The Indiana Fever lineup reflects a team that looks to the future. The ship has long sailed for this year’s Fever competition.
With their season coming to a close amid 17-game losing streak, interim coach Carlos Knox’s focus has shifted from wins and losses to maximizing the development of his young core. Four starters – Nalissa Smith, Queen Igbo, Destiny Henderson and Lexi Hall The penultimate game of the season against the Mystics was scheduled to begin.
The pivot started swinging on Al Shabab before the game started. Veteran forward Emma Cannon stepped to the floor in place of Igbo, who injured his knee during the warm-up.
Minutes into the match, the wheels fell off. In the first five minutes alone, Hull hit a triple pointer and tried to force the drive onto a ledge that went nowhere. Henderson’s mid-range jump looked out from the side of the ledge. Closer to the end of the first quarter, Smith missed badly on the jump and earned a technical two minutes later in an 82-70 loss. For Fever, it was another learning experience in a season that was heavy on them and light on the wins.
Just days before Henderson was dropping the baskets in the last minute to send a game against Dallas into overtime, Hull was setting a career high in consecutive games. On Friday, the duo combined six points in a 2-of-14 shooting. Smith missed nine out of 14 attempts from the field, all of which are a reminder that growth in young players isn’t tidy and linear.
“They have to understand the game from an intensity point of view,” Knox said. “When you have good games in this league your next game will be tough defensively. People will plan for you. They will put pressure on you. They will make sure you are not the one to go out and outdo them. That is part of the experience. You have to learn how to up your game and get to This level is when that really happens.”
It was Emily Engstler, Fever’s most productive rookie, who topped it off with 18 points and added five rebounds. Fittingly for a game in which the end result was close to an afterthought, Knox experimented with different formations and Engstler, usually in the post, was playing a little forward.
The Louisville producer responded with input from the ocean. She dropped both of her attempts from 3-point range and attacked the basket, making a single pass but collapsing Washington’s defense in a way that few could do all night.
“It’s something I try to remind myself every day and talk about as beginners: the fact that we’re going to really play is going to make a difference for us in the next couple of years,” Engstler said. “We’re just getting started, and I think no matter where we end up, whether it’s here or somewhere else, it’s going to really allow us to get great jobs, so I’m excited to go into next year with more comfort.”
That was the theme of the Fever season: Small wins, experience, hope, Knox and the players trying to find the positives in what turned into one of the worst years in WNBA history. Indiana (5-30) has another seven-player rookie game. Within a year, it will be heavy on sophomore players, and the journey of ambitious rebuilding of the franchise will continue.
“The best thing that can happen to us is that our seven starters get experience on the ground, and once that happens, they can now come back,” Knox said. “After this season, they understand fitness. They understand exactly how the WNBA works. And now I can go home. I can go abroad. I can go to my personal trainer and I can get things done at a level where it makes sense and is useful when we’re back here. Now I can really do it.” “.