Would-Be Razorback Part of Best-Case Scenarios for Each Arkansas Player in 2023 NBA Draft

Ricky Council IV, JR Smith, Arkansas basketball, NBA Draft
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Cavs.com

The upcoming NBA Draft will tie a bow on what was a rollercoaster 2022-23 Arkansas basketball season, as four Razorbacks could hear their name called for just the second time in school history.

More than three decades ago, three were taken within the first 23 picks – Todd Day at No. 8, Oliver Miller at No. 22, and Lee Mayberry at No. 23 – and Isaiah Morris went 37th overall in the second round of the 1992 NBA Draft.

This year, it’s a real possibility that Arkansas could have two players go inside the top 20 picks – Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr. – with Jordan Walsh and Ricky Council IV both being near-locks for the second round. If all four are indeed selected, it would increase Eric Musselman’s number of drafted players to seven in only four years with Arkansas basketball.

That doesn’t even count Cody and Caleb Martin, who were drafted under Musselman at Nevada. Both twins had a relatively rocky start to their NBA careers, but now they’re both viewed as key rotation players on their respective teams. Caleb even had a breakout streak of performances for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals during their improbable run to the Finals.

This begs the question, how impactful will the newest crop of prospects produced by Musselman be in the league? Of course, a lot of factors go into a player reaching his full potential in the NBA, such as which team picks them on draft night, fit on a given roster, injuries – both to the individual or to those ahead of him on the depth chart – developmental staffs, coaching strategies, etc.

Here we take a look at the actual best-case scenario career-wise for each soon-to-be Razorback draftee.

Anthony Black | 6-foot-7 Guard

Players with Anthony Black’s combination of size and skill on both sides of the ball don’t come around often. Combine his 6-foot-7 frame and athleticism with his elite basketball IQ, passing ability and defensive prowess and it’s easy to see why nearly every mock draft has Black being drafted with one of the first 10 picks.

He has a certain feel for the game that can be hard to quantify and even harder to teach. His ability to find open players both in transition and in half-court sets is arguably the best among any guard in this draft class, much less any guard standing over 6-foot-6.

Black is often compared to current Oklahoma City point guard Josh Giddey, thanks to their similar height and affinity for being pass-first players. This is a relatively fair comparison for Black on the offensive side of the ball – though his frame already makes him seem stronger and capable of being a more physical player than Giddey – but Black projects to be a far better defender than the Thunder guard.

Perhaps a comparison to Milwaukee guard Jrue Holiday (6-foot-5, CG) would be a better comparison for Black on the defensive end – although at times during his lone season with Arkansas basketball, Black struggled to contain the smaller, quicker guards he faced. He has great length and is excellent at contesting shots on the perimeter, but he has room to improve his lateral quickness.

“(Black) has been an excellent defensive player (in college) and will be able to defend PG-SF as a pro as he eventually gains experience,” wrote Jorrye Nixon of NBADraft.net. “He possesses very quick hands and anticipation to swipe and create turnovers, but also smothers slashers with his length and active feet, forcing difficult shots.”

The most intriguing part of Black’s game for NBA scouts is his defensive versatility. As Nixon mentioned, Black is coming into the league already capable of defending 1 through 3 on the perimeter and in today’s NBA, he could likely guard small-ball 4s. As he gains a better understanding of the pace of the NBA game, he’ll only grow as an elite defender both on and off the ball. Some have credited Black with being the best defensive prospect in this class (not named Victor Wembenyama) despite a majority of the first round being wing-sized, above-average defenders.

Since we’re talking “best case scenario,” could it be possible for Black to achieve the all-around greatness of another name familiar to basketball fans everywhere – but especially Arkansas natives – Scottie Pippen?

Black projects to be among the league’s best as a playmaker, has the size and strength to be a plus-rebounder for his position, and is already turning heads as an elite defensive prospect. Pippen wasn’t known for being a shooter when he came into the league either, albeit the league as a whole was much less 3-point-oriented at the time. Regardless, the Bulls legend developed into a league average shooter that made his all-around game that much deadlier. He also facilitated the offense despite his forward-like frame on one of the greatest dynasties in sports history. Obviously, there is quite a bit of work to be done for Black to reach Pippen’s Hall of Fame level, but he has the right combination of tools to work toward such a lofty goal.

Realistic Player Comp: Josh Giddey, Jrue Holiday
Best-Case NBA Player Comp: Scottie Pippen
Best-Case Career Scenario: Fringe Hall of Fame, Multi-time All-Star, All-NBA & All-Defense, Best Razorback NBA career

Nick Smith Jr. | 6-foot-5 Guard

Despite a disappointing, injury-riddled college experience, there’s still a path for Nick Smith Jr. to become an efficient NBA player given his unique scoring arsenal that he demonstrated in high school. He’s got a very smooth shooting stroke that serves him well at all three levels of the court. His 6-foot-5 frame also inspires some level of confidence that he can be at least a net-neutral NBA defender.

Below is a draft profile analysis on Smith from Evan Tomes at NBADraft.net:

(Smith has) good size, length, and versatility for position. Can play on or off the ball. Hits shots off the dribble and just needs a little bit of space to get shot off. Quick release. Very dangerous midrange scorer with a very effective floater. Averaged 17.6 points per game on 49.2% FG% over the Nike EYBL in 2021. Good ball-handler, creates offense, and gets where he wants with his dribble, using either hand. Changes speed well with the ball and operates well in traffic. Stays under control when picking up speed. Sees the floor well, alert, and good passing ability. Knows his cross-court options as a passer. Good touch on lob passes. Defends well on and off the ball. Sits and consistently hounds the ball-handler. Fights over screens

Smith is somewhat of a “tweener” due to his size and skillset, meaning that he doesn’t fit perfectly into being a point guard or a shooting guard. He has a good handle on the ball and the size necessary to be a point guard, but he doesn’t project as a facilitator or playmaker. His skillset leans more toward that of shooting guards, but his frame is slight and he struggled to finish through contact at the rim at the collegiate level despite his height.

Smith is a score-first combo guard capable of getting hot in a hurry while possessing the tools necessary to learn to be more of a facilitator at the next level, making his best-case scenario player comparison Bradley Beal.

Both are somewhat “tweeners” given their ability to play either guard role well but don’t fit perfectly into either. Beal is closer to a true shooting guard given his ability to create more space for himself on perimeter jumpshots, an area Smith still has room to grow in. Beal also possesses more strength and rim finishing than Smith, but the other attributes and tendencies of their game match up nicely.

Beal is also not known as a lockdown defender – though not a liability either – and learned to play more of a point guard role as he gained experience in the NBA. He jumped from roughly 3.1 assists per game over his first five NBA seasons to 5.5 over his last five seasons. This number could potentially continue rising now that Beal has teamed up with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, though it’s possible Booker takes the reins as the lead ball handler.

Again, this is likely the best-case scenario for Smith as he develops into an NBA player. Right now, it seems more likely that he could follow in the career path of another recent Arkansas-native – Malik Monk.

While Monk played a big role off the bench for the playoff-bound Kings this season, he spent his first several seasons in the NBA trying to carve out a role as a streaky scoring guard with good length and athleticism – all descriptions that also relate to Smith.

Realistic Player Comp: Bones Hyland, Malik Monk
Best-Case NBA Player Comp: Bradley Beal
Best-Case Career Scenario: Multi-time All-Star, starter for 10-plus years

Jordan Walsh | 6-foot-7 Forward

Jordan Walsh’s ridiculously long wingspan (reportedly 7-foot-2) combined with his 6-foot-7 frame and defensive instincts make him one of the more intriguing defensive prospects in the draft class. Had he been able to show a bit more consistency with his offensive game while with Arkansas basketball, he’d likely be fighting for a spot late in the lottery around picks 12-15. Instead, he’s likely to be an early second-round pick with a chance to sneak into the end of the first round.

“(Walsh) has really good projections as a versatile defensive player at the pro level and is competitive and instinctive with the active feet and toughness to guard PG-PF, especially as he fills out his frame,” wote Jorrye Nixon of NBADraft.net.

NBA Draftroom added: “Walsh is much more than just a big-time athlete. He’s got a nice-looking jumper, getting great elevation on his shot with a smooth release. While he’s not yet a consistent threat from deep he does show promise and will likely be able to stretch the floor at the next level.”

Of course, Walsh’s jumper didn’t always pan out at Arkansas, but it’s worth noting that he had multiple promising stretches as a shooter, including shooting 33% in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. While this isn’t eye-catching, it shows that Walsh has the potential to become a good enough shooter to at least threaten defenses while letting other aspects of his game lead him to being an impactful NBA player.

Walsh mostly excels in transition and as an off-ball mover on offense. Whether he’s finding gaps in the lane by cutting past unsuspecting defenders or positioning himself well along the perimeter, Walsh has a clear path to become a high-level role player and complimentary scorer in the NBA – alongside what projects to be elite defensive upside.

One recent NBA player with a similar stature who ultimately did reach his full potential is former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. It doesn’t hurt that Iguodala was once tied to Arkansas when he signed to play for Nolan Richardson before ultimately ending up at Arizona.

Whether or not he was the most deserving player for his lone Finals MVP award is a debate for a different day, but the 6-foot-7 forward made a living in the NBA as a versatile defender and freak athlete that finished well at the rim. Iguodala is a bit more sure-footed than Walsh and excels as a one-legged jumper in transition, whereas Walsh needs a bit more of a routine in his footwork before exploding above the rim off of two feet for highlight plays.

Like Walsh, Iguodala struggled from long distance during his collegiate career at Arizona. As a freshman, he hit only 20% of his long-range attempts while tallying 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. For reference, Walsh hit 28% of his 3-pointers to go along with 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds during his lone season at Arkansas.

Iguodala went on to become a career 33% 3-point shooter to go along with his elite defense and complimentary scoring. He even had a stretch early in his career with the 76ers where he was the leading scorer, averaging nearly 18 points per game over five seasons before earning his lone All-Star nod.

Walsh could easily find himself on a similar career path as Iguodala, especially once the NBA veteran joined Golden State in 2013-14 at age 29. He went on to win three championships over the course of six seasons with the Warriors.

While most of the attention was on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (and Kevin Durant for a couple years), it was the defense and versatility of Iguodala, Draymond Green and other role players that truly allowed Golden State to thrive. This is also a role very similar to that of Andrew Wiggins in Golden State’s most recent championship in 2022. Walsh could easily find himself filling that role for contending teams at the next level.

Realistic Player Comp: Isaac Okoro, Jalen McDaniels
Best-Case NBA Player Comp: Andre Iguodala
Best-Case Career Scenario: Fringe All-Star, elite role player on a contender

Ricky Council IV | 6-foot-6 Guard

After spending a couple of seasons as a bench scorer at Wichita State, Ricky Council IV quietly led Arkansas in scoring during his final collegiate season. “Quiet” may not be the first word Razorback fans associate with Council considering his impressive highlight reel of emphatic dunks throughout his lone season in Fayetteville, but from a national perspective, it’s a fair description.

Regardless, Council hit the ground running (literally) with Arkansas basketball. He excelled in transition as a skyscraping highlight reel waiting to happen, but also showed his ability to wear many hats and do whatever Musselman needed of him. Oftentimes throughout the season, that meant getting a bucket when the Hogs needed one in an isolation situation. He even spent some time as a pseudo point guard when foul trouble and injuries kept other guards like Black, Smith and Davonte Davis sidelined simultaneously.

“Council is an athletic, energetic swingman that can score the basketball in a variety of ways,” wrote Alan Lu of NBA Scouting Live. “He has a quick first step that enables him to score on strong drives to the hoop, and he also can make hustle plays on both ends of the floor. He’ll need to improve his outside shot, especially as his 3-point percentages have taken a nosedive in recent years, but if he can continue to progress and hone his game, he could project to be a solid role player in the NBA.”

Perhaps the biggest issue with Council’s game is his outside shooting – though he has shown flashes of promise. The mechanics of his jumpshot are a bit unorthodox. He has a high release point and good feel for getting his shot off, but he has a hitch right as he releases and puts a funky rotation on the ball that often leads to inconsistency.

NBA teams will generally be interested in any 6-foot-6 player with Council’s level of athleticism, but being a true threat from long range alongside his impressive leaping ability would almost surely catapult Council into being a consistent rotation player – perhaps even a starter – in today’s NBA.

Even with a much-improved jumpshot, Council hasn’t demonstrated the ability to create plays for others or defend the perimeter at a high level – though he had a few acrobatic blocks make SportsCenter Top 10 this season. These fallbacks could limit his overall potential as a player, but they don’t automatically make him entirely unimpactful.

Given that he puts in the necessary work to fix his shooting stroke, Council could find a path to being an elite level role player on contending teams. Former NBA Champion JR Smith comes to mind when thinking of score-first role players. Smith might only be remembered for a few unflattering moments later in his career, but don’t forget that he was once a high-flying athlete who didn’t care who was between him and the rim.

Standing at 6-foot-6 (the same height as Council), Smith shot under 29% from distance in his first season in the league before becoming a 38% shooter in the following 14 seasons. Again, this is a massive “if” in Council’s progression, but we’re talking best-case scenarios, right? Should Council figure out his shooting inconsistency, he could play a role similar to the role Smith played on the Cavaliers group that made the Finals in four straight seasons.

Realistic Player Comp: Stanley Johnson, Terence Davis
Best-Case NBA Player Comp: JR Smith
Best-Case Career Scenario: Elite role player on a contender, 10-plus years in the NBA


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