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2021 WNBA Draft Preview: Indiana Fever looking for dynamic, defensive-minded players

Entering her second full season as VP of basketball operations and general manager, Tamika Catchings has five draft picks through which to continue to shape the Indiana Fever roster. It is most important that she finds players who can improve Indy’s abysmal defense.

Indiana Fever v New York Liberty
How will vice president of basketball operations and general manager Tamika Catchings continue to put her imprint on the Indiana Fever?
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

After four-straight seasons out of the playoffs, the Indiana Fever certainly would like to return to the postseason in 2021. To help them achieve this goal, the Fever will welcome the No. 4 pick in the WNBA Draft to Indianapolis. They’ll also try to find additional contributors with two second-round (No. 19 and No. 24) and two third-round (No. 26 and No. 31) picks.

During free agency, the Fever did not make a big splash. They let veterans Candice Dupree, Natalie Achonwa and Erica Wheeler go to new destinations, suggesting they were ready to turn the team over to their young, high-pedigree core of Kelsey Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, Teaira McCowan and Lauren Cox. However, the Fever did retain Jantel Lavender and sign Danielle Robinson, inking both vets to above-market, multi-year protected contracts.

This combination of decisions did not provide much clarity about Tamika Catchings’ ultimate vision for the next great Indy team. Entering her second full season as vice president of basketball operations and general manager, Catchings has an opportunity to further shape the roster through the draft.

Currently, Indiana has 14 players on their training camp roster. As two players already will have to be cut to meet the 12 player roster maximum before the regular season begins, it is unlikely that more than two of the Fever’s draftees make the final roster. Nevertheless, the draft could provide Catchings and head coach Marianne Stanley an opportunity to add multiple, high-upside talents to their team.

In particular, dynamic players with defensive ability should be a priority. Indiana had the WNBA’s worst defense in 2020, with a defensive rating (111.8) that was more than three points worse than the second-worst team.

Here are some possibilities for Indiana’s quintet of draft picks:

First round: No. 4 pick

Aari McDonald, 5’6” Guard, Arizona

Arizona v Connecticut
Aari McDonald, Arizona.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A dynamic, defensive-minded player? That certainly describes Aari McDonald (Arizona).

With her superb superstar play throughout Arizona’s run to the national championship game, McDonald should have assuaged any doubts about her pro prospects.

Although undersized at 5-foot-6, McDonald finds ways to make her size an advantage on offense, getting low to burst below bigger players into the lane. Her combination of speed and shiftiness gives her a dangerous pull-up jumper, which she was hitting with impressive proficiency, including from behind the arc, in the NCAA tournament. She also weaponizes her size, speed and shiftiness on the defensive end, relentlessly pestering opposing guards and digging down on opposing bigs.

Considering the surprising rookie season success of Julie Allemand, in addition to the arrival of Danielle Robinson, the Fever may not see point guard as a priority. But it should be. Allemand and Robinson are solid players; McDonald could be spectacular. If the Fever wish to vault up the WNBA standings, they need a player who can bring pizzaz, and bring pizzaz out of her teammates. McDonald has that potential.

Dana Evans, 5’6” Guard, Louisville

Oregon v Louisville
Dana Evans, Louisville.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Dana Evans (Louisville) provides an alternative point guard option for the Fever. Like McDonald, Evans plays with constant, contagious intensity, something a Fever team without big on-court personalities could use. That she is from Gary, Indiana could give her an edge among the Indy evaluators on both the basketball and business sides.

Evans is not the defender that McDonald is, but she has a stronger offensive resume, especially as a shooter (even though Evans mostly struggled with her shot in the NCAA tournament). As a senior, she had to do it all on offense for Louisville. Playing alongside the likes of Kelsey Mitchell could result in unfamiliarly unencumbered scoring opportunities for Evans. Evans likewise could make things easier for Mitchell, who already can make scoring the basketball look pretty easy.

As suggested by our draft expert Eric Nemchock, the Fever could similarly boost their backcourt by pairing Mitchell with Arella Guirantes (Rutgers).

Rennia Davis, 6’2” Wing, Tennessee

Michigan v Tennessee
Rennia Davis, Tennessee.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Would it be nepotism if Catchings, an all-time Tennessee Lady Vol legend, made Rennia Davis the highest Lady Vol drafted since 2012? Absolutely not!

The 6’2” Davis has the toolkit — length, strength and athleticism — needed to help turn around the Indiana defense. Her versatility could unlock multiple lineup options for head coach Marianne Stanley, since Davis should be able to contribute as a 3 or 4.

On offense, Davis can be a secondary ball handler, possibly allowing Kelsey Mitchell to play point guard when she operates as a 3. If Davis can find increased consistency as a 3-point shooter, she could juice Indy’s “small ball” offensive attack when playing the 4.

Second round: No. 19 & No. 24 picks

By signing both Jantel Lavender and Danielle Robinson, it seems Catchings wanted to ensure her squad included multiple mature, veteran leaders. Possibly, she could look to add a mature-beyond-her-years leader or two through the draft.

The Texas A&M duo of N’dea Jones and Ciera Johnson would qualify. The pair was the heart and soul of an overachieving Aggie team. Originally an unheralded recruit, Jones developed into a double-double machine. Her combination of length and athleticism suggests she also will be able to clean the glass in the WNBA. Johnson, who happened to attend Catchings’ old high school (Duncanville in Texas), is an old-school style big who can bang in paint.

As an analyst for the SEC Network, Catchings also got multiple opportunities to closely watch Jones and Johnson during the 2020-21 collegiate season.

Third round: No. 26 & No. 31 picks

In the third round, Indiana could target 3-and-D talents — meaning players who can hit the 3-ball while holding their own on defense — who slip further than projected. Two potential names are Selena Lott (Marquette) and Stephanie Watts (North Carolina).

Efficient on offense and reliable on defense, Lott has the makings of an ideal role player for the modern WNBA. While less consistent as an outside shooter, Watts would offer another level of athleticism for the Fever.