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Alanna Smith is annoying, and her coach agrees.

Annoying as a defender, that is. For most of the Lynx season, the 6-4-inch Australian has been the team's primary post defender. That means she's often matched up against the opponent's largest player underneath the basket.

But Smith, listed as a forward, came into her first season with the Lynx asking coach Cheryl Reeve not to play her at center.

"And here I am," she said with a laugh.

In Saturday's game against the Mercury, Smith will be battling in the paint with 6-9 center Brittney Griner, who Smith used to play behind in Phoenix.

"We put her in some tough situations where each night she's guarding some big bigs," Reeve said, noting that Smith is often an undersized post defender, long but lean, a few inches shorter or pounds lighter than her defensive assignment. "She's one of the best since [Rebekkah] Brunson and Sylvia [Fowles] at just knowing how to make it difficult to make catches versus her."

And luckily, Smith has "the best" to learn from.

Brunson played nine seasons with the Lynx before becoming an assistant coach. The only WNBA player to win five championships, she holds franchise records in rebounds and double-doubles. At 6-2, she was often the Lynx's go-to stopper for an opponent's brightest star. And now her retired number hangs from the Target Center rafters where Smith guards the basket and Brunson coaches from the sidelines.

"We've got similar philosophies in terms of defense," Smith said about Brunson. "We might be undersized as post players, but we're going to use our smarts to our advantage. We rely a lot on our foot speed, rather than pure strength, and keeping people guessing on post defense."

Brunson recalled watching Smith's aggressive nature and defensive instincts give Lynx post players "the blues" last season when she played for the Chicago Sky.

"That's probably one of the things that Cheryl was thinking about when she compared the two of us," Brunson said. "[She has] an unwillingness to give in to her opponent. It's been fun to watch, to be able to see up close and to be able to work with her."

In her first three league seasons in Phoenix, Smith averaged less than eight minutes per game. After a season each at Indiana and Chicago — plus playing overseas — Smith is averaging career-highs in minutes (28.6), points (11.9) and shooting percentage (.500). She's fourth in the league in blocks per game (1.9), and tenth in steals (1.6).

She had four of those steals in the fourth quarter of Monday's victory over Dallas, matched up against the Wings' 6-7 Teaira McCowan, who Reeve said even Sylvia Fowles hated to play against.

"The early part of [Smith's] career, you know, maybe didn't go the way she had hoped," Reeve said. "But I just remember watching her [play] at Stanford. The effort that she gives and the energy and the relentlessness is something that's innate to her."

After finishing 10th in the league in defensive rating last season, the Lynx are second in that same metric.

In Smith's past five seasons in the WNBA before joining Minnesota as a free agent this offseason, the Lynx were "always on the horizon," checking in on Smith's plans.

"[Being here] has helped me grow into the player I want to be, not just as an offensive threat, but a threat on the defensive end as well," Smith said. "It's also a chance to just play freely and rely on my instincts. They've allowed me the grace to make mistakes and play through them, which is invaluable on the defensive end."