A Month Later: A Look at the Fever Rookies
By Tyler Berry
We’re a little over 30 days into the 2018 WNBA season and, as far as the Fever are concerned, there’s a lot to like and dislike about this team that’s waist-deep in a rebuild. Without a win through eight games, it would be easy to simply harp on the Fever’s flaws. However, if you’ve been paying attention, there’s a lot to like about this extremely young squad.
Particularly, it seems that Indiana’s front office has struck gold with a couple of its rookies, while their other first-year players have shown flashes of potential. Now that we’re a quarter of the way through the season, it seems as good a time as ever to take a closer look at each of them.
Kelsey Mitchell (Ohio State University): Round 1, Pick 6
It’s impossible to not love Kelsey Mitchell’s game. She was one of the most prolific scorers in NCAA history and her shooting ability and quick pace have easily translated to the professional level. Even in her first game, her willingness to pick her spots and shoot the ball without hesitation was encouraging. After three games coming off the bench, coach Pokey Chatman made the easy decision to start her at shooting guard. Her ability to move off-ball and get open has helped the Fever get off to quick starts over the past five games.
She leads the team in scoring at 19.4 points per game, as well as field-goal attempts (14.4). Considering she’s a rookie taking a high volume of shots, it’s fantastic to see that she’s shooting nearly 44 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc. Add in her fearless effort in transition and hard work on the defensive end and you’ve got the makings of a franchise player.
Victoria Vivians (Mississippi State University): Round 1, Pick 8
It’s not every year that a franchise gets two first-round draft picks so close to each other. It’s crucial to make the most of it and, while it’s very early, it seems like Indiana made a good decision drafting Victoria Vivians. She’s a solid spot-up shooter with good defensive instincts and the ability to pull down rebounds.
She’s played inconsistent minutes off the bench – her most being 30 in the loss to Dallas – but she’s clearly eager to make the most of her opportunities. Over the last four games, Vivians is averaging 8.3 points per game in just over 24 minutes. This stint includes a 5-for-8 shooting performance against Connecticut and 11 points over 14 minutes in the loss to New York the other night.
While she needs to learn to pick her spots, it’s clear that Vivians has confidence in her shot and should have a lot of success as she gets more game experience.
Stephanie Mavunga (Ohio State University): Round 2, Pick 2
It’s exciting when a rebuilding franchise can bring in two teammates that gelled so well together in college. That’s exactly what Indiana has down with Mitchell and forward Stephanie Mavunga. While Mavunga saw just 19 total minutes in her first three games, Chatman has put more faith in her over the past four games, garnering some positive results
Keeping in mind that this latest four-game sample included a five-minute, scoreless performance, Mavunga has performed admirably in her time on the court. In 15 minutes against Connecticut, she scored 8 points on 3-of-3 shooting. Last weekend’s two games saw her get 17 total points on 8-of-11 shooting. But she’s also proving her ability on the defensive end. She had two blocks against New York and two steals against Dallas.
She has a hunger that you like to see in rookies and it’s showing on both ends of the floor. Look for her minutes to increase as the season progresses.
Hind Ben Abdelkader (Belgium): Undrafted
In this season’s early goings, it looked like the Belgian international was going to be a key rotation player for the Fever. In her first five games, she was averaging nearly 19 minutes. However, her lack of consistency on both ends of the floor has mostly pulled her out of the rotation and she’s played just 12 total minutes over the past three games.
She’s clearly a capable player, showing flashes of shooting ability. However, there just hasn’t been any consistency in her game and, at multiple times, she’s stifled the offense’s production. An example that stands out was against the Liberty at home, when the Fever got off to a wonderful start but ultimately lost the first quarter, 21-19, after subs checked in. Abdelkader came in and took a couple of rushed shots while also committing a bad turnover, leading to her quick exit.
Look, she can obviously play. She wouldn’t be in this league if she couldn’t. But until she shows some positives on the court, she won’t have many minutes for Indiana.
There’s a lot to love about the Fever’s rookie class and it’s only a matter of time before these four get their first win as WNBA players. But it’ll take hard work, dedication and solid play from each of them for that to happen.