Smith soldiers on through recent slump... into 2010?

Nowhere Near Finished

Katie Smith could have lived a storybook ending last year.

She could retire after this unexpectedly difficult season.

But it sounds like she’s ready to take Door No. 3. The Shock’s 35-year-old shooting guard said Thursday she expects to play another season, which would be her 12th in the WNBA.

Expanding upon that statement - the video of which is posted here - Smith said she doesn’t look back at whether she should have retired following her Finals MVP performance last October, and that Detroit’s struggles to reach .500 this season did not influence her decision either way. She will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

“Even prior to coming to Detroit, I would have been happy with my career, even I hadn’t won a championship,” said Smith, a two-time champion since joining the Shock. “Every year is its own challenge and tough times show a lot about you and a lot about a team.”

Times have been tough indeed for the Shock, who have dropped three in a row, and Smith, who has faltered in recent games after a strong first half earned her an All-Star nod. She has had just one field goal in each of the last two games (both 3-pointers), shooting 1-for-6 at Indiana and 1-for-7 against Seattle. That happened just once in the first 21 games.

Smith - who divides her 33 minutes per game at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions - can’t concentrate on scoring as much as she did in June and July, when injuries limited Deanna Nolan’s effectiveness and put the onus on her to shoot at will. Nolan is again leading the Shock in scoring (15.3 ppg), with Smith next at 12.7 points per game.

“I haven’t taken a lot of shots over the last couple games, I’m getting like six, seven - two of those shots were at the end of a quarter,” she said. “I’m getting good looks - I need to knock down the ones I get - but you’re creating and you’re getting us into the offense and getting (other) people shots.”

No signs of slowing down

Monthly Comparison
Shooting Pct.49.5%34.2%
3-Pt. Pct.43.6%36.7%
The past two games notwithstanding, Smith’s 41.0 percent shooting from the field and 39.4 percent on 3-pointers in 2009 are her best marks since joining the Shock four years ago. She’s also made 46 of 49 free throws (93.9 percent), putting her within reach of Sandy Brondello’s franchise record of 92.3 percent in the 1998 season.

Though the Shock added guards with their first-round pick the last two years - Alexis Hornbuckle and Shavonte Zellous - Smith is still playing as much as she always has, her versatility and court leadership proving too indispensable. Smith said she feels good despite “probably playing more minutes than I thought I would” at the start of the season. Anyone who remembers her masterful series against the Silver Stars in the Finals - games Nos. 41, 42 and 43 of 2008 campaign - knows she’s not worn out now after 23 contests.

“Honestly, I’m just really happy about, first, being healthy, being able to play, still being able to go out and produce,” she said. “Definitely not an easy year but still a lot of basketball to be played and hopefully we can make some noise and just take the positives out of it and keep on rolling.”

It appears high assist totals, rather than points, from Smith give the Shock their best chance to win.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
The Shock are entering their second back-to-back of the season this weekend, playing at Chicago Saturday before hosting San Antonio at The Palace Sunday. It’s a good test for the Shock and Smith, who struggled in the second game of Detroit’s last back-to-back during its West Coast swing in June. She had 21 points and five assists at Phoenix, but followed it up with six points and three assists against Monarchs. She shot 8-of-15 the first night but just 2-of-7 the next.

“The shots I do get, I need to knock’em down,” she said. “If I’m taking five, I’d love to get four, because they’re good shots.”

The key to victory (and history)?

The Shock lost in overtime to the Mercury but still won at Sacramento, which, surprisingly, isn’t all that surprising. The Shock are 4-7 when Smith scores 10 or fewer points and 4-5 when she scores 16 or more, a negligible difference. That’s one reason head coach Rick Mahorn doesn’t worry about Smith getting a certain number of shots per game.

“I’d like to see her fill out the whole stat line,” he said. “Some days it may not be good on the scoring end but I like to see her get the rebounds and the assists. Some games it may be her scoring line. I just like how she approaches her job; she comes to work and compete.”

It appears high assist totals, rather than points, from Smith give the Shock their best chance to win. They are 5-10 when she has three or fewer assists, but 4-4 when she has four or five. If Smith can crank up the assists down the stretch, not only could Detroit make a final outside push for the playoffs, she could join some very exclusive company.

After tying her season high with five assists Tuesday against Seattle, Smith is 39 assists away from becoming the second player in WNBA history to tally 4,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. (The only player to accomplish that feat, San Antonio’s Vickie Johnson, comes to The Palace Sunday.)

Told of the impending milestone - and that she’d need average 3.6 assists over the last 11 games to reach it by the season finale - Smith smiles, well aware she’s averaging 2.9 assists in 2009, approximating her career average (2.8 apg).

“Next year,” she says, turning around so you can see her grin as she walks away. “That will have to be next year.”