Defense, the Name of the Game For Smith

By Arash Azarmi,
Posted: Aug. 21, 2009

It’s quite apparent that the Phoenix Mercury are known for their uptempo, run-and-gun style of play. It’s a style known for its fast-paced action, with most of the focus being on offense. Most fans - and a lot of players - would agree that it is the most fun way to observe the game of basketball. But for veteran Tangela Smith, her fun happens on the other end of the court.

“I’ve always loved blocking shots,” the 12-year vet said. “The most important thing for me to do is always be aggressive on defense, and it’s something I take pride in.”

Her love of blocking shots has translated to great things for she and the Mercury.

During Thursday’s game against Washington, she wasted no time adding another block to her impressive resume less than one minute into the game. That rejection gave Smith a very rare milestone. The 6-4 center became only the fourth player in WNBA history to reach 500 total blocks in a career. The three other players to have accomplished the feat are Los Angeles’ Lisa Leslie and Margo Dydek and Seattle’s Lauren Jackson.

The Chicago native, who was unaware of the approaching milestone, told she was happy to be recognized for her efforts.

“I’ve been in the league for 12 years now, I should have some blocks,” the Iowa alum laughed. “But it’s great to be put in the same category as those other ladies. It’s truly an honor.”

For Smith, her defense boils down to hard work and being aggressive. She knows she isn’t always the biggest player out on the court, but that doesn't deter her from coming up big on defense.

“I am a little undersized in the post, so the girls are bigger than me,” Smith said. “I just try to help my teammates in any way I can. Whether coming from the weak side of the floor or whatever, I try to be aggressive to get to the ball as quick as I can.”

Smith claims her role model on defense growing up was San Antonio Spurs All-Star David Robinson. In fact, the reason she wears the number 50 on her jersey is because of the NBA Top 50 All-Time Great who she has said she tried to model her game after.

Former NBA player and current Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines had the opportunity to see Robinson up close and personal during his playing days, and having coached "Tan" the last three seasons, said like "The Admiral", Smith's worth goes beyond the statistics.

“Tangela is a true veteran, comes to practice everyday,” the second-year head coach said. “Her greatest asset is probably her demeanor. She’s not high, she’s not low. She gives you the same output every game. It’s something that’s important in our league. She may not be the leading scorer on our team, but she’s probably one of our most valuable pieces.”

Many fans may not remember how the Mercury acquired Smith in the first place. On Draft Day 2007, the Mercury had the number one overall pick in the draft. Then assistant coach to Paul Westhead, Gaines felt that a player of Smith’s caliber would best fit a fast-paced system that would feature Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter. Phoenix ended up trading the number one pick (Lindsey Harding) to the Minnesota Lynx for Smith straight up, in a move that some critics originally questioned.

“The first thing we wanted to do that offseason was get Tangela,” Gaines said. “Everyone thought we were crazy, but it paid off in the end.”

The Mercury won the championship the following year and in doing so, silenced all those critics. Now fast forward two years later to 2009, and the “Mighty Mercury” seem poised again to make another run at the title. They’ll be doing so with Smith anchoring the defense once again, just like in 2007. However, don’t be fooled into thinking she plays exceptional on just one side of the court. Her defensive numbers overshadow another crucial statistic. She currently sits on top of the WNBA in three-point field-goal percentage as well shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc. With this type of team, the value those kinds of numbers have are incalculable.