Things are a little different for the Baylor Bears women’s basketball program these days.
Kim Mulkey, who coached Baylor to national championships in 2005, 2012 and 2019, has retired and now leads the LSU Tigers. Nicki Collen, who coached the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream for three seasons before moving to Baylor to succeed Mulkey, is on board and she’s brought some philosophy changes to the Bears, most notably a five-out offense that’s more Ball movement and 3-point shots (28.5 percent 3-point ratio this season; 14.1 percent 3-point ratio last season).
For the Bears (10-4; 0-2 Big 12), these changes have had mixed results so far. Baylor lost two out-of-conference marquee matchups to No. 3 Maryland and No. 13 Michigan and has yet to win a game in Big 12 play — an unusual sight for women’s college basketball fans.
However, there has been one constant in Collen’s first season at the helm of Baylor, and it is forward NaLyssa Smith’s play. The 6-foot-4 veteran is picking up right where she left off at the 2021 NCAA tournament, posting even more impressive numbers than under Mulkey and earning recognition at both the conference and national levels.
It’s not just the College Awards voters who are taking notice. Smith entered the 2021-22 NCAA season, which is widely viewed as a potential lottery pick, and at this point it seems almost certain that she will be drafted into the top-4 this spring. Mock drafts from ESPN, Lines.com and Winsidr all predict Smith to be drafted by the Indiana Fever second overall, while the latest mock from Bleacher Report sees her as the overall winner.
Such consensus is about the highest praise a WNBA draft prospect can receive, and while there is still plenty of basketball left in the NCAA season, it seems a foregone conclusion that Smith will be one of the first players who will hear her name the 2022 draft. Let’s take a look at her game, her stats and what makes her such a great player.
Honors and Statistics
Smith’s career at Baylor began in 2018 when the No. 13 overall came off the bench behind future WNBA players 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 and received an All-America Honorable Mention from both the Associated Press and WBCA.
Smith continued to build on her success as a junior, averaging career bests in points (18), rebounds (8.9), and steals (1.2). She has garnered a tremendous amount of awards for her performance, including 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 Power Forward of the Year Awards.
Not surprisingly, Smith was named Preseason Big 12 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 watchlists 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 2022 draft class more explosive than Smith, whose already excellent rebounding thrived as a senior. Amy Contras-USA TODAY Sports
As her stats would suggest, Smith has climbed the ladder at Baylor, with her role steadily increasing with each season. It culminated in what has been a tremendous season for seniors so far; Smith is currently averaging 21.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game — by far the highest of her career in either category — and for the first time is averaging more than a steal and block per game.
What makes this increase in volume even more impressive is that the efficiency is still largely the same. In each of her four seasons as Bear, Smith has shot at least 55.9 percent on 2-point shots, and she’s scored at least 1.22 points per attempt since her sophomore season, according to Her Hoop Stats.
Watch Smith play for just a few minutes and it becomes apparent what drives these metrics. Her physical gifts are unlike most of her peers; She’s a great athlete, getting off the ground quickly and exploding to the edge for effortless-looking finishes. She has both the power and body control to be a terror in the paint and if the defense guard her too closely anywhere else on the pitch she can blow right past them with a quick first step.
Long story short, Smith does things most other players just can’t do, from overwhelming defenders at the post, to passing through the transition phase, to outwork the boards.
The rebound is particularly notable when looking at Smith’s game. Though her role at Baylor has changed, she has been a consistently strong rebounder, not ranking below the 91st percentile for overall rebound percentage in any of her first three seasons as a Bear.
As a senior, however, Smith was downright dominant on the glass. Only a handful of players across the country are currently recording higher defensive rebound (27.9 percent) and overall rebound (20.9 percent) rates than Smith, who seems to be enjoying the extra floor space opened up by Collen’s new offense .
Obviously, Smith’s physical tools will be her calling card when evaluated by professional scouts, and it’s not unlikely that she’ll play out her first few minutes in the WNBA as a pick and roll/cut big, who can be relied on for her energy . It is Smith’s evolving open-ended game that holds the key to her professional potential; If she can demonstrate a consistent 3-point shot, her off-dribble game becomes so much more effective and she becomes a real star as a play finisher.
Watch her play
The Bears have three remaining Big 12 games that will be televised nationally on ESPN2: two against WNBA draft pro Ashley Joens and the Iowa State Cyclones (Jan. 23 and Feb. 28), and one against rival Texas Longhorns (Jan . February). ). All other games on Baylor’s regular season schedule (which runs through March 6) can be streamed via the ESPN Plus streaming service.
All stats and team records for the 2021-22 NCAA season are current as of January 14, 2022.