What Kelsey Mitchell's return could mean for Indiana Fever offense: 'We can be invincible'

INDIANAPOLIS — Kelsey Mitchell is itching in anticipation to get back into playing mode.

Mitchell injured her ankle while training for 3x3 National Training Camp back in April, and that injury has kept her out of most of training camp. She missed both of Indiana’s preseason games against Dallas and Atlanta, and just started practicing with the team Friday.

She phased into practice slowly; first, she only played offensive possessions. On Sunday, she added in defensive work.

More: Why Indiana Fever can carry 13 players on its opening-day roster

Mitchell, who started all 40 games for the Fever last season and was a WNBA All-Star, feels prepared. But she knows she has to go through the proper protocols to prevent more of an injury.

“I feel really, really great, but for me it’s making sure I’m being professional on and off the floor, making sure I’m listening to my doctors, listening to the proper protocol just to make sure I’m getting everything that I need going into the beginning of the season.”

Mitchell has been working with Indiana’s longtime athletic trainer, Todd Champlin, in her recovery. And whether she plays in the Fever’s season-opener on the road in Connecticut on Tuesday is ultimately up to what he thinks.

“That’s up for Todd to decide, it’s his decision,” coach Christie Sides said. “I’m looking forward to that day, for the thumbs up, whether that’s limited minutes, but can’t wait to get her out there.”

If Mitchell is ready to go for Tuesday night’s opener, it adds an entirely new element to what Indiana has done in preseason and training camp.

“Kelsey is just an explosion,” Sides said after Monday’s practice. “… Kelsey just brings a whole different dynamic and speed to this game, so it’s just gonna take some time to get used to what she does and put it all together.”

Mitchell — who averaged 18.2 points per game last season — has led the Fever in scoring for each of the last five years while missing only five games since being drafted in 2018. A career 37.3% 3-point shooter, Mitchell adds an element of spacing to the team’s offense that can help it excel.

All those scoring lists Caitlin Clark now sits atop, she had to pass Kelsey Mitchell to get there. The former Ohio State star finished her college career second on women's Division I basketball all-time scoring list.

Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell (0) poses for a photo Wednesday, May 1, 2024, during the Indiana Fever media day at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell (0) poses for a photo Wednesday, May 1, 2024, during the Indiana Fever media day at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Now, six years into her Fever career, she is second in franchise history with 3,156 points, behind only Tamika Catchings. She is an elite 3-point shooter, shooting 37% over her career and ranking second, behind Catchings, in made 3-pointers.

“She’s going to add to our spacing,” Sides said. “We’ve done a great job of everybody being able to hold their own defenders and not need to help as much, and Kelsey would just add to that, and that’s what’s so exciting about our team.”

Mitchell, who mostly plays off the ball,  would anchor the potential starting lineup of Clark at point guard, small forward Katie Lou Samuelson, power forward NaLyssa Smith and center Aliyah Boston.

With both Mitchell and Clark as high-volume 3-point shooters (Clark shot 37.8% her senior season at Iowa), Samuelson as a versatile guard/forward combo, and Smith and Boston in the paint, opponents will have a difficult time deciding single or double-team defense.

“We can be invincible,” Mitchell said. “I sincerely believe that. We’re young, we’re vibrant, we’re gonna be different than any other team you’ve ever seen, obviously, for so many different reasons. Our weapons can be utilized in different ways, that’s how great we can be because everybody can do everything.”

Mitchell isn't the only 2023 starter who has missed part of the preseason. Point guard Erica Wheeler has since recovered from an illness that forced her to sit vs. Atlanta.

Mitchell and Wheeler also provide a veteran presence in the backcourt for Clark. Whether it’s on the court or as mentors, those two being around and in uniform should make the early stretch of the season easier for Clark.

“Just lean on them, rely on them, ask them questions,” Clark said of how Mitchell and Wheeler help her. “They're gonna help carry me through this first part of the season and it's gonna be a learning experience for all of us as we get adjusted to playing with each other. But I'm just super fortunate and excited for those two, for sure.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: How Kelsey Mitchell return can help Indiana Fever, Caitlin Clark take off