The Upside of NaLyssa Smith

NaLyssa Smith, the second overall pick of the Indiana Fever, is not having the level of success of the players picked either ahead or behind her, at least not yet. Rhyne Howard, the number one overall pick in the 2022 draft, was deservedly named to the All-Star game that just happened in Chicago. Shakira Austin, the third overall pick, is starting over two other players in Myisha Hines-Allen and Elizabeth Williams who are veterans who have started 239 games between the two of them. Both are having very impressive rookie seasons, to match anything recent rookies have done.

However, the story of a player’s career is not told in their first year in the league. Look at last year’s class, with Dana Evans having the best games from the class in 2022. Michaela Onyenwere, last year’s rookie of the year, has struggled to find playing time and her shot from both 2 and 3. 

NaLyssa Smith has shown enough to think she has a chance at being the best scorer player from this class, in time. NaLyssa Smith’s strength is her scoring versatility. She can both shoot 3s and pressure the rim. After a cold start, she is shooting a very respectable 35% from 3, though only 58%. While she is not going to be running off screens like Howard anytime soon, her ability to stretch the floor at the 4 and 5 is valuable. Austin has yet to make a 3 in her career.

Smith is able to put pressure on the rim from the perimeter in ways that Howard does not. Austin will use her speed against slower centers, but Smith has been able to at times beat even good 4 defenders. Howard is shooting a decent percentage at the rim, but hardly gets there. Though both Howard and Austin are good athletes, Smith walked into the league as one of the most explosive players, able to soar for rebounds. The Fever can continue to user her for alley oops to provide an unusual ability to put pressure on the rim, something only really Brianna Turner in Phoenix also does.

The table below shows how Smith is versatile compared to Howard and Austin. All 3 are effective for rookie, but Smith is the most balanced. Usage and 3 point stats three per Her Hoop Stats and % in the paint and % less than 5 feet per Worth noting that shooting numbers by distance can be wonky, where does a layup count when the player took off 6 feet away but ended less than 5, but still interesting.

USG3 Pt%3PA/40% Point in the PaintShooting % less than 5 feet
Rhyne Howard23.8%36%8.722%60%
NaLyssa Smith22%35%3.649%61%
Shakira Austin18%0.167%68%

All three of these players will improve as they move forward, so the fact that Howard and Austin have been so effective and will keep getting better give them an advantage. However, going into the draft it was acknowledged that Smith was likely going to take a bit more time, as her transition to the W was potentially going to be trickier than Howard, who already had the dead eye shooting, or Austin, who was stepping into a veteran laden team with multiple quality veterans, including a former MVP. 

Smith is hampered by being on the youngest team with the fewest quality veterans around her. Kelsey Mitchell should have made the All-Star team and Victoria Vivians has had a good season, but other than those two the surrounding talent is not as strong as the Dream have, never mind the possible championship contender Mystics. Smith will look even better, assuming the Fever rebuild adds sufficient talent. Aliyah Boston next to Smith would be quite enjoyable, but even the size and shooting of Diamond Miller on the wing would be a solid addition.

The one area that Smith is well behind both Austin and Howard is in defense. While Smith competes and has shown the ability to move her feet in space against smaller defenders, she is not the level of help defender that the others are. Howard, a wing listed 2” shorter, blocks more shots and gets many more steals than Smith

As the Fever grow over the next few years, Smith has the tools to be the prototypical modern big on offense. Her size and speed means she can plat either 4 or 5 depending on the needs of the Fever and she should be able to help anchor a good playoff level offense in time.

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