The Rise and Fall of the Tamika Catchings Era
The Tamika Catchings era of the Fever is one that is very forgettable. The team had just a combined record of 28-74, or an average of 9.3 wins per season as GM and Assistant Coach. As much hype that went, a plethora of bad draft picks, combined with a bad culture inside the organization helped create one of the worst stretches in Indianapolis Sports history. The Fever have since returned to the leadership of legendary coach and GM Lin Dunn, who has 660 total wins spanning the college and professional level.
Lin made it very clear that the team was rebuilding from her first few transactions with the team. She made a trade on March 8, 2022 sending Teira McGowan, Pick 7 in this years draft and a first round in the 2023 draft for Picks 4 and 6 this year, and another first round pick next year. This would leave the fever with picks 2, 4, 6, and 10 in the first round of the draft to go with picks 20, 25, and 34 in the second and third rounds. This is the first time in history that a team in the WNBA has had 4 first round picks, and also the first time a team had almost 20% of the field. The team, after the draft had 22 members on their roster, and cutting it down within a matter of weeks was going to be difficult. I turned to a pair of experts to discuss the Indiana Fever and at the end I will provide you with some other insights of key dates, games, and a focus on growth for the team for the coming seasons.
My first expert is play-by-play commentator for the Fever and Indiana Pacers analyst, Pat Boylan. My other expert is a journalist who has covered the fever on Locked On Women’s Basketball and covers the teams for Forbes, Tony East. I reached out to them over Twitter.com and you can follow them here for occasional updates on the team:
Indiana Went 6-26 and Lin Dunn has preached improvement, while not setting any particular standards. What do you think an expected ceiling of improvement is for this season?
Pat: I think that’s a near-impossible question to answer in camp, as there is still so much to be determined. How good is Nalyssa Smith right off the bat? How helpful can the other draftees be as rookies? There are 22 players in camp, 10 will be cut. Who are those players? I think it’s safe to say that improving on that win total from last year is not just a goal but an expectation. How many wins is possible? I think we’ll need more information to make a guess like that.
Tony: I would say somewhere near 10 wins. I think they will be better than last year both in terms of talent and fit, and an extra year with Kelsey Mitchell, Marianne Stanley, and capable rookies, I see no reason why they can't reach the 10 win threshold. The season also has a few extra games this season compared to last year.
With the Fever having so many picks, there were bound to be some surprises, did you see any picks taken that shocked you?
Pat: No, not really. Lin Dunn is an experienced and decorated basketball evaluator. I expected her to want to get a lot of different skill sets and that’s what she did. I think the only thing that would’ve surprised me is if the Fever didn’t end up with either Rhyne Howard or Nalyssa Smith. Beyond that, the draft was very tough to predict. But, if you look at the skill sets of Engstler, Hull, Egbo, and Henderson (through pick 20), you’ve got 4 very different types of players, and I think that’s important for a team rebuilding.
Tony: Both Lexie Hull and Queen Egbo were surprising in terms of where they were taken, but both have skills that the Fever need so I am not surprised that Indiana specifically took them. Henderson at 20 was also a surprise, but not in the traditional way, as many pegged her top-12.
The team has nearly 25 people on the roster, going into training camp, how hard is it going to be to get this down to the 12-15 number that is required?
Tony: Extremely hard. They have already made a few cuts, but the decisions that need to be made to sort the top 16-18 players down to 12 will be near-impossible.
Pat: They’ve got 22 entering camp and 12 is the max you can hold on a roster. So, in a couple of words: very tough. Dunn’s motto after taking over the job was 2, 4, 6, and 10. So while no draft pick in the WNBA is safe, you’d imagine those 4 players are ones she likes very much. There are a couple of other veterans on the roster that would seemingly have a very good chance of making it. After that, it’s tough to predict. It should make camp very meaningful and exciting. The final couple of selections probably come down to roster composition. Do you want an extra guard, an extra wing, an extra big? If you’re a fringe player, these couple of weeks are massive for you.
The future is bright in Indy for a lot of the local sports teams, but maybe none are brighter than the Fever. What would you say the 5-year outlook should be for the team?
Pat: I think in sports today, it’s really hard to project a season out, let alone 5. That said, one of 2 things will happen this year: 1. They see massive growth and development from their young players and shock the league and make the playoffs well ahead of schedule. Or 2. In part thanks to the fact that the WNBA uses 2 year cumulative records, the Fever will draft high again in 2023, which has the potential to be a loaded draft class. The Fever also owns Dallas’ pick, which has the potential to be in the lottery or close to it. All of that said, if Dunn did well in this draft, she will have plenty of ammo in a potentially very good ’23 draft. It’s very easy to imagine a world where the Fever get their stars in the next two years and, paired with a player like Kelsey Mitchell, they have a young, talented, and dynamic core.
Tony: If they can get one of NCAAW's current brightest stars (Bueckers, Boston, Clarke) in one of the next 2 drafts, their future will be immensely bright. A lot hangs on getting that final piece, but coming off of the worst record should help them in the chase for more good lottery odds.
The Catchings era came and went, and it wasn’t the most successful, what was the biggest pitfall for the era? What is the biggest improvement the team made during the time?
Pat: I think the biggest pitfall was the rotten lottery luck. It’s incredibly frustrating how unfortunate Indiana has been there. In 5 draft lotteries post-Catchings’ playing days, the Fever have moved up 0 times, they’ve moved down 3 times, and stayed even 2 times. They’ve twice had the number 1 odds and didn’t get the number one pick in either instance. That’s very challenging to overcome.
Tony: There wasn't much improvement at all, and that was Catch's biggest pitfall. Most of the veterans she brought in were past their prime and unable to lead to wins, yet they still played a lot and impeded the development of younger pieces. Also, many young draftees didn't pan out.
Next year's WNBA draft is going to be insane, what are the odds we make some more moves to get picks next year? Are there any particular players that make sense to move?
Pat: Well, I think you’ve already seen that with the Teaira McCowan trade. Getting 4 was nice, moving from 7 to 6 was helpful, but getting Dallas’ 2023 pick could end up being franchise-changing, with a little luck. If Dallas were to miss the playoffs, all of a sudden that trade looks golden.
Tony: I think the insanity of the 2023 draft may depend on which players declare for draft and don't but the Fever do have 2 firsts next year already. TIffany Mitchell, Danielle Robinson, and any awkward-fitting youngster make some sense as pieces that could be used to get more 2023 draft capital.
What can we do as fans/journalists/followers of the team to help grow the popularity of the WNBA in Indianapolis?
Pat: Come out to, and watch games! Learn the league, get to know these incredible women. We’ll have 18 home games this year. Come out and see this team play. If you’re a journalist, come cover them. So much of growing this league is simply awareness. The WNBA has made major strides in my 7 seasons here, but there’s a long way to go. These women are incredible pioneers. They not only face the day-to-day rigors of being an athlete, but are also constant advocates for the women’s game, and key social issues. It’s an easy and enjoyable sport and league to follow. Plus, if you’re an NBA fan, it means you get to watch basketball year-round. Can’t make it to a game? Our franchise has invested heavily into making every game, home and road, available to you. We’ll broadcast all 36 of them on a combination of them on http://Feverbasketball.com and the Facebook page, as well as Bally Sports.
Tony: Cover it like it is any other sport. Stop saying "women's basketball" and just say "basketball."
One IUPUI question here, With Macee Williams going just a few picks before the Fever’s final pick, my dream of covering her in Indy quickly ended. However, based on how the WNBA works with players, is there any chance she can stay in the WNBA long term, even as a backup?
Tony: If she pops in camp for Phoenix, maybe she could land a spot in the league. Getting drafted means she theoretically has a chance. Since roster spots are hard to come by in the W, a lot of players get their first chance as injury replacements, so if anyone on the Mercury goes down this year, Macee could be called on to fill a spot.
Pat: The harsh reality of the WNBA is, rosters are incredibly competitive and challenging to make. There are 510 NBA roster spots. There are 144 in the WNBA. It’s not rare to see a first round pick not end up on a roster. 3rd round picks are often extremely talented players (like Williams undoubtedly is), but face steep odds. She’ll certainly get a chance in camp. I know there are a lot of Indy-area people rooting her on.
What can I do to support the Fever?
The Indiana Fever are a pillar of the sports world in Indianapolis. Herb Simon, who also owns the Indiana Pacers, has always been a pioneer for women in sports. He has made it clear that he will not only keep the Pacers here, but support the Fever too. The Fever also have one of the brightest futures of any team in the WNBA and will definitely be exciting to see the growth of them in the next couple of seasons. Just showing up to games and buying into the growing fanbase is huge. Tickets for games are super reasonable with club level going for about $13 and courtside only $120!
My Season Prediction
Like Pat said, there is some uncertainty still with the roster, and I think that once that is settled, we will see a very young and very deep roster, with a lot of flexibility. In the WNBA Contracts can be suspended, so we have already seen a pair of players who are ineligible to play this season, but remain under contractual control for another year. The team is also one of the youngest in the league, with several rookies projected to be in their rotation. The season also expanded by 4 games, to a total of 36. Factoring that in, projected roster, and learning a new system, I expect the team to finish with 12 wins and 24 losses.
Like Fever Like Sun
This young roster is reminiscent of another young team who went from Tops of the league to bottom pretty quickly, in the Connecticut Sun. The Sun had a pretty massive drop-off in 2013, and after a few years of cultivating young talent were able to turn the tides in 2017 and make the playoffs now 5 years in a row. I think the model the Sun set, with a few years of lottery luck, could start a run for the team that might include another WNBA Title in years to come!
However, if you are looking to get in on the WNBA now, and support the top 1% of basketball, follow the Fever on social media, stream their games on facebook, and if you are feeling it go see a game or two at a great price!