PG: Briann January/Layshia Clarendon
SG: Shavonte Zellous/Shenise Johnson/Maggie Lucas
SF: Marissa Coleman/Briana Butler/Jeanette Pohlen
PF: Tamika Catchings/Natasha Howard/Lynetta Kizer
C: Erlana Larkins/Natalie Achonwa
Significant additions: Johnson, Achonwa.
Significant losses: Lin Dunn and Lin Dunn’s accent, Karima Christmas, Zellous for a month while she represents Croatia at EuroBasket Women 2015.
A little like Atlanta, Indiana are one of the traditionally strong Eastern teams and are largely relying on their established core to carry them again in 2015. They’ve made some tweaks around the edges, signing Marissa Coleman and drafting Natasha Howard last year, adding Shenise Johnson and Natalie Achonwa for this season, but the heart remains the same. Head coach Lin Dunn may have stepped down, but the expectation from the Fever hasn’t changed. We’ll see a hard-nosed, gritty team that builds from their aggressive defense, and Tamika Catchings will still be front and center leading the way.
Catchings has set an end date for her glittering career, signing a two-year contract in the offseason and stating that she’ll retire when it’s completed. She’s also suffered with injuries in recent years, and skipped Indiana’s preseason games. It’s like she knows there are only so many minutes left in her body, so she’s trying to portion them out efficiently. And despite her aging limbs, the success of the Fever still depends heavily on how much Catchings herself can offer. If she can stay healthy all season, and more importantly be 100% to lead them in the playoffs, Indiana are always a dangerous opponent.
She does have some help, but as we saw last season it’s not always that reliable. Shavonte Zellous has become a useful scorer from the shooting guard spot, although they’ll have to cope without her for the first few weeks of the season while she represents Croatia in EuroBasket Women. Briann January can hit an open shot from outside (fortunately, because her finishing at the rim often leaves plenty to be desired) and is a versatile and physical perimeter defender. Erlana Larkins has also become a strong complement for Catchings in the post, battling bigger opponents in the paint and often outfighting them for rebounds (although like Catchings she missed Indiana’s preseason games, which is a little worrying). The pairing often leaves the Fever undersized inside, but they make up for it with their mobility and defensive cohesion.
Beyond that core, it’s hard to know what they’ll get from the remainder of the roster. Multiple injuries in previous years have given their bench players the opportunities to step forward, but few have really flourished in those situations. They asked more of Coleman than she was capable of last season, which backfired and often led to her forcing too many shots. Hopefully the addition of Shenise Johnson as an alternative on the perimeter, and ideally some growth from the likes of Maggie Lucas and Layshia Clarendon, will take the pressure off. Although January better stay healthy, because Clarendon has been a disaster as a point guard in her first two WNBA seasons and they’ve left themselves without any other real alternative as January’s backup.
The more interesting developments could be in the paint, where they’ll be hoping to see a step forward from Howard and will add Achonwa after she missed the 2014 season due to injury. Howard showed flashes of real promise early in her rookie season, but faded into the background after hitting the rookie wall and seeing far fewer minutes once Catchings returned from injury. She has the athletic ability to play at this level, but looked a little lost defensively at times, and you’ll struggle to get on the floor in Indiana if you can’t play defense. Achonwa gives them some extra size and bulk in the paint, although she’s combining the recovery from injury with the jump from college to the pros, which is never easy. They’ll also lose her for a couple of stretches when she joins the Canadian national team, just to complicate matters further. Lynetta Kizer is also around again, and has often shown flashes of offensive ability, only without the required consistency from night to night (or the defensive reliability). As in previous years, they’ll piece things together as necessary, but at least there’s some youth and potential there for Catchings to help nurture before she leaves.
Perhaps the most significant change for the Fever is on the sidelines, where Stephanie White slides over from her spot as Lin Dunn’s chief assistant to take on the main role. White’s been there so long that she undoubtedly has the respect of the players, but it’s always a bigger transition than you might expect when you take on the top spot. The style of play isn’t likely to change much, as White already seemed heavily involved in drawing up their sets, but the chemistry might take a little while to settle down.
As long as Catchings is still around and physically able to lace her sneakers, it’s hard to see this team falling too far off the map, whoever else might be involved. The Fever haven’t missed the playoffs since 2004, and even when they don’t seem to be playing well they scratch out enough wins to stay in contention. At times it won’t be pretty, and you’ll wonder where their next basket is coming from. Then you’ll look up at the scoreboard and they’ll still be close as a game comes down to the wire. They’ll be in the mix in the East, and if they’re healthy in September there won’t be many teams looking forward to facing them in the postseason. Nothing much changes for the Fever – at least for two more seasons.