Fever

The Fever Have a Very Bright Future

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A lot has been written about Iowa star Caitlin Clark.

One of the most exciting players in the history of college basketball, Clark has taken the nation by storm. After four years of breaking countless records, including becoming the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I, Clark declared for the 2024 WNBA Draft.

For the second year in a row, the Indiana Fever won the Draft Lottery and will pick first on April 15. With the first pick last year, the Fever struck gold by selecting South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston. Averaging 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, Boston went on to become the fifth unanimous Rookie of the Year in league history. She was the first rookie to lead the league in field-goal percentage at 57.8 percent.

Clark and Boston will inevitably be paired together next season and will immediately form one of the toughest inside-outside threats in the league.

A New Era

Former Fever assistant Christie Sides took over as head coach last season. Like all coaches, Sides brought her own style of play and implemented her vision for the team. She brings passion and energy to the sideline, and it’s reflective of her team on the court.

The Fever had only won 11 games to go with 57 losses in the two seasons before Sides took over. With the addition of Boston and the emergence of Kelsey Mitchell, a 5’8” left-handed scorer, the Fever improved to 13-27 last season.

Sides was creative and intentional in getting Boston and Mitchell involved in various actions throughout the season. She can use the same actions to get Boston and Clark involved, allowing Clark’s playmaking ability to shine.

Clark and Boston

Clark is dangerous with the ball. While her scoring and long-distance shooting get the headlines, she is just as dynamic as a passer. Clark recently became only the sixth player in NCAA women’s basketball history to record 1,000 career assists.

For the first three years of her college career at Iowa, Clark teamed up with 6’3” forward Monika Czinano. Czinano was a four-time all-conference performer and was an honorable mention All-American in 2022 and 2023. Boston and Czinano have similar playing styles which will make Clark’s transition from college to the pros a lot smoother.

Point Guard Ball Screens

Last season, Sides used point guard Erica Wheeler in simple ball-screen actions with Boston. These same actions for Wheeler can be used for Clark next season.

A common action would be for the point guard to dribble across the alley at the opposite slot. The player in the slot would dive to the block, creating a 1-4 low look. This would trigger a ball screen from Boston with room for Clark to operate.

With another post like NaLyssa Smith on the floor with Boston, the Fever could set a cross screen from the weakside corner for Smith at the same time as the ball-screen action. This would cause Boston to pop instead of roll due to the area around the rim being occupied. Clark would have room to create for herself, a post entry for Smith coming off the cross screen, or Boston popping near the top of the key.

With four guards on the floor with Boston, the slot turns into a shooter. Instead of receiving a cross screen, the slot who dove to the block cuts back to the same slot while the ball screen is happening.

This action creates confusion for the defense. The primary help defender has to defend the cut to the slot while the screener, Boston, rolls to the rim. Clark would have space to finish at the rim. She also has shooters to kick to in the corners, Boston rolling to the rim, and a shooter at the top of the key.

Another great look is a flare screen by Boston followed by a spread ball screen for Clark. Clark would read the roller, then look for the shake (weakside relocation from the corner to the wing) by the player in the corner behind the ball screen.

Defenses are trained to not help off the strongside shooters. Therefore, a spread ball screen becomes a three-player action that is simple for the point guard to read.

2-Player Games

With a natural point guard on the roster in Wheeler, an eight-year veteran of the WNBA, Sides can pair her with Clark who can play off the ball. Sides can use actions she used for Mitchell last season for Clark next season.

The best action involving Boston and Clark is simple – a two-player game on one side of the floor while the other three players space on the opposite side of the floor. This gives the guard and post a myriad of options (e.g., slip, screen, handoff, reject).

In a 1-4 high set, Clark can use an “Iverson Cut” to catch the ball on the wing while still having her dribble available. The power forward on the elbow screens across for Boston on the other elbow. Boston will go right into an empty ball screen with Clark. Like the two-player game, this action eliminates any help defense on the weakside.

Special Sets (ATOs)

Coaches have special sets that they tend to save for after timeouts (i.e., ATOs). These are usually quick hitters occurring outside of the normal flow of their offense.

Sides and her staff ran effective sets out of timeouts last season. These ATOs with Clark involved would take the Fever to another level.

A twist on one of their favorite ball-screen actions, this ATO gets all of the Fever’s parts in the right spots. Clark would come off a high ball screen with Mitchell spotting up in the strongside corner. Meanwhile, a cross screen for Boston occurs at the same time.

Help off of Mitchell, and Clark will have an easy inside-out pass for a three. Switching the cross screen or not helping enough will create an easy lay-up for Boston. Too much attention on Mitchell and Boston creates an opportunity for Clark to finish herself.

At 6’0”, Clark is adept at finishing at the rim with contact. Giving her an option to come off a flex screen or reject the flex and come off a down screen set by Boston creates an entirely different challenge for the defense.

If Clark does use the down screen and doesn’t have an advantage, she could use Boston for a two-player game in the slot with shooters in both corners.

A favorite set for sharpshooter Mitchell would be a great set for Clark. A quick swing around the perimeter and a series of quick passes ultimately leads to a flare screen from Boston.

Once again, if the set doesn’t result in an immediate advantage, Clark and Boston have the whole side of the floor to themselves for a two-player game.

Pick Your Poison

These are common actions within the WNBA and actions that Clark is used to running at Iowa. Look for Sides to find simple and effective ways for Clark and Boston to interact on ball screens. Sides will have the benefit of attacking the defense with the same basic alignments and actions while using tweaks based on various lineups.

Clark’s creativity combined with Boston’s ability to hit open mid-range jump shots and finish at the rim will create a deadly combo for the rest of the league. Mitchell, an All-Star last season, should see her efficiency improve while maintaining her productivity.

Defenses will have their hands full defending the Fever’s new three-headed monster.

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

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