The Indiana Fever coaching staff is finally taking shape. The team hired Hall-of-Famer Marianne Stanley as head coach and promoted Tamika Catchings to general manager on November 26.
Stanley is both a smart and safe hire for the young Fever: Her first head coaching job was at Old Dominion University over forty years ago, and she’s had both head and assistant coaching experience in the WNBA. She makes her way to Indiana after winning a championship with the Mystics as a part of Mike Thibault’s staff.
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) November 26, 2019
Indiana finished the 2019 season in 9th place (13-21) and two games out of the final playoff spot. Their record improved significantly from 2018 when they finished at 6-28, the worst record in the W.
So what can we expect from the Fever’s new coach, and where does she have her work cut out for her?
Revamping the Offensive Philosophy
In 2019, the Washington Mystics found much of its success on the offensive end of the court. Their offensive rating of 112.9 towered over the rest of the league. (The Chicago Sky ranked second at 101.6, and were almost as close to the last place Atlanta Dream as they were to the top spot.) The Mystics’ net rating of 14.8 was equally impressive: three-and-a-half times higher than second-place Las Vegas’ 4.1.
Although the Mystics only ranked eighth in pace of play, the team was the league standard in both turnover percentage and true shooting percentage. How did they achieve this?
Washington attempted a WNBA-record 864 three-pointers, 48 more than the record set by the Seattle Storm the year before. Those 864 shots accounted for 36.4 percent of their total attempts. Five players took more than a hundred shots from deep. As a team, 66.9 percent of their makes were assisted—a number that jumped to 88.0 percent on threes.
For comparison’s sake, Indiana took 569 threes, just 24.4 percent of their total shot attempts. 59.8 percent of their shots came off an assist, but just 70.1 percent from three. The Fever’s 34.6 percent was good for fourth-best in the league, but their 16.7 attempts per game were second-fewest.
Does the team have the personnel for a long-range offense, and will Coach Stanley try to bring over the same approach either way?
Expanding their Range
Only two Fever players—Kelsey Mitchell and Erica Wheeler—had over 100 attempts from distance (211 and 125, respectively.) Mitchell’s attempts were the most in the league, and her 79 makes ranked second, just one behind Chicago’s Allie Quigley.
According to positiveresidual.com, 40.3 percent of Mitchell’s shots were above-the-break threes, nearly doubling the league average of 21.5 percent.
Next season will also mark the return of Victoria Vivians, who missed her sophomore campaign after an overseas ACL tear in the offseason. During her rookie year, Vivians ranked tenth is both three pointers attempted and three point percentage. Thus, Coach Stanley will have her share of perimeter firepower to supplement the team’s 6’7” centerpiece, Teaira McCowan.
Building a Strong Foundation
Though often forgotten in the Phee vs. Arike Rookie of the Year debate, McCowan played terrifically during her first WNBA campaign, finishing with per-game averages of 10.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks while averaging only 22.1 minutes.
Former Fever coach Pokey Chatman started C/F Natalie Achonwa for the first eight games of the season. Achonwa’s 18 starts limited McCowan to just 16 tipoffs, despite the fact that the team played much better with the latter.
McCowan and Achonwa overlapped for a brief 5.8 minutes per game but posted a positive net rating (+0.6) during that limited time. When on the floor together, the pair are capable of playing high-low: Over forty percent of Achonwa’s shots come from midrange, almost as many as she takes from the restricted area.
As a starter, McCowan averaged 13.3 and 11.3, though those numbers dipped to 7.1 and 6.7 when she came off the bench.
Her overall statistics, especially on the glass, must intrigue her new coach, especially in spite of her inconsistent minutes: No. 2 in rebounds per game (9.0); No. 1 in true rebounding percentage (19.5 percent), No. 2 in offensive rebounding percentage (13.8 percent), No. 1 in defensive rebounding percentage (25.0); and No. 1 in second-chance points at 4.2 PPG.
During back-to-back games in late August, McCowan recorded 19 and 17 rebounds apiece, good for the second and third-highest single-game totals across the league in 2019.
One More Three to Worry About – the 2020 Draft
Just as they did in 2019, Indiana will pick third in the 2020 draft.
The first two slots have been consistently projected to be Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu to New York and Baylor’s Lauren Cox to Dallas. The two most intriguing fits for Indiana would thus be a pair of juniors, both of whom have the option to declare for the draft at season’s end: Oregon’s Satou Sabally and Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter.
Sabally has been making a name for herself, scoring 16 of her 25 points in the fourth quarter of Oregon’s stunning exhibition upset over Team USA. According to Duck Sports, Sabally might be tempted to stick around for her senior season to play with her sister, Nyala, who is missing her second straight season due to injury. The forward would be a perfect fit with Indiana, however.
Though she’s struggled shooting in her first few games, she’s attempting more than eight threes per contest after making 41 percent from beyond the arc last season. At 6’4”, She’s a strong rebounder and a big shot maker.
Carter is a score-first guard who is not afraid to shoot, though her efficiency leaves something to be desired. In six games this season, she’s averaging 22.7 points on 21.3 attempts from the field. Her assist numbers have fallen each year, from 4.6 as a freshman to 3.4 as a sophomore to 2.8 so far as a junior. Her aggressive style would force the Fever to increase their pace of play, however, and would add a game breaker to Coach Stanley’s roster.
With the potential philosophy overhaul on the currently constructed roster, plus the additions of a healthy Vivians and a new lottery pick, the Fever are positioned to rise back into respectability and maybe even legit contention in 2020.
*All stats via WNBA.com unless otherwise noted.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.