Fever

NaLyssa Smith’s Versatility Can’t Be Denied

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That lean but stronger-than-they-look body type combined with a gorgeous mid-post game. That bully-ball mentality that simply allows this player archetype to out-will opponents. Am I describing Carmelo Anthony coming out of Syracuse back in 2003? Or what about this years #1 NBA draft pick, Paolo Banchero? He that fits this archetype description.

No.

I’m talking about the 2021 Big 12 player of the year NaLyssa Smith. Versatility is the name of her game. She’s taken at least 30 shots from every major part of the floor. She’s a monster on the glass, hauling in 66 offensive rebounds so far; good for fourth in the league. Her creating flashes jump off the screen when she puts together mean right-to-left crossovers, leaving helpless bigs in the dust. With her 3-point shot falling, she has the potential to be one of the best scorers in the W at her position.

Bully-ball paint scoring

At 6-foot-4 with a wolverine’s aggressiveness, Smith is able to bully defenders at the rim. She hits first and she hits first hard! She uses her lean-but-strong-frame to initiate contact. Knocking defenders back on their heels before they get a chance to contest, Smith usually is already at the rim finishing.

Smith bullies her way to easy baskets sailing over defenders corralling offensive rebounds while keeping the ball high to finish. The Fever rookie is tied for sixth in offensive rebounds per game in the W at the moment and holds claim to an impressive 8.2 offensive rebounding rate; ranking in the 84th percentile.

Smith and teammate Emily Engstler (#2 Off Reb) both crash the offensive glass like the game depends on it. Effort, grit, and a knack for knowing how the ball is coming off the rim. It’s rare to see rookies crashing the glass this aggressively.

Shooting 62 percent on shots at the rim (0-3 feet) is something we’d like to see improve. With her skill and strength, Smith shooting in the mid-70’s is ideal.

Her difficult layup attempts brings down her percentage at the rim (I like the ideas she has). Spinning into traffic and trying to out-will two defenders is something Smith could cut back on. That’s an understandable habit to be clear. She’s always been the most physically-dominant player on the floor. Knowing when to go through two players or pull it out and reset will be apart of the learning curve.

She spins a lot because she has good footwork. Something that’s developed through years of deliberate learning.

Pivot-work

A good chunk of Smith’s pre-draft value stemmed from her prolific post play. At every level, Smith has been a force inside. She loves turning over either shoulder getting into a jump hook or a post fade. She hasn’t shot the best percentage on those attempts, but a rookie having many different shots in their arsenal is promising.

Standing at 6-foot-4 with agile guard-like feet and sheer will (her strength is no joke either), she can still bullies opponents; even in the W.

Smith snatches the entry pass, pivots with her right foot while using her left leg as a launching pad, and takes two dribbles to bulldoze her way through the opposition.

That level of physicality paired with guard-like feet that allow her to spin around like a ballerina dancer will keep coaches up at night when this team grows.

Willing shooter

Smith has no doubt in her abilities and her shot-diet backs that claim. She’s willing to take any open perimeter shot. Teams aren’t treating her as a floor-spacer at the moment. She finds herself open at the three-point line more often than not.

This will change. Soon. 

Over the last 15 games, Smith is shooting 40% on 50 3-point attempts. Very confident in her stroke; making defenders pay for treating her like a 1990’s center.

She was scorching-hot from beyond the arc against the Las Vegas Aces on July 21st. Knocking down FIVE(!) threes as the Fever rallied a late failed comeback.

https://twitter.com/WNBA/status/1550328678835372032?s=20&t=QeJAAoKh7e3TEpfVwVxQSA

Smith’s 3-point rate has been on the rise for several years now. It increased from 2.3% to 5.3% during her junior and senior seasons. In her first year in the W, that rate has skyrocketed to 22%. That mark only ranks in the 33rd percentile.

We see Smith has added another wrinkle to her game, adapting to the more free flowing professional league, but she hasn’t made the three-point shot the only thing in her repertoire. She’s a problem attacking closeouts when teams finally realize “oh yeah, she can shoot the ball; better get out there and make it “tougher”.

Get to that cup

With crossovers and subtle jab steps, Smith will take advantage if teams decide to give her less space to shoot. If teams begin to closeout with more oomph effort or if teams start to play her tighter off the ball — Smith has flashed counters for either scenario. The flashes are there. These will be regular occurrences if teams play her tight in her prime.

https://twitter.com/IndianaFever/status/1551293952862846976?s=20&t=sZ7Rtz6riAMQ1ac-QwcD5g

Teams will always assign a big to her because of her physical dominance and I don’t see a world where bigs will be able to consistently stick with her on the perimeter. (Versatile bigs with mobility will be prominent in the future but, I see Smith bulldozing those players too). When attacking closeouts, Smith can even go to a high right-handed floater or get shots off with a euro step.

Smith is getting 11.8% of her points in fast break opportunities. That was a strength of hers coming out of Baylor. Nothing has changed. She’s a great athlete and with those long strides, she easily beats other bigs up the floor. With a smooth handle, she can push the ball in transition off turnovers.

Smith seems to roll and pop at the same frequency. She’s comfortable doing either and can exploit defensive mistakes with both. If bigs don’t get out there in time when she pops, boom! That’s and easy knockdown shot — Granted, she hasn’t shot well from the mid-range so far, but the tough shots she hits on occasion make me think there’s something there.

https://twitter.com/IndianaFever/status/1547271193417453573?s=20&t=sZ7Rtz6riAMQ1ac-QwcD5g

When she rolls, the defense shifts to her because she usually has a mismatch. When she draws two, her decision making will be critical. Score or pass? NBA legend, Oscar Robertson said that’s the most difficult decision to make in basketball.

Finding that balance between bullying not one but two players at the rim or finding the easier shot for yourself or teammates is important in Smith’s development.

Rookie of the year?

The ROY race is essentially down to Smith, Rhyne Howard, and Shakira Austin — Shoutout to 32-year-old rookie Rebekah Gardner, she’s been an AMAZING point-of-attack defender for the Sky. Howard seems to be the frontrunner in the race, getting off to a magical start as a shot-creator. Over the last month and a half, she hasn’t been clearly the best rookie.

Austin has been an incredible positioning defender for the #1 ranked Mystics defense. Smith has been a more versatile and efficient scorer the last month and a half compared to Howard. Smith has kept pace in production since June 7th (14.3 PPG to 15.2 PPG) and is outshooting Howard from the two-point territory and from three-point land during that timespan (and for the season).

Howard is doing her thing for a surprising *potential* playoff team — this will surely play a role in voters minds. The Fever being a young and growing team could work negatively against Smith, but is there a world where we can measure a player fairly while considering their circumstances?

Regardless of the ROY race, Smith has the potential to be a monster three-level-scorer. Already a double-double machine (eight this season, tied for fifth in the W). She takes shots from all over the floor and is as confident as they come. This Fever team has some great young talent. Led by dynamic scoring guard, Kelsey Mitchell, this team can be a threat in the future with more experience and reps.

All stats courtesy of Her Hoops Stats

About Brennan Sims

Freelance (W)NBA content creator. Appreciate big playmakers, off-hand passes/finishes, helpside rim protection, and deep range shooters. Follow me on Twitter: @SmokesolezNBA

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