Takeaways from the Indiana Fever’s preseason so far

Indiana Fever center Teaira McCowan battles Chicago Sky guard Chloe Jackson for a rebound during a preseason game on May 16, 2019. Indiana won 76-65. Photo by Kimberly Geswein
Indiana Fever center Teaira McCowan battles Chicago Sky guard Chloe Jackson for a rebound during a preseason game on May 16, 2019. Indiana won 76-65. Photo by Kimberly Geswein /

The Indiana Fever Could be a Dangerous Team in 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — The Fever beat the Sky for the second time in three days on Thursday, 76-65. It’s just the preseason, but keep in mind, the Fever won consecutive games only once last year. Indiana is brimming with confidence for a team that finished last year with a 6-28 record. The Fever believe they can be a playoff team in 2019. Here are three reasons why.

Teaira McCowan was the perfect draft pick for them

VP of Basketball Operations Tamika Catchings said the Fever have been undersized the last few years.  Indiana’s tallest player in 2018 was 6’4. As a result, the Fever had a difficult time protecting the rim last season.  Indiana ranked last in opponents’ field goal percentage a year ago, allowing other teams to shoot 47.3% from the field.

Indiana held Chicago to 32.8% shooting in the first game on May 14.  Then the Fever limited Chicago to 38.5% shooting on Thursday. Having a true center like McCowan has helped immensely.

“It’s just not as many shots in the paint (against us) because Teaira is deterring people from going in there,” Chatman said after the Fever’s 76-65 victory over Chicago on May 16. “She’s 6-foot-7, but she’s 7-foot-5 when she raises her arms, so it’s all about deterring shots as well.  That gives the perimeter defenders some comfort knowing they have that length and size back there.”

McCowan has only scored seven points in her first two games, but Chatman wants her to focus on defense and rebounding. McCowan leads the team with 15 rebounds after two preseason games. Since the Fever ranked ninth in the league in rebounds per game a year ago, that’s another way McCowan will help a team that is looking to win more consistently in 2019.

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The Fever have “Moe-mentum” heading into this season

The Fever were 7-9 in 2017 when veteran guard Shenise “Moe” Johnson tore her ACL in July. They went 8-44 for the next year and a half with Johnson out.  Johnson was the fifth pick in the 2012 draft. The Fever are thrilled to have a talented, experienced, and energetic player like Johnson back for 2019.

“She doesn’t get rattled when she makes a mistake. She doesn’t get rattled if things aren’t going her way,” Chatman said. “We know she can shoot and pass, but she’s shifty, and that’s something that we try to teach those younger players who want to go at one pace, which is really too fast. (Johnson) doesn’t even know that we’re using clips of her to show other people how to play, and that’s just because she’s experienced.”

Kelsey Mitchell, who was the second pick in the 2018 draft, says having Johnson on the floor is going to help young players improve in 2019.

“Because (Johnson) sat out last year, she saw a lot of things that can help us and help me individually,” Mitchell said. “She’s a motivator who is full of positivity.  Plus she’s a great basketball player.”

Johnson was averaging 11.3 points per game and 1.5 steals per game in 2017 when she got hurt.

What a difference a year makes

The Fever played four rookies during their 2018 season opener, which was the first time four rookies played in one game for Indiana since 2000. Those young players learned a lot from the lumps they took during their rookie season.

Forward Natalie Achonwa can tell a major difference between now and a year ago.

“Yeah, we’re still young, but everyone took advantage of their overseas offseason period and got better and you can see that translating in the games,” said Achonwa, who’s in her fifth year with Indiana. “We’re coming out with better energy…we still have a lot of room for growth, but at the same time, you can see that step ahead from where we were last year.”

Everyone on the team is feeding off this energy. The Fever had 13 of their 14 players score during their win on May 16.  Two days earlier, 14 of their 15 players scored when they played the Sky in Chicago. Chatman, who is also the team’s GM, is not looking forward to trimming this roster down to 12 by May 23.

“It’s good that they’re making it difficult for me,” Chatman said. “It means they’re competing, taking advantage of the opportunity that they provided for themselves. People think we give them opportunities, but no, you’ve earned it. So I think it’s a good problem to have.”

Indiana’s next preseason game is May 19 at Dallas.  The Fever open the regular season on May 24 at New York.

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