Backed by the Bench
"This league is too deep to have just a couple players," Smith explains. "We have players that come in and can put points on the board, understand the game and veterans who have been there and done that."
Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson is a veteran who, since joining Detroit as a free agent in the offseason, has played almost exclusively as a reserve. But prior to this season, she had little experience in a non-starting role.
"I have never played coming off the bench," says Johnson. "I have to adjust to coming out and being able to play once I get on the court and not having the time to get into the game."
She may still be adjusting to her current role, but from a starter's perspective, Pee Wee's 5.6 points and 1.7 assists per game are already a major asset to the team.
"She is doing a great job, coming in with attitude that she will do whatever is takes to win," Smith observes. "It is great to have someone with that experience and someone who is so hungry to win a championship."
The depth and strength of the Shock became glaringly obvious when Cheryl Ford suffered a season-ending knee injury. A starter and an All-Star, many predicted a change in Detroit's level of play. But when the team continued its winning ways, analysts were mystified.
"Our team has a lot of competitors. We love to play and we love to win," Smith reasons. "We have a lot of players with talent and we as individuals all picked it up a notch to help fill the void that Cheryl left."
It was the talent of the entire team that allowed Detroit to adjust and adapt to the loss.
"On any other team many of our reserves would be starters," assistant coach Rick Mahorn explains.
Plenette Pierson is a candidate for the Sixth Woman of the Year award. She has played in Detroit since 2005 and has yet to start a game in a Shock uniform. But that has not stopped Pierson from being a major offensive threat, as she is currently averaging 11.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg.
"(The depth) really helps," Pierson explains, "because you have great players you can call on."
A reserve or a starter, all the players are conditioned to be mentally tough as they endure the critiques of the notoriously harsh head coach Bill Laimbeer.
"Our team is very strong mentally, which has a lot to do with our success," Mahorn states.
|Laimbeer's demands and high expectations go beyond the starting five.|
|Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images|
While Laimbeer does come down hard on his players, Smith realizes he has assembled a roster of players who can work within his system and handle his unconventional coaching methods.
"He has brought the players here that he wants and that can work in his system," Smith comments. "He brought me here and there is a reason why. It is people that have a little bit of that edginess and that competitiveness and are going to go out there and work and fight. ... He knows what we can bring and he demands it of us, but we also demand it from ourselves."
As Detroit enters the postseason, Laimbeer's demands and high expectations continue beyond the starting five.
"I don't think Laimbeer has a wasted body on his bench," argues ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck.
Crucial for a team that is contending for a title, the physical and mental strength of the bench -- in addition to the starters -- keeps opponents on their toes.
"Obviously (at this point in the season) our bodies have been put through a lot and some of us aren't as young as we used to be. So we are just going to need people to step up at different times," Smith explains.
"We have a lot of people that will make plays in spurts and it is fun because you keep it coming," Smith adds. "You keep attacking and you don't know who is going to bring it that day."
With a strong set of starters accompanying Smith and depth on the bench, playoff opponents beware: Detroit's many weapons allow them to fire from all angles.
But the Shock's eyes remain on the prize.
"The most important thing," says Johnson, "is to go out there, play well and get ourselves a championship."