Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Nalyssa Smith, the 6-foot-4 Baylor senior forward, has been one of the top players in the country this season, picking up where she left off last season. Her game has taken off with new coach Nicki Collen, who coached the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream before making her way to Baylor to succeed Kim Mulkey. Mulkey, who led the Baylor Bears to three national championships in 2005, 2012, and 2019, is now the head coach of the LSU Tigers.
In Collen’s offense the Bears play more of a five-out offense and have more ball movement and 3-point shots (28.5 percent 3-point rate this season; 14.1 percent rate last season). This has led to Smith’s rise from a lottery pick to the potential top pick in the draft.
She has worked her way up since coming in as a freshman in 2018 as the 13th ranked recruit in the country and came off the bench behind future WNBA players in Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox. Once she was named a full-time starter, she relished the opportunity, being named to the 2020 All-Big 12 First Team while also earning All-America Honorable Mention honors by both the Associated Press and WBCA.
She continued building upon her success her junior season, averaging career-highs in points (18), rebounds (8.9) and steals (1.2). The accolades would continue for Smith her junior year when she accumulated 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.
She was named the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year for 2021-22 and was also named a Preseason All-American by the Associated Press, and on watch lists for numerous awards such as the Wooden Award, and Wade Trophy.
This season Smith has averaged 21.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game with an increased role for the 10-4 Bears, which is by far the highest of her career in both categories while also averaging a steal and a block per game for the first time. She is dominant on the glass, posting a defensive rebounding (27.9 percent) and total rebounding (20.9 percent) rate than Smith, who seems to be enjoying the additional floor space opened up by Collen’s new offense.
She has also demonstrated a developing face-up game and a consistent 3-point shot that will surely unlock her potential at the professional level and make her a tough cover defensively for anyone.
Smith will have competition for the top pick, as Kentucky senior guard Rhyne Howard is also in the running for the top pick averaging 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and four assists per game on 45% from the field for the 8-4 Wildcats.
Overall, whoever gets Smith will be getting someone who has continued to improve her game and shows no signs of slowing down, which will make WNBA teams at the top drool over what she can ultimately become.