Top of Her Class: Why NaLyssa Smith is Among 2022’s Best Rookies

By Kobe Mosley

As the 2022 regular season winds down, top candidates for end-of-season awards are emerging. A prime candidate for both Rookie of the Year and this year’s All-Rookie team is Fever rookie forward NaLyssa Smith.

In the 28 games she has played this season, the second overall pick is averaging 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. Among rookies this season, those numbers put her at second in scoring average and first in rebounds per game.

Smith’s rookie campaign has also been altered by a mid-season coaching change and missing four games due to injury. Despite the first-season difficulties, Smith managed to score a career-high 26 points in a June 19 win against the defending champion Chicago Sky, participated in All-Star weekend, and realized her dream of playing in the WNBA.

During her time at Baylor, Smith prided herself on adding something new to her game each offseason. That resulted in her numbers improving every season and culminated with Smith averaging 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds during her senior year, worthy of earning a place in the collegiate player of the year discussion.

The same can be said for Smith now; she continues to have that desire to improve. Before the season, Smith set a goal to increase her effectiveness at shooting the ball, specifically from beyond the arc. With four games left to play this season, she is shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from the three-point line. That ranks her fifth in field goal percentage and second in three-point percentage among rookies.

Transitioning from college to the pro game, Smith had to adjust to the pace and the increased playing time that the WNBA demands. Now with nearly a full season complete, she has been able to focus on watching film — something she loves to do — and sharpening her skills to help her team.

Perhaps her greatest skill on the court is her versatility. Smith can impact the game not just with her ability to score at all three levels, but with her rebounding and playmaking as well. Her eight double-doubles are the most by any rookie this season and currently places her with the third most double-doubles by a rookie in Fever franchise history, trailing only Tamika Catchings (12) and Teaira McCowan (11).

To close out the season, Smith will have a great chance to place herself at the top in the Rookie of the Year debate. Three of the last four games for Indiana are against No. 1 overall pick Rhyne Howard and No. 3 overall selection Shakira Austin. Smith is averaging 14.0 points and 5.0 rebounds against Atlanta this season. Against Washington, she is averaging 13.0 points and 8.5 rebounds.

Watch Smith and the Fever take on Howard and the Dream this Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV and the Indiana Fever Facebook page.