Don’t Panic About Kelsey Mitchell’s Recent Shooting Woes
By Tyler Berry
You’ve all heard of the rookie wall. It’s that period in pretty much every player’s first season when the growth plateaus and the on-court performance underwhelms. You can chalk it up to players not being used to things like extensive travel, practice schedules, or simply the pressures of playing professional ball. Regardless, you expect it from every first-year player and it looks as though the Indiana Fever’s Kelsey Mitchell has hit it.
Outside of her Fever debut when she went 2-for-8 from the field off the bench, Mitchell’s early season performances were nothing short of fantastic. After just three games, coach Pokey Chatman inserted her into the starting lineup to provide a much-needed spark offensively in the early goings of each game.
In her first eight starts, she averaged 19 points per game while shooting 41 percent from the field and that even includes a tough morning in Atlanta where she scored just two points. She’s been a high-volume shooter since day one, so you expected her field goal percentage to hover around that mark, but her scoring output was exactly what you want from the No. 6 overall draft pick.
However, after a 19-point performance in the Fever’s first win at home against Atlanta, Mitchell has struggled to connect on her shots. In the three games following the win (at Los Angeles, at
Seattle, home against Connecticut), she’s shot just 27.5 percent and averaged 9.6 points. Her three-point shooting has suffered as well, as she’s just 4-for-15 from behind the arc over that stretch. She’s even had a tougher time getting to the line. In the first eight games following her professional debut, Mitchell averaged 5.2 free throw attempts per game and made around four per game. The last five games? Just 1.25 attempts per game.
So, what’s the issue? It’s easy to throw out the rookie wall argument, but there’s more to it than that.
Opposing defenses are figuring out how to attack her by closing down the space in the half court. Teams are making it more difficult for her to find daylight and get her shot up off the dribble, which is something that she loves to do. It may seem like an obvious way to prevent her from scoring, but in that early eight-game stretch, teams weren’t executing that nearly as much as in recent outings.
With teams closing out on Mitchell early in the shot clock, it’s causing her to either give the ball up without much penetration into the lane or force up a perimeter shot with a hand in her face.
Against the Sparks, guard Odyssey Sims best demonstrated this tactic, limiting Kelsey to just seven points on nine shots. Sims’ ability to sit down in her stance and stay with Mitchell’s quick feet and dribble moves gave her the defensive advantage in that game. Sims also attacked Mitchell’s offense in another way by fighting through nearly every screen. The pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop sets have been a big part of the Indiana offense, especially when Mitchell is on the ball. Candice Dupree and Natalie Achonwa are the go-to screeners in these sets and the reliance on their efforts – as well as Mitchell’s offensive prowess – has created high-percentage shot opportunities for all three of them.
However, when a guard like Sims can fight through these screens and stay on Mitchell, cutting off her driving lane, it takes her out of her game. When guards close down on her, shecan’t drive and kick, or find good looks off the dribble in the midrange.
What’s the Solution?
The easy answer is: Don’t diverge from the game plan. In simple terms, Kelsey needs to keep shooting. She’s easily the best perimeter shooter on the team and her ability to find her shots not only helps her stat line, but helps her get scoring opportunities for her teammates. The problem recently has been that opponents have clearly frustrated her by keying in on her more on the perimeter, which has caused her to take bad shots early in possessions. This hurts the offense.
Coach Chatman said it best after the loss to Connecticut. “Really … my biggest concern isn’t how many [shots] she makes, but what type of shots [she’s] getting.”
In other words, Mitchell needs to slow her game down and get back to the looks she was getting earlier this month. And if those looks aren’t there, she can still help the team in other ways. A north-south drive can lead to free throws. A drive-and-dish can lead to two or threepoints. A deflection on the defensive end can lead to fastbreak points.
A player with her quickness and basketball IQ can still have a positive impact on every game, and that’s something she’ll learn as her professional basketball career goes on. Obviously, she won’t be a rookie forever.
If you look up the term “growing pains” in the encyclopedia, you’d likely find a team photo of the 2018 Fever. That’s what happens when you have an extremely young squad in the midst of a total rebuild. Young players are trying to find their footing in the league, while learning from veterans and coaches, while also trying to figure out how to simply be adults.
Remember, Mitchell – as well as Victoria Vivians and Stephanie Mavunga – were college students two months ago. Mitchell is certainly having a tough time right now. Call it a slump, growing pains or the rookie wall; the terminology’s not important. What matters is that no one – especially Kelsey Mitchell– panic. Shooters shoot, and she must continue to do so. Things will get better for her and for the entire Fever squad.
My one piece of advice to you, the fans, when it comes to these last few games is: Forget about it. I guarantee that Kelsey already did, because that’s what great shooters do.