The Indiana Fever closed out the last two months of the 2022 WNBA season with a crushing stretch of what felt like inevitable losses -- 18 in a row -- that the team just had to endure while looking ahead to the 2023 draft and what turned out to be the No. 1 pick.
This year, the Fever again find themselves in last place, but not in the same kind of playing-out-the-string spiral. Indiana is still working hard to win games -- the Fever got victory No. 8 on Thursday and pushed the New York Liberty to the final minute Sunday -- while knowing another No. 1 pick might be on the horizon.
Without a lot of movement in this week's ESPN WNBA Power Rankings, let's focus on the bad news and good news for the Fever.
Indiana is 4 games out of a playoff spot with nine games left, so it's almost sure to miss the postseason for the seventh consecutive year. But on the bright side, No. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston is closing in on the Rookie of the Year award, something only one other Fever player (Tamika Catchings in 2002) has won.
Boston is the fifth WNBA rookie to have at least 450 points, 250 rebounds and 70 assists in her first season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The others -- A'ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker and Catchings -- all won Rookie of the Year honors, and all also have been league MVP.
The Fever are now also guaranteed the best odds at the No. 1 draft pick in 2024 -- provided they don't miraculously rally to make the playoffs. The lottery odds are based on the worst combined mark of the past two seasons; even if they finish this season 17-23, the best they can do this summer, they'd be 22-54 in that span after 2022's 5-31 record. The Phoenix Mercury, the team with the next-fewest wins over the past two seasons, already have 24 victories.
So 2024 would be the Fever's seventh straight year picking in the lottery. Will that at last be enough to get them back to the postseason for the first time since 2016?
The Iowa Hawkeyes' Caitlin Clark, the LSU Tigers' Angel Reese and the Stanford Cardinal's Cameron Brink are among the talented seniors-to-be. But they all have the option of returning to college for a fifth season, as this senior class is the last that can utilize the COVID-19 waiver granted to anyone who played in the 2020-21 school year.
The 2020 draft has produced just two stars: 1-2 picks Sabrina Ionescu (New York) and Satou Sabally (Dallas Wings). No. 3 pick Lauren Cox didn't work out for the Fever, but no one else in that draft has been a difference-maker. No. 4 pick Chennedy Carter still has the talent to be a standout player, but she's not currently in the WNBA, and with two franchises already having parted ways with her, we might not see her reach her potential.
The 2021 draft was one of the weakest in WNBA history, and Indiana went with the completely unexpected choice of Kysre Gondrezick at No. 4. Better choices would have been Michaela Onyenwere, Dana Evans or DiJonai Carrington.
Lin Dunn took over as Fever general manager in 2022 when former Fever star Catchings stepped down from the job. Two of Dunn's four first-round picks in 2022, Smith and No. 6 Lexie Hull, are still with the team. And Dunn's two first-round picks this year, Boston and No. 7 Grace Berger, are on the squad, as is third-round pick Victaria Saxton.
Everyone knew the Fever would hit a rough patch when Catchings retired in 2016. Few probably thought it would last this long. There have been moments of optimism this season, and there's still time to create more of that. But the draft seems likely to loom large again for Indiana in 2024.
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. New York (Tuesday), vs. New York (Thursday), vs. Los Angeles (Saturday)
The Aces' response to their Aug. 6 loss at New York? Three consecutive wins. A'ja Wilson's response to shooting 2-of-14 for nine points in that defeat to the Liberty? A combined 89 points and 35 rebounds in those victories, including a career-high 40-point game vs. Washington on Friday. All that and coach Becky Hammon getting inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame on Saturday made it a great week for the Aces, who now will try to defend their Commissioner's Cup victory from last season. One additional challenge of facing the Liberty twice this week: the uncertain status of Alysha Clark, who missed Sunday's game with back issues.
Previous ranking: 2
This week: at Las Vegas (Tuesday), at Las Vegas (Thursday), at Phoenix (Friday)
The Liberty have won six in a row and 10 of their past 11. Keeping the MVP race as tight as ever, Breanna Stewart had 42 points on Sunday, her third game this season scoring 40 or more. No other WNBA player has done that. Also on the historic front, Sabrina Ionescu reached 101 3-pointers for the season Sunday, joining Phoenix's Diana Taurasi and Las Vegas' Kelsey Plum as the only WNBA players to make 100 or more 3s in a season. It sets up what should be two interesting back-to-back games with the Aces.
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Dallas (Friday), at Chicago (Sunday)
It wasn't a great week for the Sun, who went 1-2. Their losses at Phoenix and Dallas ended a four-game road trip. The Sun's defense was uncharacteristic, giving up 90 or more points in back-to-back games after allowing that just three times previously all season. Connecticut will have a chance to finish strong, with seven of its 10 remaining regular-season games at home. Despite the losses, no team jumped ahead of the Sun in the Power Rankings.
4. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Connecticut (Friday), at Washington (Sunday)
The Wings had the misfortune of being the first team to face an irritated Las Vegas team after the Aces got blown out at New York. But after that expected 104-84 loss Tuesday, the Wings got a key win, beating Connecticut behind Sabally's 28 points and eight rebounds. But to hold on to fourth place in the league, Dallas will need to play well away from home the rest of the way. Six of its last 10 games are on the road, including the next three.
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Seattle (Friday), vs. Seattle (Sunday)
The Lynx got a victory at Chicago behind Collier's 29 points, but then she had just eight points in Minnesota's loss at Indiana. It's just the second time this season that Collier has been held below double-figure scoring. Still, the Lynx moved up a spot in the Power Rankings, in part because Atlanta and Chicago struggled.
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Indiana (Friday), vs. Dallas (Sunday)
Washington went 1-2 last week, but it appears things are finally looking up for the hobbled Mystics. Center Shakira Austin returned for Sunday's victory against Chicago after being out 16 games -- she last played June 25 -- with a hip injury. Austin had four points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. Meanwhile, Elena Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins and Kristi Toliver are getting close to returning from injuries, too. That could make all the difference for Washington down the stretch. Brittney Sykes (30 points vs. the Sky), Tianna Hawkins and Natasha Cloud have been carrying a heavy load for the Mystics in recent weeks.
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Chicago (Friday)
It was a rough week for the Dream, as they lost three in a row out West -- at Seattle, at Los Angeles and at Las Vegas -- in a four-day stretch and dropped three spots in the Power Rankings. The Dream are still on track to make their first playoff appearance since 2018. But what was working in July, when Atlanta went 8-3, isn't working as well in August, as the Dream are 1-5 this month. With just one game this week, they have some time to rest and regroup.
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Las Vegas (Saturday)
The Sparks have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, a rarity for the franchise. But they made progress in getting back to the postseason with two victories this past week, over Indiana and Atlanta. That gives the Sparks their first three-game winning streak of 2023. They have one game left this season against Chicago, the team they are currently fighting for the final playoff spot.
9. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 7
This week: at Atlanta (Friday), vs. Connecticut (Sunday)
Basketball really can be a weird game. After scoring 104 points three times in a row (what are the odds of that?) in victories, the Sky were then held to fewer than 80 points in three straight losses this past week. We said in last week's Power Rankings, "Chicago is an especially hard team to predict." We're going to keep repeating that, as the Sky battle to hold on to a playoff spot.
10. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Minnesota (Friday), at Minnesota (Sunday)
It's kind of funny to see a nine-win team flex over another nine-win team, but the Storm's social media folks did it Sunday after beating longtime rival Phoenix to complete a 4-0 season sweep. In a challenging year, you can understand the Storm wanting to celebrate skunking the Mercury. Seattle went 2-1 last week, also beating Atlanta. In fact, the Storm have won five of their past seven.
11. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. New York (Friday), vs. Indiana (Sunday)
Speaking of basketball being a weird game: The Mercury had a near-perfect first quarter on offense Thursday against Connecticut, scoring a WNBA-record 45 points on 16-of-17 shooting from the field. Phoenix then scored 45 points combined in the three other quarters, which was enough to hold off the Sun and give the Mercury back-to-back wins for the second time this season. Then Seattle did its flex.
12. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Washington (Friday), at Phoenix (Sunday)
Mitchell made her first All-Star appearance this season, and she is still seeking her first playoff appearance. It doesn't look like that will happen this year. But she had a strong week, totaling 67 points as the Fever went 1-2.