2016 WNBA Team Previews: Indiana Fever

 

PG: Briann January/Erica Wheeler/Brene Moseley

SG: Shenise Johnson/Tiffany Mitchell/Maggie Lucas

SF: Marissa Coleman

PF: Tamika Catchings/Devereaux Peters/Lynetta Kizer

C: Erlana Larkins/Natalie Achonwa

And that’s it. Thank you Indiana for being the rare team that makes their cuts early enough for me to preview the actual roster. Unless they cut one of the guards to save cash and preserve some extra flexibility.


Significant additions
: Mitchell adds to the guard corps, Peters to the posts. That’s it.

Significant losses: Shavonte Zellous left for nothing in free agency (and I’m still not really sure why they didn’t core her and extract some value in a trade); they gave up on Natasha Howard to acquire Peters; and Layshia Clarendon was traded to Atlanta after three years of trying to convert her into something resembling a point guard.


Overview

While she won’t really want it to be, this season will likely be all about Tamika Catchings for the Indiana Fever. When one of the greats announces their retirement with over a season to go, it inevitably becomes something of a farewell tour. But Catch has always been the ultimate competitor and she won’t be fading away with a whimper, or with a trainwreck season like Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (although based on last year, her shooting percentage might not be that much better than Kobe’s). While Catchings remained the leader of this squad last season, for the first time they looked capable of surviving and winning games without her always being at the controls. It looked like the pieces were starting to move into place for when she’s gone. So one last hurrah while she’s still part of the equation is certainly in play.

The Fever haven’t always been the prettiest team to watch in action. While they were one of the first WNBA teams to embrace ‘smallball’ when Catchings slid down to power forward full-time a few years ago, they’ve always been more about guts than glitz. The approach changed a little last year when Stephanie White took over from Lin Dunn, and demanded that her team speed things up a little. They won games with depth, and with contributions from a variety of different places on different nights. Shenise Johnson looked more comfortable and effective than she ever did in three years in San Antonio. Marissa Coleman had her best season in the WNBA in her seventh year. They pieced together a post rotation with the likes of Kizer, Achonwa and Howard helping out a limited Catchings and a beaten up Larkins. It felt like there was smoke and mirrors involved at times, but as the Fever have been doing for over a decade under Catchings’s leadership, they battled through and won games. Then tossed in a playoff run that came up just one game short of another title.

This season’s group looks perfectly capable of repeating last year’s performances. Peters for Howard is an upgrade inside, and Achonwa might be around a little more consistently with Canada already qualified for the Olympics. The one real question is on the perimeter, where Zellous is gone and Briann January is still recovering from knee surgery. Zellous had an injury-plagued and uneven season last year, so they’re already somewhat prepared for playing without her contributions, but they still seem to be working out what they’re going to do when January isn’t at the point. Hopefully she’s ready soon, and capable of playing at her previous levels, because the backups are unproven and they don’t really want Johnson or Catchings being forced to play de facto point guard.


Best Case Scenario

As they showed last year, Catchings may not be the force that she once was, but the squad around her is good enough to win games regardless. The dream scenario would obviously be Catchings hitting the winning shot and walking off into the sunset with another ring. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.


Worst Case Scenario

Catchings breaks down, and this squad isn’t actually as ready to play without her as it seemed last year. Even while battling various nicks and bangs, Catchings appeared in 30 regular season games last year, so she was always around to be their driving force. Without her, who knows. And without any real star offensive options, piecing together the offense they need has sometimes been a struggle for the Fever in past years. It’s always possible that issue rears its ugly head in any given game.


Summary

The last time this franchise missed the playoffs was in 2004. It’s hard to see them starting now, especially with “let’s do this for Catch” as a rallying cry. They probably won’t be one of the highest seeds when the postseason begins, but no one will fancy facing Tamika Catchings when every remaining game could be her last.

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