The Indiana Fever are alone in last place again. They’ve had moments when they’ve shown promise and they’ve had two players who were in All-Star consideration in Kelsey Mitchell and NaLyssa Smith, but overall they have been the worst team in the league as they were expected to be.
They need just two more wins to ensure a better winning percentage than last year, but with four first-round picks, including the No. 2 pick, they should be making more of an improvement than that. With 16 games left, they are 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot, so that is an attainable goal. But they will need to improve and create a spark of energy at some point in order to get on a run and accomplish that goal.
On Monday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Indiana suffered a deflating loss to a fellow non-playoff picture team in the Phoenix Mercury. The Fever came back from a nine-point first-quarter deficit to lead for most of the second. They were also still in the game late, trailing by just five with 4:39 to go after K. Mitchell free throws. But Phoenix went on an 11-1 run after that to lead by 15 with 1:45 remaining. Diana Taurasi’s seventh three of the game made it 80-66 Mercury with 2:16 to go, providing the exclamation mark on a 27-point performance for the GOAT. Phoenix ended up winning 83-71.
The Fever need to win their games against the bottom half and this was a missed opportunity to do that. But even without Tina Charles, the Mercury still have Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diamond DeShields and Brianna Turner, which is a pretty good assortment of talent. The Fever caught Taurasi on a great night for her. She has had her moments this year at age 39/40 with seven 20-point performances. Diggins-Smith added 17 points and four assists and the Fever allowed Sophie Cunningham to go 4-of-8 from deep for 16 points. DeShields was good for 11 points and Turner got her rebounds (eight) and blocks (three), as usual.
K. Mitchell led the Fever with 22 points and left many scratching their heads when she wasn’t selected as an All-Star on Tuesday. She finished the final stretch before the All-Star decision strong with six-straight games in double figures, including four with 20-plus. She is fourth in the league with 19.2 points per game and 12th in the league with 4.1 assists per game.
If Kelsey Mitchells 19-4 averages hold, she will be the 2nd player in WNBA history to not be named an All-Star with those numbers in a season in which All-Stars were named per @WBBTimeline. The other was Candace Parker in 2015, who missed LA’s 1st 16 games.https://t.co/cOYiPnAmJy
— Tony East (@TEastNBA) June 28, 2022
The Fever haven’t been successful in any of K. Mitchell’s five seasons in the league, but she has left her heart and soul out there on the court, especially this season. Players on successful teams get to enjoy the joy that comes with team success. The All-Star Game should honor the best players in the league regardless of team and K. Mitchell has been one of the most feared scorers in the league beyond just this season.
You could point to Ariel Atkins, Brionna Jones or Kahleah Copper as players who could have been left off the All-Star rosters, especially Copper, who has played in seven less games than K. Mitchell, but perhaps a starter and captain, Sue Bird (six less games than K. Mitchell), is the one who is least deserving of being in the All-Star Game. It’s not a popular opinion, but we know Sue Bird is the greatest point guard of all-time and seeing her in one last All-Star Game isn’t going to alter her legacy. You should be able to go back and look at All-Star Games in order to learn who the best 22 players in the league were that season. And Sue Bird being an All-Star over Kelsey Mitchell and a number of other players isn’t representative of who the best players in the WNBA are this season.
One argument for Bird is that point guards don’t get enough respect and, admittedly, she is third in the league with 6.3 assists per game. At some point, if your assist numbers are through the roof, you have to throw out the other stats and just honor someone who is a truly special distributor. But the league-leader in assists at 7.3 per game, Natasha Cloud, didn’t make the All-Star Game.
And another player who is just as legendary as Bird in Taurasi also missed out on the All-Star Game. If it was officially Taurasi’s last year, would the voting have favored her more? Maybe. But it is generally understood that she is near the end of her career and someone with her resume should be beloved enough to send to the All-Star Game any year regardless of how good she is playing, at least if that’s what happens for Bird. Not to mention that Taurasi is having a better season than Bird.
I’m not necessarily saying that Cloud and Taurasi should have made the game; there were a lot of other great candidates and the defense that a player like Atkins plays has to be taken into account. But it just seems inconsistent when they don’t make it and Bird does.
Stat scores of a selection of seven players:
Kelsey Mitchell: 28.25
Natasha Cloud: 26.95
Diana Taurasi: 26.6
Ariel Atkins: 23.85
Kahleah Copper: 23
Brionna Jones: 22.6
Sue Bird: 21.65