NCAAW: Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith fits the bill as 2022 WNBA Draft lotto pick

Things look a little different for the Baylor Bears women’s basketball program these days.

Kim Mulkey, who coached Baylor to the national championships in 2005, 2012 and 2019, is out and now leads the LSU Tigers. Nicki Collen, who coached the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream for three seasons before heading to Baylor to take over from Mulkey, is on board, and she’s made some philosophy changes to the Bears, including a five-out offense that features more ball movement and 3-point shooting (28.5% 3-point rate this season; 14.1% 3-point rate last season).

For the Bears (10-4; 0-2 Big 12), those changes have had mixed results so far. Baylor has lost two marquee non-conference matchups to No. 3 Maryland and No. 13 Michigan and is yet to win a game in the Big 12 — an unusual sight for fans of women’s college basketball.

There has been one constant during Collen’s first season at the helm of Baylor, however, and that’s striker NaLyssa Smith’s play. The 6-foot-4 senior picks up where she left off in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, posting even more impressive numbers than she did under Mulkey and attracting recognition both across the conference and nationally.

It’s not just college awards voters who have taken notice. Smith entered the 2021-22 NCAA season widely viewed as a potential lottery pick, and at this point it seems all but certain she will be drafted into the top 4 this spring. Drafts simulated by ESPN, and Winsidr all predict Smith will be drafted second overall by the Indiana Fever, while Launderer’s report the last simulation puts her first in the general classification.

Such consensus is about the highest praise a WNBA draft prospect can receive, and while there’s still plenty of basketball left in the NCAA season, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Smith will be one of the first players to hear her name called in the 2022 draft. Let’s take a look at her game and stats and talk about what makes her such a great player.

Honors and statistics

Smith’s career at Baylor began in 2018, when the No. 13 overall rookie came off the bench behind future WNBA players in Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox. After being named a full-time starter the following season, Smith’s impact on the Bears became apparent; she was named to the 2020 All-Big 12 first team while earning All-America honorable mentions by both Associated press and WBCA.

Smith continued to build on his success as a junior, averaging career highs in points (18), rebounds (8.9), and steals (1.2). She racked up a huge amount of accolades for her performance, including Consensus Big 12 Player of the Year honors, All-America honors from the Associated press, WBCA, USBWA and ESPN, the WBCA Wade Trophy National Player of the Year and the WBCA Katrina McClain Award Power Forward of the Year.

Unsurprisingly, Smith was named the Big 12 Pre-Season Player of the Year for the 2021-22 season. She was also named a preseason All-American by the Associated press, and is currently on the watch lists for the Katrina McClain Award, Wooden Award, Wade Trophy and Naismith Award.

Internationally, Smith won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2018 FIBA ​​Americas U18 Championship.

How she helps the bears

There are few forwards in the Draft 2022 class more explosive than Smith, whose already excellent rebound blossomed even more as a senior.
Amy Kontras – USA TODAY Sports

As his stats suggest, Smith has risen through the ranks at Baylor, with his role steadily increasing with each season. This has resulted in what has been a huge senior season so far; Smith is currently averaging 21.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game – easily the highest of his career in either category – while averaging better than one steal and one block per game for the first time. .

What makes this volume increase more impressive is that the efficiency is still largely the same. In each of her four seasons as the Bears, Smith shot at least 55.9% on 2-point shots, and she scored at least 1.22 points per attempt starting in her sophomore season, according to His hoop stats.

Watch Smith play for a few minutes and it becomes apparent what is powering those metrics. His physical gifts are unlike those of most of his peers; she’s a formidable athlete who gets up off the ground quickly and explodes to the edge for effortless finishes. She has both the strength and body control to be a terror in the paint, and if the defenses keep her too close anywhere else on the court, she can blow right past them with a prime. not fast.

To put it succinctly: Smith does things most other players simply can’t do, whether it’s overpowering defenders in the post, outpacing them in transition and outplaying them on the boards .

The rebound is particularly notable when looking at Smith’s play. Even though her role at Baylor has changed, she has always been a strong rebounder, ranking no lower than the 91st percentile in total rebounding percentage in one of her first three seasons as a Bears.

As a senior, however, Smith was downright dominant on the glass. Only a handful of players nationwide currently have higher defensive rebound (27.9%) and total rebound (20.9%) rates than Smith, who appears to be taking advantage of the extra floor space opened up by the new attack from Collen.

Clearly, Smith’s physical tools will be her calling card when evaluated by professional scouts, and it’s not unlikely she’ll play her first minutes in the WNBA as a pick and roll/cut big. on which we rely for our energy. It is Smith’s face-up game development that holds the key to his professional potential; if she can demonstrate consistent 3-point shooting, it will make her off-dribble game much more effective and turn her into a real star as a game finisher.

Watch her play

The Bears have a trio of Big 12 games remaining that will be nationally televised on ESPN2: two against WNBA draft prospect Ashley Joens and the Iowa State Cyclones (January 23 and 28 February) and one against the rival Texas Longhorns (February 6). ). All other games on Baylor’s regular season schedule (which runs through March 6) can be streamed using the ESPN Plus streaming service.

All team statistics and records for the 2021-22 NCAA season are current through January 14, 2022.

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