When I first wrote on this site in 2012, the Mystics were coming off a franchise-worst five win season. The Mystics missed out on the Big Three of Baylor center Brittney Griner, Delaware forward Elena Delle Donne, and Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins because of an unlucky draft lottery. But from hindsight, the Mystics ultimately built a strong roster around multiple young players — and they even acquired Delle Donne in 2017.
Of the 12 teams in the WNBA, many assume that the 2018 Indiana Fever will be the worst team on paper. That may be true. But that doesn’t mean the Fever will play listlessly, like .... the 2012 Washington Mystics.
Though I like watching contenders, I also like watching rebuilding teams because I get to watch the growth of tomorrow’s future stars. Here are the reasons why you should be excited to watch the Fever, even if they aren’t going to contend this season.
The Fever have two first round picks with a lot of potential
During the Tamika Catchings Era, the Fever made 12 straight playoff appearances from 2005-2016. During that time Indiana also made two WNBA Finals appearances and one WNBA title in 2012. In short, the Fever had a great run.
But now that the Catchings Era is behind us, I’m looking forward to seeing who Indiana’s next franchise star is. The Fever have the potential to have one of the more potent wing scoring combinations in the very near future with their first round picks in the 2018 Draft.
Indiana drafted Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell at number two in this year’s draft. She’ll provide an all around scoring attack that the Fever just haven’t had since ... forever. Even on the day of the draft, Mitchell couldn’t help but practice more shots:
In addition to Mitchell, the Fever drafted Mississippi State guard Victoria Vivians at number eight. Vivians leaves the Bulldogs as their most accomplished player in program history, where they made two consecutive national title game appearances. Like Mitchell, Vivians is a very strong perimeter scorer and shot over 40 percent from deep last season.
Vivians is 6’1 as well, so her length will help Indiana on the rebounding end as well. The Fever can use any help they can get given their poor rebounding numbers (a league worst 28.2 per game) last season.
Pokey Chatman has “completed rebuilds” before
Before becoming Indiana’s head coach in 2017, Chatman was the Chicago Sky’s Head Coach and GM from 2011-16.
After two 14-20 seasons in 2011 and 2012, the Sky drafted Elena Delle Donne with the second pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft. With Delle Donne leading the way toward a Rookie of the Year season, the Sky made their first playoff appearance as well.
In 2014, the Sky advanced to the WNBA Finals despite missing Delle Donne and center Sylvia Fowles to injuries for most of the regular season. In fact, Chicago had a 15-19 regular season, partly due to the injuries. But in 2015, the Sky had a 21-13 season with Delle Donne winning the MVP Award and trading Fowles to the Minnesota Lynx midseason.
In 2016, the Sky had an 18-16 record, partly because the WNBA changed its scheduling format to de-emphasize conferences. But Chicago still made the WNBA semifinals despite missing Delle Donne due to injuries.
Basketball is a sport that revolves around superstars, so it’s convenient to say that Delle Donne is why Chicago was relevant in the WNBA scene over the last few years. But I don’t think we’re giving Chatman and other Sky players enough credit here.
First, Chatman continued to lead the Sky into the postseason in 2015 and 2016 despite Fowles wanting out of Chicago in 2015, and later on, Delle Donne’s injury in 2016. Second, the Sky had a strong backcourt rotation with Courtney Vandersloot, Cappie Pondexter, and Allie Quigley shouldering more of the load when a frontcourt star was away.
Going back to the Fever, I’m not going to proclaim that Mitchell or Vivians is the next Delle Donne. We should just evaluate Indy’s new guards based on their own merits. But I will say this. Chatman will put her rookie stars in positions where they can make an impact for the Fever right away.
The Fever have in-laws as teammates
Jeannette Pohlen-Mavunga and second round pick Stephanie Mavunga aren’t just teammates. They’re sisters in-law. Pohlen-Mavunga’s husband is Julian Mavunga. He played college basketball at Miami-Ohio where he was a two-time All-MAC First Team player and now plays professionally in Japan. Stephanie is his younger sister.
Mavunga averaged 16.6 points and 11 rebounds a game for the Buckeyes last season and would be a big help with the team’s rebounding woes. Pohlen-Mavunga averaged 3.4 points per game last season while averaging nearly 39 percent of her three point attempts and was part of Indiana’s 2012 championship team.
I can’t remember very many times when in-laws played on the same basketball team before, so this should be a cool storyline in and of itself.