The Fever Haven’t Broken Yet: Takeaways from the Start of Indiana’s Season

After starting the season at a 1-7 mark, it would be easy to look ahead to the Indiana Fever’s remaining schedule and write them off. But doing so would neglect to recognize some of the serious potential this team boasts. From Kelsey Mitchell to Teaira McCowan to Kysre Gondrezick, Indiana is a real competitor in the making, despite early returns.

One of the most important additions to the team, Danielle Robinson, is playing her way into All-Defensive Team consideration under everyone’s noses. Meanwhile, the team is getting great minutes from its young pieces early in the season, despite the Fever’s numerous injuries to those players.

Danielle Robinson is as Advertised

A former All-Star in Danielle Robinson is back to her dominant ways after a statistically down year in Las Vegas in a role that saw her shift from full-time starter to an initiator off the bench. Last season, Robinson averaged 7.4 points, down from 10.1 the year prior, and played far less minutes than most of her seasons before. However, this season Robinson is averaging 9.1 points along with 3.5 assists per game. When she came to Indiana, the team knew what it was getting in terms of her playmaking abilities and defensive prowess. But nobody could’ve predicted that Robinson was going to generate this much for the Fever.

For starters, Robinson is on fire defensively, posting the best numbers from that area of the floor in her career. Robinson currently ranks tied for first in the league in steals per game and is just one of five players to average two on the season thus far.

Even more exciting is the fact that Robinson has been an offensive juggernaut for the Fever. When it comes to points generated by assists, Robinson leads the team by a sizable margin with 61. But Robinson’s veteran leadership and control shines the brightest when considering the fact that she’s only committed four shooting fouls all season despite frequently guarding high-volume shot-takers. Furthermore, Robinson has drawn eight offensive fouls, which is almost the same amount as the rest of the team combined.

Though the Fever have only played eight games so far, it’s clear to see why the Fever acquired Robinson, as she can control a game with her poise and excellent court vision.

Rookie Reinforcements

In a limited sample size, the minutes that Indiana is getting from its 2021 rookie class have provided energy for the team when it needs it. 

For instance, Bernadett Határ, a rookie training camp invite, has been an absolute blast to watch and the Fever perform well with the 6’10” center in the game. Per 36 minutes, Határ averages 15 points—which ranks fourth among Fever players per 36—and six boards per game. On the other hand, it’s clear to see that Határ is a raw player at this stage of her career as she averages 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes.

The team’s fourth overall pick, rookie guard Kysre Gondrezick, is already statistically among the Fever’s best shooters, connecting at a 47.1 percent clip from deep. In fact, she’s third on the team in three-pointers made, only behind Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians, who have each played significantly more minutes than the rookie sniper.

There is an argument to be made that Gondrezick has already warranted an uptick in her minutes. The Fever, who have been outshot 78-37 from distance in their first eight games, could stand to add more perimeter shooting, which is a consistent theme from last season’s squad.

While Gondrezick and Határ don’t boast the best on/off ratings, both have played well enough in limited time to earn more consistent rotational spots. Head coach Marianne Stanley has already shown a willingness to shift around the minutes for her squad in the face of several injuries and could look to do so again if the team continues to struggle on its road trip.

Injury Woes

While the team has gotten decent minutes from most of its roster, the Fever haven’t played a game with a fully healthy squad this season. Lauren Cox missed the first four games of the season, while Jantel Lavender and Határ missed recent games. Furthermore, the Fever are taking their time in easing Victoria Vivians back into a consistent and premier rotation role after her meniscus tear last August.

Vivians is a known and proven commodity from downtown but was limited to just six games last season following the injury. While playing Gondrezick more will help offset the disparity from distance, that gap should slightly close over time with more minutes and adjustments by Vivians and the coaching staff.

“I’m particularly happy for Victoria Vivians because she is an outstanding shooter,” Stanley said after the Fever’s first win of the season. “She’s struggled of late, so today she finally made that first one and it allowed her to just relax and play and do what she does, so I’m happy for her.”

Then there’s the case of Cox, the Fever’s third overall pick in the 2020 draft. While Cox was limited to just 14 games in her rookie season and missed the first four this year, she’s inching further into the rotation by the game.

“For her first game back [Cox] was good,” Stanley remarked after the team’s win over Washington. “I thought she was good defensively, I thought she rebounded the ball well, she had a presence about her. And this is her first time playing in a long, long time. So I’m happy for her and happy that she got some decent minutes.”

Also working her way back into health, Jantel Lavender missed a game and looked out of it in the team’s recent loss to the Mystics. Lavender, another former All-Star that joined the team in the offseason, scored just four points while shooting 14.3 percent from the floor in that loss, clearly still bothered by her lingering left foot injury.

With no players on the team averaging 30 or more minutes a night and several rotational players missing time or coming back from injuries, it’s not hard to see why this team is struggling. Without a rotation that’s set in stone, it’s been close to impossible to get the kind of consistency and answers the team is looking for. And, unfortunately for the Fever, the road ahead is a rocky one.

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“We’ve said all along we have size, we wanna use it, but we’ve also got good guards and we want to use that too,” Stanley said. “It’s finding that balance and finding the right combinations… Each opponent could be different, so you have to be flexible and make adjustments and you have to stick with the plan with everybody on the same page… We’re gonna use our whole roster and we’re still working with things like chemistry and finding combinations of players that work well together.”

Closing Thoughts

Despite the injuries, this team is still getting outclassed on both ends of the floor. Offensively, the Fever have only put up 69, 77 and 78 points in their last three games, respectively. On the defensive end, Indiana allowed 214 total points to the Las Vegas Aces in their back-to-back series and allowed Tina Charles to score 61 total points in back-to-back games when it played Washington.

During the remainder of the Fever’s road trip, they will take on the Seattle Storm and Chicago Sky in five of their next six games. While Chicago has lost four straight, it’s only a matter of time before Candace Parker returns from injury. The Fever will also have to take on the Los Angeles Sparks, who look like they’ve figured it out in their two most recent wins. 

It definitely won’t be pretty, but this stretch of games will likely dictate the direction of the franchise in the coming weeks. If Indiana comes to Indiana Farmers Coliseum with a measly 1-10 record, the race for the No. 1 overall pick might be on. But there’s a real chance the Fever are able to surprise a few and pick up some quality wins along the way.

“We have to be able to up our game, we have to be confident, we have to trust each other,” Robinson said after the team’s most recent loss. “The team that you saw Sunday play [against Washington], we have to be, and that’s gonna get us wins. We can’t come in soft… It’s really going to be one game at a time. Like I said, that team that showed up Sunday, we have to be even better than them. But that’s a good start for us.”

Watching the Fever play Washington in the first game of the two-game series gave a glimpse of what this team can be when it’s clicking. In the first win of the season, the Fever closed out on shooters far better than any other game of the season. Previously, players like New York’s Betnijah Laney had their way with the weak perimeter defense of the Fever and it contributed to some heartbreaking losses in the opening games of the season. When Indiana turned to Washington, it put up its best defensive showing so far, allowing the Mystics to convert on just nine of their 27 three-point attempts.

But where the Fever really shined in that win was on the offensive side of the ball, with five players finishing with over 10 points in that game. It isn’t a coincidence that this was the game in which Vivians came on in the clutch, finishing with 11 points to her name. Vivians dominated in the team’s most recent loss to the Las Vegas Aces, finishing with 17 points off the bench.

The Aces had their way with the Fever in their weekend series but Indiana’s problems seem apparent enough to fix, and as stated before, should at least partially resolve over time with better health. The players on this team know fight and resilience.

“Nobody likes to lose,” Stanley noted. “And nobody’s happy when you lose but I think it’s a true testament to a team that understands the process is to stay with the things you know you’ve got to do and just gotta keep trying to improve everyday… We know in our locker room that we’re a better shooting team than we’ve displayed… We’re gonna get back to playing Indiana Fever basketball.”

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