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Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Fever keeps changing lineups, coach doesn’t want to talk about it

By meerna Jul11,2024
Fever keeps changing lineups, coach doesn’t want to talk about it


The Indiana Fever fielded their sixth different starting lineup this year in a shocking loss to the Washington Mystics.

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Lexie Hull entered the starting lineup for the Indiana Fever’s noon clash with the Washington Mystics, it was the sixth different starting lineup the Fever had fielded in 23 games this season.

Just two games ago, Hull was a healthy bench player in Indiana’s 19-point loss in Las Vegas. But after a strong two-way performance helped Indiana pull away in the fourth quarter against the first-place New York Liberty, Fever coach Christie Sides started Hull for the first time this year.

Initiate: The Fever follows their best win of the season after a loss to the WNBA’s worst. How do they rebuild?

Hull started at small forward, while power forward NaLyssa Smith came off the bench. Katie Lou Samuelson — who had been in and out of the starting rotation — became the starting power forward for the first time all season, instead of starting at small forward. Wednesday’s starting five of Caitlin Clark, Kelsey Mitchell, Hull, Samuelson and Aliyah Boston played nine minutes together and were outscored by 13 points before Wednesday’s exit (per WNBA.com).

But the lineup change backfired. Hull failed to score a single point in the first half, and the Fever trailed by 14 points at halftime to a team they had beaten twice this season. Smith returned to the court with four other players to start the second half. In a second half in which the Fever failed to find revenge, their comeback attempt ended in an 89-84 defeat.

“It was coach’s decision and we’ll leave it at that,” said Sides, who declined to provide details.

The change has changed the way the Fever play. When Smith starts, both she and Boston have opportunities to get touches and score inside. Sides has repeatedly emphasized using the basket to set up the rest of the Fever’s offense. With Samuelson as the starting power forward, she stretches the floor as someone who attempts 3-pointers much more often than Smith.

Defensively, Indiana used Samuelson to guard Mystics center Stefanie Dolson on Wednesday. Dolson is one of the WNBA’s best stretch big men, shooting 49.5 percent from distance. With Samuelson guarding Dolson, Indiana tried to switch screens when Dolson was the screener to prevent her from getting to the 3-point line. Dolson scored 13 points and hit 2 of 3 from distance, and the Mystics had their second-highest scoring percentage of the year.

“I think the biggest thing is defense, just knowing how to defend, what our schemes are,” Samuelson said of what changes when she plays as a power forward. “Honestly, I make sure I know all the plays and all the positions. I think for me, I just try to be myself, but in whatever role they put me in, and step up to the next level as much as I can.”

Samuelson has spent a lot of time at power forward this year, especially since winger Temi Fagbenle — who missed Wednesday’s game with a right thumb injury — was sidelined for 12 games. But Wednesday was the first time she’s played in that position.

Nine of the 12 Fever players have started a game this season. Of those nine, Fagbenle is the only one who has missed multiple games due to injury.

Clark, Mitchell, and Boston are the three solid starters (although Mitchell came off the bench for two games early in the season while nursing an ankle injury). The other two spots could just as easily be picked out of a hat on a game-by-game basis.

“I don’t think you can worry too much about who starts and who doesn’t,” Clark said. “It’s just basketball, that’s what happens. It can change from game to game. Obviously, I don’t make those decisions. I’m a point guard. I just try to put guys in positions where they’re going to be successful, and whatever coach chooses is ideal, and everybody on the team responds to that.”

The players who have been given the chance to play in the other two positions — Samuelson, Smith, Hull, Fagbenle and Kristy Wallace — all bring different things to the table, and as substitutes they have had their ups and downs throughout the season.

The problem, however, lies in the reactionary nature of the changes in composition.

Hull probably shouldn’t have been given DNPs and games when she played less than five minutes, so after her efforts on Saturday, the Fever took notice. But does that mean she should be put in the starting five? Probably not for someone who has scored just 34.1% of her field goals in her three-year career.

Samuelson is the best spot-up shooter among the starters, but nothing about her recent play (averaging 2.8 points per game on 25% shooting in Indiana’s last five games) suggested she should play 33 minutes against Washington.

Constant lineup changes disrupted Fever’s continuity and synergy, leading to their miserable failure.

“We’ve been trying to see what works all season, trying to fit in with each other,” Samuelson said. “We’re all ready for the moment when we can step up and be called upon. … I think playing the way we’ve been playing is more important than who starts. It’s How “we started as a unit.”

Players in complementary roles will always have games out of the game and games where they are the difference makers. Players should be rewarded (or punished) for their performances during the game, not at the beginning of the game.

The Fever are the worst first-quarter team in the WNBA, giving up 3.2 points per game in the first quarter (according to WNBA.com). The team’s constant changes in the starting five likely have something to do with that.

This team has three games left before the 30-day Olympic break in the middle of the WNBA schedule. When the Fever return for the final 14 games of the season, they need to have a specific starting lineup they’ll use at the end.

By meerna

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