WNBA: Indiana Fever hopes to attract big names in 2022

The last Indiana Fever season in which they reached .500 or more was their 17-17 campaign in 2016. That was also the last time they made the playoffs. It was Tamika Catchings’ final season after guiding the team to a finals the year before.

Over the past four seasons, Fever’s win percentage has gone from .382 to .273 to .188 to .139. They have never been able to get their first overall win in that span, nor have they at any point in their history. That changes this year as the Fever is currently on the clock with a potential opportunity to pick South Carolina star Aliyah Boston.

Indiana has a new head coach in Christie Sides after neither Marianne Stanley nor Carlos Knox had great success last year. Additionally, this marks former Fever Champion head coach Lin Dunn’s first full off-season as general manager of the franchise since taking over Catchings. Can Dunn start turning things around?


By Numbers*

Free Agents (Type) (Average Salary 2022)

  • Tiffany Mitchell (unlimited) ($148,400)
  • Victoria Vivians (Restricted) ($72,141)
  • Bernadett Határ (suspended/contract expired) ($58,710 – 2021)
  • Emma Cannon (Restricted) ($50,713)
  • Khayla Pointer (reserved) ($37,121)
  • Chelsey Perry (suspended/contract expired) ($30,900 – 2021)
  • Rennia Davis (reserved) ($18,560)

Average total free agent salary: $416,545

Total salary of the team: $892,948

Cap: $527,552

analysis

Let’s assume the fever isn’t trying to hold Bernadett Határ, Khayla Pointer, Chelsey Perry, or Rennia Davis. They’re keeping Lexie Hull because she was too big an investment in last year’s draft at #6. They draft Boston at #1 and Aijha Blackwell at #7 (that’s who ESPN she currently has to take). That leaves them with these players on a 12-woman roster (roughly in order of importance with projected salaries):

  • Kelsey Mitchell, from SG ($206,000)
  • Aliyah Boston, from C ($74,305)
  • NaLyssa Smith, from PF ($73,584)
  • Victoria Vivians, Start at SF ($115,000, up $42,859)
  • Queen Egbo, Second C ($67,634)
  • Danielle Robinson, from PG ($155,000)
  • Emily Engstler, second SF ($73,584)
  • Tiffany Mitchell, second SG ($148,400, no change in salary)
  • Emma Cannon, second PF ($85,000, up $34,287)
  • Destanni Henderson, second PG ($64,657)
  • Aijha Blackwell, Third SF ($71,300)
  • Lexie Hull, Third SG ($70,609)

This probably won’t translate into success, although Boston could have a big impact right away, and if Smith makes a big leap in sophomore, with those two and K. Mitchell, that’s not a bad big three.

This also leaves the Fever just $16,083 over what they have to pay overall as a minimum, leaving a whopping $215,427 to spend. They could pay a 13th player over the max if they were allowed to have 13 players.

So what are they doing? Well, this is a good free agent market for power forwards with Emma Meesseman and Brionna Jones both unrestricted free agents (this assumes Fever doesn’t stand a chance on Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker or Nneka Ogwumike). But the Fever have their supposed power forward of the future with NaLyssa Smith in the starting XI. They could upgrade their backup by replacing Emma Cannon, but would probably want their big free agent signing to be in a position where they don’t have a star.

That leaves small forward and point guard. Apart from point guard Courtney Vandersloot, there are actually no superstars in these two positions. Vandersloot would be a dream scenario but Erica Wheeler’s return to the club is more realistic.

Wheeler fondly remembers winning MVP as a member of Fever All-Star Game and may want to come back and help the team break out of their rut. Wheeler is the second best available point guard for me, ahead of Moriah Jefferson and Jordin Canada, neither of whom would be big enough to upgrade Danielle Robinson to have a significant impact on Fever’s win percentage. However, Wheeler would be a big enough upgrade for me. I thought she should have made her second All-Star game of 2021 when she was with the Sparks. If Indiana can get the 2021 version of Wheeler (13.6 points and 4.8 assists per game), I think that would be a pretty good situation.

WNBA: All-Star Game

Erica Wheeler as an All-Star in 2019
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Fever could put Wheeler on the starting lineup, bench DRob where she could still have a big impact, and also let Destanni Henderson play for a few minutes and see if her high ceiling swings out.

The Fever probably wouldn’t want to be finished after that. Let’s say they try to bring in that small forward as well so Victoria can join Vivians Robinson on a strong bench unit. If Sophie Cunningham is willing to give up her role on a contender, I’d say go for it. And hey, things are getting better in Indiana with Boston and now possibly Wheeler.

Cunningham is listed as a guard, but she’s 6-foot-1 and played one spot (sometimes two) in Phoenix’s Brittney Griner-less small-ball lineup last year. She was my vote for most improved player as she flashed star potential with 12.6 points per game and 2.5 threes per game on a 40 percent clip. If that 36-point performance is any indicator, her future point average could be much higher than 12.6, and she’s only 26.

The Fever would have to let another player go to make room for Cunningham and I say they should let go of Hull because they have two good shooting guards in the Mitchells and should stick with this year’s No. 7 pick instead of the Surprise of last year’s ultimately unsuccessful No. 6 pick. Incidentally, I think they should change their #7 pick to Maddy Siegrist over Blackwell to have a power forward replacing Cannon and supporting Smith. Siegrist is the best power forward available in the draft and can get points on the board in a hurry that the Fever desperately needs.

If they keep 12 players, the Fever can afford to pay Wheeler around $200,000 and Cunningham around $170,000 or some other combination of the $371,036 between the two. If they fancy letting go of their third point guard, Henderson, they could pay Wheeler the $234,936 supermax and Cunningham around $200,000, which is almost the max. Not that Indiana Wheeler will actually pay the supermax (maybe they split it at about $215,000 each, or give in to the power forward option and get a bigger star), but she made big in 2022 ($185,400) and the fever must pay too much to get someone really good to play for them. Cunningham earned $75,000 last year in the final year of her rookie contract. It will be interesting to see how much value teams place on her given her breakout season and age. Wheeler is unrestricted and Cunningham is restricted.

It might be best to just stick with Henderson rather than overdo it with the two free agents because I believe Henderson will be a valuable WNBA player somewhere in the future.


* All salary figures are from HerHoopStats

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