The Arkansas Razorbacks ended their European tour with a perfect 4-0 record in a significant warm-up game for the regular season. As the team builds cohesion and incorporates many new faces, there has been much to learn in the upcoming college season.
The Nick Smith Jr. Experience
Nick Smith Jr.’s debut in an Arkansas uniform did not disappoint. The talented five-star contender and predicted top 8 overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft showcased the innate scoring evolved between play, self-creation, passing flashes and disruptive defense that have grown accustomed to from him with Brad Beal Elite and North to see Little Rock High School.
He didn’t seem to be slowed down by a finger injury (deep bone contusion) that put his availability for the tour in question. Smith Jr. finished second on the team with 14.7 points per game and shot 39.1% from three (9/23) due to his skill and versatility with stepback and pullback jumpers, PNR scoring, relocation and catch- and shoot threes plus timely cuts shone for scores. There might not be a smoother and more fluid shot creator and shooter in the class.
Despite his slim frame, Smith Jr. amassed eight steals and, with his engine and excess length (about 6ft 9 wingspan), was active on and off the ball, including a number of shooting contests. He’s a defensive playmaker, but as he continues to add strength to hold his positions and absorb contact, there are defensive advantages as someone who can reliably score one-on-ones will also stop at the next level.
Smith Jr., who shares primary handling and moderation duties with Anthony Black, is something to watch throughout the season. Finished the tour with a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (12 assists to 12 turnovers). As the rising star continues to develop his point guard skills and builds his linking passing and PNR game (tied to Walsh on a nice lob assist for a dunk from the PNR), splitting those duties with Black should help To manage and enable growth He’s gaining experience alongside another elementary school, which is probably his ideal scenario at the NBA level.
Hello Trevon Brasil!
Talk about breaking out right now! From start to finish of the tour, Trevon Brazile let both Arkansas fans and scouts know that he will not only be an integral part of Arkansas’ success this season, but also a legitimate NBA prospect who could be one and finishes in Fayetteville.
At 6ft 10 and a wingspan of 7ft 2, the Missouri transfer unexpectedly led Arkansas at 15.8 points per game at a dominant 85.3% (29-34) shooting from the field using his absurd physical tools and his High maximized engine. He saved his best game for last and led with 28 points and nine rebounds.
The agile Brazilian displayed his quick-twitch athleticism and easy jump to be a fierce finisher over the rim whenever he got the chance. Whether it was lobs, drop-offs, dump-downs, or hard-ground runs, the transfer intended to end in bad faith and featured a variety of poster dunks throughout, including a vicious covered hand.
Although he has excelled as a finisher in the colour, there is reason to be encouraged in his shooting potential and should be monitored throughout the season. Brazile has a fluid, compact, confident and repeatable punch. He connected with several jumpers, including a Catch and Shoot 3 with excellent shot mechanics for his only three (four attempts) and a fadeaway jumper that bounced off the jump after pivoting. Coupled with his Missouri shooting (33% three-pointer, 11-33), Brazile, who is becoming a reliable threat with more volume shooting, will give a huge boost to his draft inventory and overall upside.
Brazile’s tools and engine also affected the defensive end. He’s a big threat at blocking shots with the weak side (1.3 blocks per game in Missouri to rank 3rd in the SEC) and is active both on and off the ball with his length and anticipation ( nine steals and three blocks). He made several hustle plays throughout the game, including a possession where he rushed back for a steal in transition that prevented points. I wouldn’t be surprised if he leads Arkansas in hustle plays/points this season. Additionally, his effective space defense lightning bolts show great promise due to his flowing hips and recovery length.
With Brazil’s explosive and functional NBA tools, his NBA-ready role as a finisher and rim protector, and upward shooting, he’s begun his rise as at least one of the top 60 players in the draft.
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The versatility of Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh
Arkansas signed two of the most versatile rookies in the class in Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh. We got a glimpse of their versatility as playmakers, defenders and goalscorers on tour.
Black is a well-known playmaker and great point guard with tremendous overall feel, especially when passing. He made timely and connecting passes on various actions that kept the offense going and put his teammates in the right places to be aggressive. Additionally, Black showcased his skills as a hit ahead passer along with pocket and lob made up of PNRs. Black finished the game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2-1, tying the 16 assists of Vomote Davis to the lead as the team as a whole struggled with turnovers. With playing time together, I expect Black and the team to reduce turnovers.
Walsh’s passing also banged. Two passes that really stood out came with his offhand. After receiving the steal in a PNR, Walsh unloaded an off-hand lead pass to his teammates for a score. On the other side, Walsh attacked a closeout down the baseline to deliver a whip pass to the top of the key for a Smith Jr. 3 catch-and-shoot. I look forward to seeing how Walsh and Black can work together to create an offensive Other.
Defensively, both Walsh and Black were event makers and playmakers, both on and off the ball. Both used their length, feel and consistent commitment effectively to be disruptive. Walsh had eight steals and one block while Black had six steals and two blocks.
I’m not worried about their respective low offensive performances at this point. It’s obviously still very early. Black didn’t attempt a single free throw, shooting 1 of 4 of 3 and averaging 6.2 points per game. Walsh didn’t fare much better, finishing at 5.8 points per game at 31% from the field and 1-of-8 from deep. Both are still developing into consistent shooters, but have found ways to hit the ball on and off the edge with slashes, cuts, transition runs, and lobs.
The versatility that everyone at 6-foot-7 brings is impressive and coveted at the next few levels. Black and Walsh know how to influence victory in a variety of ways, even if their shot doesn’t fall. This should be a trend as Arkansas rakes in wins.
Is Ricky Council IV the X Factor?
The Wichita St. transfer (another Transferportal win for Coach Musselman) and AAC Sixth Man of the Year could be the X-Factor for Arkansas. The team needed another high-quality and experienced perimeter bucket getter to lighten their star rookies’ point load, and Council IV is just that.
Council IV became the Razorbacks’ third-best scoring team with 10.7 points per game. He is undoubtedly an SEC-caliber scorer with a mix of NBA skills and tools. He flashed NBA-caliber moves with a deft Euro into a floater and a well-sold jab straight into a quick right-left crossover for a pull-up jumper over the defender. Equipped with a strong frame, broad shoulders and quick-twitch athleticism, Council IV impressed with multiple aggressive drives and superior finishes. Should be on the radar as a possible second all rounder.
Keep an eye on 6-foot-6 freshman Barry Dunning. With his combination of length, versatile defense, and finishing ability, he appears to have earned game time during the regular season. Flashed a smooth pull up jumper and was active on the glass too. He could end up being a long-term NBA prospect.
Kamani Johnson was a monster on the glass. He amassed 38 rebounds (20 offensively) while averaging 9.2 points per game.
Vomte Davis shines again and again as a goalscorer and playmaker with defensive activity with flair and jumping tricks. The tour was another instance of that. If he can find consistency as a shot maker and decision maker then he becomes a really interesting prospect.
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