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WNBA season in review: Indiana Fever rookies take their lumps

NaLyssa Smith was one of the few bright spots for Indiana this season. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2022 WNBA season ended much like the last for the Indiana Fever, who once again finished with the worst record in the league.

The Fever ended the expanded regular season slate at 5-31, and they lost 18 games in a row to finish off the season. No matter which way you slice their 2022, they were not a good team.

Still, Indiana embarks on the offseason with plenty of room for growth. Seven rookies feature on the Fever roster, and the average age of their roster is the second-lowest in the league at 25.2 years. (The Dallas Wings have the youngest roster at 24.4 years.)

Experience can only help their loaded freshman class, including No. 2 overall pick NaLyssa Smith, and they’re up for a top pick again in this year’s draft.

Indiana Fever: Year in Review

What went right?

The Fever’s seven rookies — Smith, Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull, Queen Egbo, Destanni Henderson, Khayla Pointer and Rennia Davis — all gained valuable experience in their first year.

Smith finished second on the team in scoring behind fifth-year player Kelsey Mitchell with 13.5 points per game – which also ranked second in the league among rookies behind Rhyne Howard, the Atlanta Dream’s No. 1 overall pick. Smith was also one of the league’s best rebounders, ranking sixth with 7.9 per game – ahead of stars like Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart.

Egbo outperformed expectations, contributing 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

“We didn’t win as much as we wanted to but at the end of the day for me it was about getting better each time you step on the court,” Henderson said. “[Gaining experience] starts from somewhere.

“Once we get [team chemistry] down pat, we’re gonna be a team that’s gonna be very competitive.”

In addition to the rookies, Mitchell soared to new heights in her fifth season, averaging a career-high in points (18.4), assists (4.2) and 3-point percentage (40.9).

What went wrong?

Tying the record for the most losses in a single season in WNBA history is never how you want a season to go. But it’s how the season went for Indiana.

The decision to fire head coach Marianne Stanley early on in the season was puzzling at the time and certainly didn’t help the team gel.

The lack of chemistry showed on the scoresheet, as the Fever averaged a league-low 78 points per game. They were also ranked second-to-last in assists with 18 per game and first in turnovers, with 16.5 per game.

Interim coach Carlos Knox saw the bumpy season as a necessary step. But that didn’t make it any easier to match the 31-loss total of the 2011 Tulsa Shock.

“That’s very tough to swallow for me,” he said. “I just have to keep telling myself exactly what this year was about from a developmental standpoint. We wanted to make sure that we improved in a lot of different areas and we actually did. We improved in a lot of areas. But for the most part, yes, that’s disturbing to me, especially who I am and what my résumé represents.”

What comes next?

The Fever have the best odds of any team to acquire the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery. That No. 1 pick likely will be South Carolina star Aliyah Boston, and adding a player of Boston’s caliber would provide an immediate jolt.

The Fever have finished with less than 20 losses just once in the last six seasons — and that came in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, when the team finished 6-16. No matter what happens in the draft lottery, they’ll look to develop their young talent in an attempt to avoid another down year.