Whether He’s Really as Good as Advanced Stats Say, Davonte Davis’ Impact is Unmistakable

Davonte Davis, Devo Davis, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Davonte Davis has rejoined the Arkansas basketball team after a one-game absence, the UA announced Wednesday.

It was originally announced that the junior guard was “taking some time away from basketball” about an hour before the Razorbacks played Troy on Monday.

No further details were given after the game, as head coach Eric Musselman told reporters that he was respecting Davis’ privacy, and now — just a couple days later — he’s back in the fold.

“I am excited to be back with my teammates and coaches,” Davis said in a statement. “I want to thank my family, our fans, the Razorback basketball program and especially Coach Muss for the support shown to me this last week. I look forward to continuing my development as a leader and basketball player as this team focuses on our goals for this season.”

It’s unknown whether or not Davis will immediately return to the starting lineup. He also didn’t play in the second half of the San Diego State game at the Maui Invitational.

Musselman is expected to meet with the media Thursday afternoon to preview Saturday’s game against San Jose State.

Davonte “Devo” Davis’ Junior Season

Prior to missing Monday’s game, Davonte Davis had started all six games for the Razorbacks. He is the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 8.5 points per game and is also third in assists (16 total).

However, as one of only two returning players from last season, with Kamani Johnson being the other, Davis’ impact isn’t always reflected in the box score. That was felt against Troy, as it took the Razorbacks more than 35 minutes to finally put away a team they were favored to beat rather handily.

“Davonte Davis plays the ninth-most minutes in the SEC, according to the stat sheet my son put in front of me early this morning,” Eric Musselman said afterward. “So if you have someone playing the ninth-most minutes in the SEC and playing more minutes than guys like (Florida’s Collin) Castleton…(who’s) probably a potential All-American, we were going to have an adjustment.”

In his 31.5 minutes per game this season, Davis is averaging 8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals. He also has an impressive 16-to-9 turnover ratio, which looks even better when you consider he had five turnovers and no assists in the season opener against North Dakota State.

Davis’ scoring is actually up some from last season, when he experienced a bit of a sophomore slump. Through the first six games of 2021-22, against lesser completion, he was contributing just 6.3 points per game.

Before playing only the first half against San Diego State, Davis’ worst scoring night was against Louisville at the start of the Maui Invitation. Although he finished with only 2 points, he drew the toughest defensive assignment — locking down El Ellis — and he responded by limiting the Cardinals’ leading scorer to just 11 points on 4 of 16 shooting. In that game, Davis also had five assists with only one turnover in 32 minutes.

“We had a goal of trying to hold No. 3, Ellis, to under 12 (and) he had 11 points,” Musselman said. “So phenomenal defense by Devo Davis.”

According to EvanMiya’s advanced statistics, Devo Davis has been Arkansas’ second-best player this season with a 28.8 BPR, a predictive metric that quantifies a player’s effectiveness on both ends of the court.

What it Means for Arkansas Basketball

Beyond the fact that it sounds as though Davonte Davis has worked through whatever personal issues he had going on, getting him back this quickly is a great thing for Arkansas basketball.

Star freshman Nick Smith Jr. made his highly anticipated collegiate debut Monday in Davis’ absence. He played just six minutes and looked rusty, which is understandable because he had been out for about a month with a knee injury.

Eric Musselman acknowledged that adding someone to the mix seven games into the season is tough for anyone, regardless of how talented the player is. Smith is certainly a fantastic player, but having a veteran player like Davis in the lineup is almost like having another coach on the floor.

With 11 new players — six freshmen and five transfers — on the team, Davis had a huge leadership role this summer and Musselman routinely praised him for how he helped guys adjust to the expectations in practice. That kind of presence would also help in games.

From a basketball perspective, though, the return of Smith means fewer shots to go around and Davis would make sense as someone to see his shot attempts decrease.

After all, he’s shooting just 35.8% from the floor and is only 3 of 19 (15.8%) from beyond the arc. Smith is expected to be a much more efficient scorer, so Devo Davis could take on more of a distributor role on top of his lock-down defense.

He’s shown a great ability at that this year with 16 assists and only four turnovers over his last five games — and that ratio could be even better if he eliminated the self-inflicted mistakes that come when he tries to do too much.

Davis could still end up scoring at a decent rate from his and his teammates’ defense, which leads to fast break opportunities, as well as his excellent midrange game. Meanwhile, shooting from 3-point range is probably not something he’ll be asked to do a lot of with Smith back in the mix.


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