"We're going to rebuild with young players," said Lin Dunn, the former Indiana head coach who took over as the franchise's general manager in February. "Everybody's going to play hard, everybody's going to work hard, everybody's going to be high energy, hungry to play."
The Fever have picks Nos. 2, 4, 6 and 10 in the first round Monday. They also have No. 20 in the second round and Nos. 25 and 34 in the third. This is a new challenge for Dunn, who coached the Fever to their 2012 WNBA championship. She hoped when she came on in an advisory capacity in late 2021 that she would be helping former Fever star Tamika Catchings in the rebuild.
But Catchings stepped down in February, and Dunn was moved into the role of architect for a team that hasn't had a winning record since 2015, when the Fever lost in the WNBA Finals. They were .500 in 2016, and have had losing records in the five seasons since.
Coach Marianne Stanley, who is entering her third season with the Fever, and Dunn hope to give Indiana a change in identity. They need this draft to help ignite that.
"I've got a three-year plan in my mind," Dunn said. "Obviously, looking at our roster, we need bigs, post help, 4s and 5s. We're thin there. There's no reason why I can't get some bigs that can defend and run and score."
Dunn and Stanley, who was recently announced as a 2022 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, have known each other for 40-plus years and both have had success in the college and pro games. But it has been lean times in Indianapolis since Catchings retired as a player following the 2016 season, the last time the Fever went to the playoffs.
"There have to be changes," Dunn said. "What we've been doing the last few years is not working. So let's go in a different direction. We haven't valued defense like we should have. I've told her, 'Marianne, I've got to get you some more talent.'
"I think the Fever fans are disappointed. The longtime fans expect better. They expect to be in the playoffs. The owners care about this franchise and so do the fans. We need to put a better team on the floor for them."
Dunn has not played coy about her thoughts on the No. 2 pick. She expects the top two selections to be Kentucky Wildcats guard Rhyne Howard and Baylor Bears forward NaLyssa Smith, but isn't sure in which order they will go. She said she wasn't willing to make a trade with the Washington Mystics to move up to the No. 1 spot -- which the Atlanta Dream did from No. 3 -- because she will be pleased to get either player.
"I still think we're sitting exactly where we want to be," Dunn said. "I would be happy with Howard or Smith. I'd be happy with [Ole Miss'] Shakira Austin. But I think if [Atlanta] takes Howard, we'll take Smith and vice versa.
"I've always thought Howard and Smith are franchise players. We can build this franchise back around either one of them. I love them both."
Along with this being a big draft for the Fever, it could be the same for the Dream with the top pick, and for the Las Vegas Aces, who traded to get the Nos. 8 and 13 picks from the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday and now have five selections overall.
Here is ESPN's final mock draft before the real thing plays out.
Kentucky | guard | 6-foot-2 | senior
Howard at her best could be a matchup problem in the pro game just as she was in college. She averaged 20.5 PPG and 7.4 RPG this season. Her 284 career 3-pointers indicate she can be lethal from the perimeter, and she is also big enough to post up against most defenders. If she is indeed the player Atlanta was hoping to get when it traded for the No. 1 pick, Howard should seize the opportunity to become a signature player for the franchise.
Baylor | forward | 6-foot-4 | senior
Dunn praised the skill sets of both Howard and Smith. But Smith looks to be a better fit right now for the Fever, who are in need of post help and more energy on defense. Baylor coach Nicki Collen said she thinks Smith had her best defensive season yet as a senior, and would embrace guarding opponents' best players. Smith averaged 22.1 PPG and 11.5 RPG this season, and while she is known for scoring in the paint, she believes her range will keep growing.
Ole Miss | center | 6-foot-5 | senior
Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault has the heart of a true scout, something he did at the NBA level for a long time, too. As such, he generally doesn't show his cards when talking before the draft. So he might go a different direction than Austin, who has generally been pegged as third on most draft boards. But if he goes with Austin, she could have an All-Star future. She averaged 15.2 PPG and 9.0 RPG for the Rebels this season and can be a force on interior defense for Washington.
Louisville | forward | 6-foot-1 | senior
If ever a player looked like a "Lin Dunn type," it's the scrapper Engstler. And that's why Dunn might use a lottery pick to get her, rather than risk New York taking her at No. 5. Engstler made a big impact in her one season at Louisville, helping lead the Cardinals to the program's fourth women's Final Four. She averaged 11.9 PPG and 9.4 RPG, and her constant energy, ability to disrupt the passing lanes and grit could help the Fever's lackluster defense.
Oregon | center/forward | 6-foot-5 | redshirt junior
Sabally has been projected as a lottery pick, and that's where we have had her in previous mocks. But the post played just 47 career games with the Ducks because of injuries, and she often wasn't able to practice much. She averaged 14.2 PPG and 7.5 RPG in college, and her potential is huge. So Dunn might decide she is worth the risk and take her fourth. If not, the Liberty could decide to pick her.
NC State | center | 6-foot-5 | senior
There seems to be a wide range of opinion on Cunane, who finished her Wolfpack career averaging 14.8 PPG and 7.9 RPG. Is she ready to play right away? Can she get stronger? Will she go later in the first round? Or fall out of the first round altogether? With Dunn needing size and wanting good chemistry, Cunane could be a solid pick. She made 112 3-pointers in college, shooting 41.1% from behind the arc, so that is a legitimate weapon for her. And she's a hard worker who will fill whatever roll she is asked to play.
Tennessee | guard/forward | 6-foot-1 | senior
The Wings could use some more size and depth at the wing position, and Burrell could provide that. Because of an injury this past season, she had a more impressive junior season statistically than her senior campaign. But a completely healthy Burrell might be another offensive threat for a Wings team that has several.
8. Las Vegas Aces: Sika Kone
Mali | center | 6-foot-3
The Aces made Sunday's deal with Minnesota to get two more picks, and they might spend one on Kone. She is just 19, so her immediate impact might not be huge. But her long-range potential could be, and give the Aces more depth on the interior.
Florida Gulf Coast | guard | 6-foot-1 | junior
Bell, who started her college career at Ohio State, averaged 23.6 PPG and 9.4 RPG in two seasons at Florida Gulf Coast, while making 143 3-pointers. In short, she is a pure scorer, and her size and strength at 6-1 could add some muscle to the Sparks' perimeter offense.
South Carolina | guard | 5-foot-7 | senior
Henderson had her best game at the best time, helping the Gamecocks win the national championship. If the Fever go post-heavy with their first three selections, they might not pass on Henderson if she is available. As a point guard, she can be a sparkplug on both offense and defense.
Michigan| forward | 6-foot-2 | senior
Hillmon is a tough-minded player who is going to help any team in rebounding and defense. It's no secret there is concern over Hillmon's lack of shooting range, but she could expand her game more at the professional level. Working with a player like A'ja Wilson who has done that could be a big boost for Hillmon.
UConn | guard | 5-foot-11 | senior
Williams at her best is a promising guard who might find her stride as a pro. She didn't have a very good national championship game, going 1-of-7 from the field for two points, but UConn as a team struggled. Williams has shown the capacity to be really dangerous when the full spotlight isn't on her, and it wouldn't need to be with the Sun.
13. Las Vegas Aces: Veronica Burton, G, Northwestern
14. Washington Mystics: Evina Westbrook, G, UConn
15. Atlanta Dream: Olivia Nelson-Ododa, F, UConn
16. Los Angeles Sparks: Lorela Cubaj, F, Georgia Tech
17: Seattle Storm: Nia Clouden, G, Michigan State
18. Seattle Storm: Jade Melbourne, G, Austraila
19. Los Angeles Sparks: Queen Egbo, C, Baylor
20. Indiana Fever: Maya Dodson, F, Notre Dame
21. Seattle Storm: Lexie Hull, G, Stanford
22. Minnesota Lynx: Jenna Staiti, C, Georgia
23. Las Vegas Aces: Khayla Pointer, G, LSU
24. Connecticut Sun: Mya Hollingshed, F, Colorado
25. Indiana Fever: Jordan Lewis, G, Baylor
26. Phoenix Mercury: Ameshya Williams-Holliday, C, Jackson State
27. Los Angeles Sparks: Kianna Smith, G, Louisville
28. Minnesota Lynx: Reka Dombai, G, Hungary
29. New York Liberty: Chloe Bibby, F, Maryland
30. Dallas Wings: Vivian Gray, F, Texas Tech
31. Dallas Wings: Joanne Allen-Taylor, G, Texas
32. Phoenix Mercury: Jasmine Dickey, F, Delaware
33. Seattle Storm: Hannah Sjerven, F, South Dakota
34. Indiana Fever: Aisha Sheppard, G, Virginia Tech
35. Las Vegas Aces: Macee Williams, PF, IUPUI
36. Connecticut Sun: Kayla Wells, G, Texas A&M
The players vying for the WNBA draft No. 1 pick
Check out highlights from Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and others who are in contention to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 WNBA draft.