shots and provide energy at either guard spot. More shooting disappeared in training camp when Jeanette Pohlen tore her left Achilles (and was later released). They also lost center Jessica Davenport to retirement earlier in the offseason.
But all those players, bar Phillips, missed the majority of last season due to injury (and Phillips missed a significant part, before playing hurt for much of the remainder). That gave them a head start on learning how to play without them and building the squad without counting on them. The poor regular season last year also presented them with the #5 overall pick in the draft, the highest they’ve selected since 2005. They won’t be worrying too much about the pieces that are gone.
Catchings will be their leader as always. A hard-nosed, constantly active defender, she’s also often on the ball offensively, driving and creating for the team. Her jump shot’s become more reliable over the years as well, although it showed a few cracks at times last season. Shavonte Zellous has developed into a useful complement to Catchings, stepping up last year in Douglas’s absence and earning all-star recognition. She’s worked on her perimeter game to add to her driving skills, and can take on most of the offensive load that Douglas used to carry. Briann January is also still there at the point to keep their continuity flowing. She’s become a little overrated over the years, and often has trouble finishing at the rim, but she’s a quick and annoying defender, and she can knock down the open shot from outside.
Other returning players include Erlana Larkins, who’ll team with Catchings in the post again to make a mobile and aggressive – if undersized – tandem. She’s an active rebounder and can finish inside if she gets the ball in position, but you don’t really want to be relying on her for offensive production. Karima Christmas also showed her worth as a role player on the wing last year, filling in for all the walking wounded. She’s by no means a great shooter, but she’s improved, and her activity as a defender and rebounder from the wing can be useful. Layshia Clarendon also returns, and they’ll hope to see improvements from a fairly poor rookie season. Dunn seemed certain that Clarendon could play the point, despite fairly considerable evidence to the contrary, and that didn’t help her production. If she stays off the ball, her energy and mid-range game could be of help to this team off the bench.
Now for the new pieces. The brightest hope comes from rookie forward Natasha Howard, the #5 pick in this year’s draft. She’s raw and thin, but she’s long and active, and she flies after every rebound and loose ball. If you’re being optimistic, think a young Sancho Lyttle. It’s not hard to see why the Fever, built on their defensive fluidity and mobility, went for Howard ahead of UConn’s Stefanie Dolson. She has the chance to develop into a very good player, although it may take some time. They also picked up Marissa Coleman in free agency to fill a wing spot, and she should fit in fairly well. Coleman’s been a disappointment in her previous WNBA stops in Washington and LA, but that’s largely due to expectations. All she has to do in Indiana is work hard, use her head defensively, and knock down threes. That should be within her capabilities.
Lynetta Kizer was the return from the Phillips trade (along with the draft pick that became Natalie Achonwa, who we won’t see until 2015 due to injury). Kizer’s shown flashes of scoring ability during her previous WNBA stops, without ever quite finding a place to land. She needs to restrict herself to taking good shots, rather than every shot, and she could be a solid backup post for the Fever. Adding Sydney Carter late in training camp to back up January at the point could be useful as well – if only because it ought to keep Clarendon away from the PG spot. They also gave up next year’s second-round pick to keep Maggie Lucas off the waiver wire and bring her in from Phoenix. She’ll compete with Clarendon to be that instant scoring punch off the bench.
Despite the players they’ve lost, this Fever team should be similar to those we’ve grown used to over the years. They’ll attack you on the defensive end, and be a pain to play against, but be undersized in the paint much of the time. They’ll have bursts of effectiveness offensively, but also suffer droughts where you wonder where the next basket’s coming from. They’ll look for fresh impetus from the likes of Howard, Kizer, Clarendon and maybe even Lucas. And they’ll be just as dangerous as ever once the playoffs come around. Lin Dunn’s announced it’s her last season as head coach, before the reins are passed to Stephanie White. The players won’t want to let Dunn down in her final year, and you bet against a team led by Dunn and Catchings at your peril.