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What Will Free Agency Addition Alanna Smith Bring to the Lynx?

The ex-Chicago Sky forward has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal to join Napheesa Collier, Kayla McBride and Diamond Miller on the Minnesota Lynx.

Chicago Sky v Washington Mystics Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx made their first splash in 2024 WNBA Free Agency on Friday when they agreed to terms with versatile 6-foot-4 forward Alanna Smith on a two-year contract, according to ESPN’s Alexa Philippou and later confirmed by our Mitchell Hansen.

Smith, 27, enjoyed career-highs across the board last season with the Chicago Sky. The Tasmania, Australia native averaged 9.2 points on 49.8% FG, 29.4% 3PT, 67.9% FT shooting splits, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists to 1.5 turnovers, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks across 26.5 minutes per game in 38 appearances (35 starts).

After the 2023 season ended, Smith took her talents overseas to Turkey, where she has been terrific for Emlak in both the Turkish League and EuroCup. New Lynx teammates Napheesa Collier, Kayla McBride and Nina Milić also play in the Turkish League (Fenerbahçe), while Jess Shepard (Umana Reyer Venezia) takes the floor in EuroCup action. Smith holds averages of 18.7 points on 48.7/38.5/66.9 shooting splits to go along with 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists to 3.2 turnovers, 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks in 29.6 minutes per game across 22 games spanning both leagues.

Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve loves forwards with versatile skillsets, so it should come as no surprise that Minnesota pursued Smith and brought her aboard. At 6-foot-4, Alanna can operate in space, pass, drive, post-up and pass off the block, cut, crash the offensive glass, set screens, roll, pop, and stretch the defense with a jumper that is getting better every season. Defensively, she can guard multiple positions, and effectively uses her length on both the perimeter and the interior to disrupt passes and shots before willingly battling on the glass.

Regardless of how the Lynx proceed from here in free agency, Smith is a terrific pickup. She will fight right into what Minnesota does defensively around Collier, McBride, and Dorka Juhász, and has the potential to be a low-usage, high-impact player offensively with her driving, cutting, offensive rebounding, playmaking in the post and evolving jump shooting.

Given that Smith won’t command a maximum contract, signing her won’t prevent the Lynx from making more moves in the coming days. And while we don’t know exactly what the Lynx roster will look like next season, that doesn’t mean we can’t dive into what she’ll bring to the Lynx next season.


Offense

Connecticut Sun v Chicago Sky Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Overall Shot Chart

Face-Up/Screen Game

The first thing that pops out about Smith when turning on her game film is her aggression as a driver. She spends most of her time out on the perimeter as a forward that can handle the ball, set screens and play in the dribble hand-off game. But where the former Stanford star is at her best is playing off the catch.

Driving

She is a terrific athlete for her size at 6-foot-4, 180 pounds and frequently takes advantage of mismatches on the perimeter by darting past bigger defenders off the dribble and finishing at the rim.

(Editor’s Note: If you are reading this on Apple News, please click here so you can view embedded videos important to the analysis, and enjoy the best overall reading experience.)

This play is a good example of where impacts the game most as a scorer. Smith is very solid in spot-up situations, especially when it comes to attacking close-outs. A’ja Wilson leaves her feet on the pump fake, so Smith gets by her and finishes strong with her left hand.

Alanna is a right-handed shooter, but loves driving left; of the 41 drives she made that ended in a shot, foul or turnover, 31 of them were to the left, per Synergy Sports. Smith shot 12/18 on her drives going left (66.7% FG), compared to 1/4 (25%) going right.

She’s a tough customer, too. Smith routinely made difficult finishes through, around and over defenders last season; much like Lynx fans saw with Milić, Smith got hit in the face routinely but played through contact and pain to deliver for the Sky.

The No. 8 pick in 2019 turned it over on nine of her 41 drives (22.6% of takes), but scored or drew a foul (80.5%) more than twice as frequently as she gave it away. A common theme with her turnovers (not just on the drive) is that she struggled at times when opponents crowded her on the catch, like this:

Opposing defenses don’t crowd her too often, though, as she shoots 29.4% from beyond the arc. However, that could change in 2024 if her shooting development trend continues at the same rate it has since 2021. Smith shot 19.0% from deep in 2021, 24.0% in 2022, and 29.4% last season on 102 attempts, almost as many as she took in her first four seasons combined (107). Keep in mind as well that Smith shot 35.2% from deep on 440 attempts in her four-year career at Stanford, including 81/204 (39.7%) in her senior year on The Farm.

Screen Game

Another jump in her 3-point percentage would also benefit her in the pick-and-pop game, an area she is already very comfortable in. Smith shot 2/10 (20%) on pick-and-pop 3-pointers, per Synergy, but was still effective driving and posting up out of these actions.

The Sky loved to run double drag screen actions for Marina Mabrey and Courtney Williams, with Smith popping and Elizabeth Williams rolling to the rim. Here, they do exactly that, but instead of Smith taking a triple, she drives past Wilson and draws a foul.

I expect the Lynx to run this with Smith and Collier, interchanging who plays which role. Collier is a better shooter and post-up player, but both are adept drivers and comfortable in space or on the block; switching up who goes where after setting screens would be a good way to keep defenses honest and create second-side actions for Diamond Miller and Kayla McBride, especially if the guard handling in the action can shoot, which would put even more of a bind on the defense.

Opponents often assigned a guard or smaller wing to defend Smith to protect against her driving. But she was more than willing to make them pay for that, too. In this clip, Alanna pops to the short corner, where she catches it and immediately takes advantage of a four-inch height advantage she has on Li Meng by using her strength and post footwork to score.

While Smith likes to ghost screen and pop, she is also quite effective at making contact as a screener before rolling to the basket in more standard pick-and-roll actions. Here, she does an excellent job of sliding up to take Sabrina Ionescu out, forcing Kayla Thornton up in coverage. That leaves Smith unguarded on the roll, with Breanna Stewart too late to rotate on the back side.

Something that Reeve will appreciate about Smith’s game is her understanding of screening angles — an underrated key of pick-and-roll. Here, the Aussie sees that old friend Crystal Dangerfield is trying to ice the screen, so she undercuts Dangerfield, trusting that Williams would use her speed to jet past Dangerfield. That leaves Smith in a great position to just dart to the rim for an easy bucket.

Given Smith’s ability to drive, I like the way the Sky got her into dribble hand-off (DHO) actions, but would’ve like to have seen it more. In this play, Smith calls for Williams to come get the ball in a DHO, before she spins around to set a great screen that basically takes out both defenders in the action, and sets up an easy read for her guard.


Transition

Perhaps the most important facet of the game in which Smith will give the Lynx a boost offensively is in transition. Smith has long legs, good speed, and covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time for someone her size. When she isn’t in the paint corralling contested rebounds, she can sprint out in front of the transition defense for easy buckets.

She also put on film good contest-and-release reps like this one, forcing a tough shot from Arike Ogunbowale, and then beating her down the floor for an easy layup.

Smith scored 1.435 points per transition play that ended in her shooting, getting fouled, or turning it over (97th percentile, per Synergy). That mark ranked second among players with at least 40 transition plays, which trailed only WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson (1.440). McBride was the only Lynx player in the top 40 (1.161, 24th). The Lynx as a team ranked second-to-last in points per transition play (0.947) and generated transition plays on just 13.9% of their possessions (10th in the WNBA), so Smith will certainly help in this department.

When the 27-year-old doesn’t beat teams down the floor, she has a great understanding of spacing, filling lanes, trailing the play, and generally hanging around the rim when drivers come through the paint, which she displays in all of these clips:

She has especially good chemistry with Williams, who loves to drive to the baseline before passing back to the middle of the floor.

Beyond her good standard transition spacing, she is an opportunistic sealer, too, and takes advantage of smaller defenders picking her up in crossmatch situations.

And finally, she is very comfortable trailing the play and stepping into 3-point shots after she gets a rebound and hits it ahead to a guard.


Cutting

Unlike transition, Smith’s skills as a cutter will only bolster an area of the game the Lynx already excel in. Minnesota scored 348 points off of cuts last season (fourth in W, 8.7 PPG), per Synergy. The 2020 Tokyo Olympian does finds success as a cutter in ways that will translate very nicely to the Lynx offense.

First, Smith does a great job helping drivers that get stuck or teammates that lose their dribble and need help. The five-year veteran played alongside high usage players in Mabrey, Williams and Kahleah Copper, so she found other ways to impact the game as a scorer.

Think about how many times Miller or Tiffany Mitchell got stuck under the basket without an outlet to throw the ball to last season. Adding someone with Smith’s cutting will make the Lynx’s two best downhill athletes even more dangerous as playmakers next season.

Second, Smith played very well off of teammates posting up on the block. Mabrey and Elizabeth Williams liked to post up, so Smith often positioned herself in the opposite slot — prime cutting territory either to receive the ball or set up an opposite corner kick pass for a 3.

Her cutting off post-ups will certainly translate to a roster that boasts Collier and Shepard, two of the best low-block creators in the league. Given Juhász’s playmaking instincts and growing passing ability, Smith will also aid in her development, too.

Third, Alanna’s ability to read defenses as a screener translates nicely as an off-ball screen cutter. With a movement shooter like McBride and terrific drivers in Collier, Mitchell and Miller, who can all curl off pin-down screens, Smith will be busy screening for teammates out of the corners.

And finally, Smith is willing to flash to the middle of the floor to give her teammates a target to pass to before rising up and knocking down mid-range jumpers. That will definitely work regardless of who she takes the floor alongside.


Playmaking

Smith isn’t a high volume playmaker in the sense that she can lead a team in assists, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have useful playmaking skills. She played a connective role in the Sky offense, often initiating DHOs and making extra passes that opened up corner 3-point looks for her teammates.

Post-Up

We’ve already covered that defenses often assigned smaller players to try and guard Smith, since shutting off her driving is priority number one. While Smith is around league average in post-up scoring efficiency (0.967 points per post-up, 57th percentile), she makes hay on the block as a passer. Because teams often send a second defender to her on the block if she’s being defended by a guard, she has gotten quite comfortable making defenses pay for doing so.

Her post efficiency jumps to 1.167 points generated per post-up when you include passes. She turned it over on just 8.3% of her post-ups, a mark less than half of the frequency at which she draws a shooting foul (16.7%). Smith does an excellent job of staying composed when she sees a crowd inside and much more often than not makes the right read and delivers an on-time, on-target pass to teammates.

If that trend continues in 2024, you’ll see her:

1) Screen for a ball-handler on the perimeter so the defense has to switch and a smaller defender ends up having to guard her

2) Take the smaller defender onto the block and post her up

3) Go to work as a scorer and pass out of it to create an open shot for a teammate if the defense commits to her

That’ll be a consistent source of good offense if the Lynx lean into it.

High-Low

Smith is also a very good entry passer — a skill you need to have playing alongside Collier. The Sky loved to post-up Mabrey and Smith was often the one who would deliver a good pass into the low post to set Mabrey up in a scoring position.

Simple Passes

Often times, you don’t need to make the home run pass to be an effective playmaker on the perimeter. Smith rarely attempts the highlight plays and opts instead to consistently make simple playmaking reads and follow through on them with good passes. While she has room to grow as a distributor on the drive, she is an excellent passer above the arc, in transition and after collecting offensive rebounds.


Defense

We’ve talked about a lot of the things Alanna Smith does well on the offensive end, but it’s the work she puts in on the defensive end that will make the most impact with the Lynx.

Collier and Juhász are already a tremendous defensive duo in the front-court, but with Smith now in the fold, you can make a damn good argument that the best defensive front-court in the WNBA is now in Minnesota. That is especially important when you consider how many incredibly dynamic and dominant 4s and 5s there are in the WNBA.

Just to name a few — A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Collier, Alyssa Thomas, Brittney Griner, DeWanna Bonner, Nneka Ogwumike, Satou Sabally, Aliyah Boston, Jonquel Jones, Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Howard, Ezi Magbegor, Dearica Hamby, NaLyssa Smith.

Smith guarded every single one of them for stretches last season, and did quite well. While individual defensive rating and defensive win shares do not tell the entire story of a player’s impact (especially considering who is on the floor with them!) it should come as no surprise that Smith led the Sky in both met

Now, she’ll likely be tasked with doing it again in Minnesota, as the Lynx will want 1) Juhász playing as close to the rim as possible and 2) Collier to stay out of foul trouble.

The Aussie is armed with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, quick feet, incredible off-ball awareness, excellent timing as a low-man helper in pick-and-roll coverage, and great hands. She uses all of it to wreak havoc defensively, both on the perimeter and the interior of the defense. Let’s get into it.

Interior Defense

Smith will primarily be guarding players who do most of their damage inside the arc. Think players who like to post-up, score on the roll after setting a screen, or are effective cutters. While defenders obviously need to be willing to do the dirty work on the perimeter as well, interior defense demands so many more “little things” that make a defensive scheme work. But the most important demand it makes is someone who works hard, and Smith often made impressive hustle plays that infused the team with energy.

When you watch her play defense, you will very rarely see Smith get out-hustled — something that Reeve and her staff, and Smith’s new teammates will come to appreciate in short order.

Post Defense

Beyond her effort, what stood out to me most about Smith’s defensive chops was her ability to front the post and make it difficult for opposing guards to enter the ball into elite players in the post. She has a unique combination of strength, agility and length and uses it to swim around opponents posting her up to deflect passes or intercept them herself to start a transition possession.

Off-Ball Awareness

Smith’s off-ball instincts are as good as anyone in the league. Whether it is baiting opponents into throwing silly passes, playing in the gaps and making a lightning quick reaction, rotating on the back side of the defense, or knowing when to abandon her matchup to make a play, Smith can do all of it, and do all of it well.

Smith led the Sky in steals per 36 minutes (1.8) and her steal percentage (percent of possessions that end in Smith stealing the ball while she’s on the floor) of 2.5% ranked eighth league-wide, right behind Napheesa Collier. Smith often made life difficult for opposing offenses even when she didn’t make deflections or come away with steals. But her playmaking on the back end cannot go unnoticed, and it will surely draw roars from the Target Center crowd in no time.

PnR Defense

Another area in which her off-ball awareness shines is as the low-man in pick-and-roll situations. This means that when an opponent is running PnR, Smith is guarding a player in the corner on the side of the floor the screen-setter is rolling on.

Whether it is sliding into the paint to tag (briefly guard) a roller to allow the roller’s defender to catch up before retreating to her matchup, switching onto the rolling big, or protecting the rim against a ball-handler driving in a vacant lane, Smith makes an impact in every area you want to see from someone in that defensive position in the game’s most common action.

With Collier and Smith in either corners and Juhász defending the roller, the Lynx’s third-ranked pick-and-roll defense against bigs is only going to get better.

Rim Protection

Maybe my favorite stat I found when diving into Smith’s game gives fans a good idea of how disciplined yet aggressive Smith was on defense in 2023: she had more blocks (50) than she did shooting fouls (48). While I didn’t have time to run the numbers on how many WNBA players could say the same, I’d imagine it’s a very small number — at least among those who played big minutes.

Beyond that, Sky opponents shot 63.8% at the rim with Smith on the bench (would be seventh in the WNBA as a team) and that number nosedived to 60.9% with Alanna on the floor (would be third). While the Lynx did a pretty decent job of keeping their opponents away from the rim, they did struggle to force misses at a good clip. Minnesota allowed their opponents to shoot 64.2% at the rim last season, 10th (third-worst) in the WNBA, so Smith will surely help in this department.

Smith maintains her verticality very well and frequently positions herself in areas where she can make a play on the ball or contest a shot without fouling. She has a great understanding of angling defenders either into help or the baseline, which gives her an advantage over her matchup when it comes to forcing a miss and ultimately winning the possession.

Perimeter Defense

While Smith undoubtedly projects to play more interior defense than perimeter defense in Minnesota, that doesn’t mean she can’t get it done in space out above the 3-point line.

The former Second-Team All-American uses her long legs and quick feet to stay with quicker guards, but also isn’t afraid to use her strength and size to get into the body of her matchups and force them off course or to pick up their dribble.

While she does a good job of using her timing and quick hands to poke the ball away and come up with steals, her success there is also a primary culprit for why she fouls. Smith’s 116 fouls were fifth-most in the WNBA last season. The good news is that less than half of her fouls (48) were shooting fouls, so you can chalk at least some of her fouling up to the cost of her aggressive and opportunistic playmaking on that end.

She frequently uses the baseline to her advantage, too, allowing guards to get by her and think they have a layup before she closes ground quickly to block shots without fouling. You’ll see in her highlights below that she was able to effectively wall off guards, bigs and wings on the drive, chase down transition layup attempts for blocks, and come away with blocks and steals in 1-on-2 and 1-on-3 situations on the break.

To bring it all together, there isn’t one clip that encapsulates everything Alanna Smith can do on the defensive end of the floor better than this one:

She’s guarding NaLyssa Smith, one of the WNBA’s better scorers at the 4, who can roll to the basket and pop out to knock down 3s. The ball-handler here is Erica Wheeler, one of the fastest players in the league. Alanna briefly switches onto Wheeler to buy Dana Evans time to get back, before jetting back out to Smith, who then engages a DHO with Victoria Vivians, a great 3-point shooter who can also put the ball on the deck. Because Vivians can shoot it, the Aussie switches with Mabrey and plays tight in the hand-off action, preventing the Fever guard from getting up a 3. But Alanna then moves her feet, forcing Vivians to pick up her dribble, which prompts another DHO, this time with Kristy Wallace. The new Lynx switches again, slides her feet, forces Wallace to pick up her dribble, and stuffs the shot, forcing a shot clock violation.

An entire possession that Alanna Smith blows up before finishing it off with a nasty block that gets all of her teammates fired up.