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2019 Season in Review: Indiana Fever rebuilding slowly but surely

The Fever struggled in 2019, missing the playoffs for a third straight season. But keep your chins up, Indiana faithful — the franchise showed progress, and it will soon be in a position to return to contention.

Las Vegas Aces v Indiana Fever
While Candice Dupree (right) remains a Fever mainstay, 2019 was about Indy’s young talent, including Teaira McCowan (left) and Kelsey Mitchell.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Rebuilds aren’t easy.

The Indiana Fever learned this the hard way in 2018 when they went 6-28. It was uncharted waters for a franchise that had once made the playoffs twelve years in a row and featured Tamika Catchings as its star player.

But that’s all in the past. Catchings hasn’t been a part of the Fever for years now (as a player, anyway), and the harsh reality is that the team might have to get worse before it gets better.

With this in mind, 2019 was going to be about continuing to infuse and develop young talent. A knee injury suffered by Victoria Vivians prior to the season was an unfortunate setback for both Vivians and the team alike, but ultimately, the objective was the same: Get the Fever’s future stars up to WNBA speed. Anything else would simply be icing on the cake.

Minnesota Lynx v Indiana Fever
Erica Wheeler enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, earning All-Star MVP honors.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

But Indiana once again took their fair share of lumps in 2019. It got off to a surprisingly good start, maintaining one of the WNBA’s most efficient offenses for a time. The Fever also went a combined 8-2 against fellow lottery-bound teams Atlanta, Dallas and New York.

Against the WNBA teams that made the playoffs, however? The Fever went 5-19. Not ideal.

Through the lens of Indiana’s rebuilding perspective, though, 2019 was actually a successful season. 13-21 is a heck of a lot better than 6-28, and while the Fever missed the postseason, the prospect of another lottery pick is much more enticing than likely getting disposed of by one of the high-caliber teams Indiana struggled so badly against.

The season was not short of feel-good stories and individual successes, either. Point guard Erica Wheeler enjoyed a breakout year as a full-time starter, leading the team in assists while being one of the league’s most efficient scoring guards as well. Wheeler was named an All-Star for the first time in her career and captured the hearts of fans everywhere after earning game MVP honors.

Meanwhile, veteran forward Candice Dupree continued to climb the WNBA’s all-time leaderboards. She now sits second in league history in field goals made and fifth in points scored.

Then, you have Teaira McCowan. The 6-foot-7 rookie got better and better as the season progressed, recording three straight games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and finishing the summer at the top of the WNBA in rebounding percentage.

Las Vegas Aces v Indiana Fever
No. 3 overall pick Teaira McCowan finished her rookie campaign strong, establishing herself as one of the WNBA’s premier rebounders and rim protectors.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

So while the Fever once again fell short of the postseason, they had a productive year. The team improved (while still securing a lottery selection in a critical draft), several young players showed promise, and the season ended with an air of optimism heading into 2020.

Curiously, the Fever front office shared that optimism, but decided to make a change anyway. Head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman — who was originally hired in 2017 to begin the rebuild — was let go without much of a reason given.

It will be up to Chatman’s successor, then, to see through what she started. Expectations for the Fever will be higher than they were this season, with McCowan, a healthy Vivians and talented scoring guard Kelsey Mitchell hopefully taking their respective next steps and leading Indiana back to contender status.