Grace Berger, one of the most decorated players in Indiana women’s basketball history, added another bullet point to her resumé when she was named to the WNBA’s All-Rookie Team.
The honor came as no surprise to the Ball Knowers among us,
Let’s take a look back at the former Hoosier’s first professional season and figure out how she managed to do it.
(Back Home Again In) Indiana
After wrapping up her five-year tenure in Bloomington as IU’s all-time leader games played, a four-time All-Big Ten First Team selection, and a two-time AP All-America Honorable Mention, Berger hopped on I-69 and drove an hour north.
Grace was selected by the Indiana Fever with the seventh overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Within the Hoosier state she’d stay:
Fans were pumped, and they had good reason to be. Six picks prior to Berger, the Fever selected former South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston, taking the three-time All-American with the first overall pick to solidify their frontcourt for the next decade. Great news for Grace, whose time at IU taught us that she knows how to play with a dominant post player. Indiana and Berger were once again a perfect fit.
Berger’s handles, passing ability, and signature midrange jumper certainly warranted going in the first round, but the relationship between top picks and professional success is not direct in women’s basketball. She was going to have to fight to even make the team.
Just 15 members of the 36-player 2023 draft class cracked an opening night roster. Grace, thanks to a good camp, was one of them.
A new role
Berger started the season doing something she hadn’t since the 2019 NCAA Tournament: coming off the bench.
Given all the other talented guards on Indiana’s roster like Lexie Hull, Kelsey Mitchell, and Erica Wheeler, this was to be expected. What the 7,000+ fans attending the Fever’s season opener versus Connecticut didn’t see coming, however, was Berger never being put into the game. She was the only member of the Fever to dress who did not play in the 70-61 loss, and the Hoosier faithful... weren’t happy about it.
Berger ended up making her debut in her second game, playing three minutes and scoring her first career points at New York. Her first bucket was nice!
first career points for Grace Berger! pic.twitter.com/TbO1EPKDD0— Indiana Fever (@IndianaFever) May 21, 2023
Berger incrementally earned more minutes and flashed what she could do with each (brief) run. A crisp entry pass here, a behind-the-back crossover there, a foul drawn on a midrange jumper, whatever. Each time Grace touched the floor she contributed, and it became apparent that her lack of playing time was puzzling.
There was no way the Fever could continue limiting Berger to just 6.8 (her average through 16 games) minutes per contest, especially after her breakout 15 point, seven rebound, four assist, three steal performance versus the New York Liberty in July.
Yours truly was in the building for that one, and it was awesome. The Fever were down big heading into the fourth but staged a furious comeback, scoring the last 16 points of regulation to force overtime with one of the league’s superteams. Indiana eventually lost, and the arena full of screaming children was certainly jarring at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, but it was so great to see Grace ball out in-person again. “Camp Day” at Gainbridge was one of the bigger highlights of my summer.
Carving a niche
Berger’s coming out party was the Fever’s last game before All-Star weekend. She’d continue to cement herself as a legitimate role player after the break.
Over Indiana’s final 20 games, she averaged 19 minutes, 5.4 points, and 2.3 rebounds per contest. Berger improved upon her first half figures considerably in all three categories.
Highlights from her home stretch include shooting over 50% in back-to-back victories over Seattle and Atlanta (8/27) before going a perfect 3-3 from the field in Indiana’s season finale upset of Minnesota. That first pair of games made up the latter legs of Indiana’s first three-game win streak since 2021. The Berger-Boston duo is looking good so far:
What a sequence from Grace Berger and Aliyah Boston. Berger throws a phenomenal skip pass with a strong pin-in screen from Boston.— Zion Brown (@z10nbr0wn) June 15, 2023
Then Berger chases down the rebound and the two operate an empty PnR to perfection. #IndianaFever pic.twitter.com/DNb4gZq2VI
The clip above is Grace doing what she does best, but we’ve known that she and Boston would be running the PnR since draft night. The most interesting aspect of Berger’s transition from college to pro has been the development of her three-point shot.
Given all the outside threats she had for teammates, Grace was not relied upon to make threes at IU and only attempted 48 (48-157, 30.6%) during her college career. With that being said, it is surprising to learn that she led all rookies in 3PT% with a 47.1% (16-34) figure. She was also the most efficient of all Fever players who attempted more than two threes (Victaria Saxton was 1-2), but only took around 4% of Indiana’s total three-point attempts.
The Fever finished the season with the third-fewest three-pointers attempted (791) and have to significantly up their volume if they want to contend for a playoff spot next season. They’ll need someone to stretch defense and create space for Boston down low... why not Grace?
I’m not bringing this up to say Berger is going to become a bonafide three-point specialist in the next year or so, but who knows? With the strong work ethic we all know her to have, it’s safe to say Grace’s role with the Fever can, with time, become whatever the team needs it to be. She’s malleable as they come.
Berger will be spending the winter overseas, suiting up for Gernika KESB of Spain’s Liga Feminina. The Basque-based club’s season is expected to start up in early October.
Stateside, she’s proven herself as a valuable asset for Indiana moving forward. With Berger, Boston, and another high pick in next year’s draft, this Fever bunch will continue to make positive strides in 2024.