It can be hard to look at a losing team, regardless of how close their losses have been, and pick out bright spots on their roster to celebrate. For the Indiana Fever, a team who appeared to finding their momentum right before a month-long break before the Olympics, the wins have been hard to come by.
Sitting with the worst record in the league with a 4-18 record, the Fever mustered up a three-game win streak in July, winning against Atlanta, New York and even a top-seeded Connecticut team, and have lost their last two games post-break by only nine points combined.
Indiana has seen its share of blowout losses, mostly at the hands of the Las Vegas Aces, which is kind of to be expected from a team that houses the 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson, the “Point Gawd” Chelsea Gray, one of the best centers in the league in Liz Cambage and two-time defending sixth woman of the year, Dearica Hamby.
Still, with close games losing by less than 10 points, the Fever have gone through many hardships this year and have still found ways to battle back and play their supporting roles on the floor to try and make the most of their season – after all, many would kill to be on a WNBA roster, so losing season or not, the Fever continue to try.
Kelsey Mitchell, who has been on the Fever for her entire WNBA career after being drafted second overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft out of The Ohio State University, has been one of the brightest spots for her team every year, but especially now that her offensive performances make her stand out even on a losing team.
“The game itself is a process, it’s never going to be the same, so I think we try to be as consistent as possible,” said Mitchell.
The Fever ended their 2020 “Wubble” campaign with a 6-16 record, leaving them fifth in the Eastern Conference and not qualifying for a playoff spot. During that season, Mitchell managed to start all 22 games for the Fever, averaging 17.9 points per game.
Even though the Fever didn’t qualify for a playoff spot, they saw a light in running the offence through Mitchell, knowing that her ability to pull-up and shoot from anywhere on the floor – and likely get the basket – and her drive could bring the team together and see success for the future.
“We committed to a mentality of sticking with one another, I’m always focused on what we need to do, and I think it’s starting to pay off as far as our mentality, we lace up like everybody else, we just go out and do our thing,” said Mitchell.
Starting off their 2021 season against New York, Mitchell showed exactly that. The Fever showed inconsistencies in sharing the scoring load, with Mitchell scoring a team-high 23 points and centre Teaira McCowan dumping in a 22-point, 16-rebound double-double while no other player on the team cracked double-digit scoring.
But that game proved that the Fever, and Mitchell, had a lot of tools moving into 2021. They had players with more than enough ability, but overall, they had confidence and a trust that Mitchell would produce for them night after night if they all trusted the process.
Mitchell has continued to be one of the more consistent scorers not only on her team, as she leads the Fever in scoring, but also in the league, sitting 12th in the league in points per game average.
Despite being one of the best scorers, Mitchell has still been overlooked as an all-star and part of the U.S. national women’s team, but instead of being angry, uses it as fuel to better the Fever.
“Being able to experience that knowing you’re in the conversation but not be selected, that kind of put me in the standpoint of understanding what I need to focus on to be better as a player, and mentally understanding that it’s all the part of the process,” said Mitchell.
After a month off from the Olympic break, Mitchell put up back-to-back 20-point performances against Los Angeles and Phoenix, playing over 33 minutes each night and even getting on the offensive glass for those second-chance baskets.
Indiana has seen its ups and downs for the last few years – currently the team’s 2021 fourth-overall draft pick Kysre Gondrezick is out on personal leave, Tiffany Mitchell is out with concussion protocol, and four other players are out with injuries.
With Mitchell at the forefront of the Fever’s backcourt, and a healthy roster hopefully returning to Indiana in the coming weeks, there’s a lot of progress and growth to look forward to, especially with one of the most underrated guards in the league leading the charge.
“Overall, I think it’s gonna click for us as far as getting over that hump in the last couple of minutes, so I’m excited about where we can keep going,” said Mitchell.