Something Else Is Off The Charts for Musselman’s Most Impressive Transfer Yet

It’s more than wingspan for Chandler

Chandler Lawson, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

After another exciting offseason for Arkansas basketball filled with transfer portal talk, the Razorbacks pulled together one of the most experienced groups in all of college basketball. The transfer class included six older players (plus sophomore guard Keyon Menifield, who is redshirting this season) averaging 4.0 years of college experience, including JUCO and redshirt seasons.

Of that group, only Tramon Mark has less than four years of experience already, but his time at Houston provided valuable NCAA Tournament experience. The transfer class also consisted mostly of talented guards and a couple of late-summer forwards.

Given the return of players like Makhi Mitchell, Trevon Brazile and Jalen Graham – and the lack of height brought in through the portal – one of the most commonly expressed concerns coming into the season was the depth at center, specifically defensively with players like Brazile and Graham, who have struggled to defend skilled post players in the past, and freshman Baye Fall, who is a raw talent in need of extra weight and strength. 

Fortunately, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman knew exactly what he was doing by bringing in Memphis transfer Chandler Lawson. Listed at 6-foot-8, he wasn’t exactly a projected full-time center – much less the starting center – but his freakish 7-foot-7 wingspan and extensive college experience at both Oregon and Memphis have allowed him to blossom into a defensive force in Musselman’s system.

Chandler Lawson Season Impact

To the surprise of many – myself included – Musselman deployed Chandler Lawson in the starting lineup Arkansas basketball’s final preseason exhibition game against Purdue. Since their starting center was reigning National Player of the Year Zach Edey, who stands 7-foot-4, most expected Makhi Mitchell (6-10) to earn the start given his size.

However, it didn’t take long to understand why Musselman trusted Lawson. He immediately started frustrating Edey on the defensive side of the ball, causing him to pick up two early fouls in the first half. Lawson also hit a big shot early in the game to help get the offense flowing for the Hogs before finishing with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocked shots.

Edey finished the game with 15 points and 9 rebounds on 50% from the field. This may seem like a decent stat line, but it’s important to remember that he is arguably the best player in college basketball. His season averages are 23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 61% FG shooting – including a recent game with 35 points and 14 rebounds. Lawson did his best to limit the super star big man and contributed to him ultimately fouling out in overtime.

Eric Musselman noted how impressive Lawson’s performance was and how they viewed him as the perfect fit before he committed to Arkansas over the summer.

“When we did the research, his coachability is off the charts,” Musselman said of Lawson after the Purdue exhibition, “He’s as coachable as any player I’ve ever coached. He really wants to please. He’s a great talker in practice, meaning he echoes plays, he’s talking on defense, he’s in the right position. And then you look at the number of games he has from an experience standpoint of starting, and I thought he was phenomenal (against Edey).”

Twitter user @pinto479 suggests that Lawson might be Musselman’s most impressive transfer portal evaluation during his time at Arkansas. In terms of preseason projections and the limited minutes Lawson was widely expected to have compared to the necessary impact he’s now having on the team, we tend to agree with Pinto.

Lawson has been the driving force in limiting CBS Sports’ Top 3 players in the country entering this season: Edey (No. 1), Armando Bacot of North Carolina (No. 2) and Kyle Filipowski of Duke (No. 3). All three of those teams are considered more likely 2024 NCAA champions than Arkansas, according to the latest odds which those who click here can see. Against Arkansas, the three star big men combined to average 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and only 43% shooting from the field. Against everyone else, they average 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 58% shooting.

Lawson has actually excelled this year when playing against opponents standing at least 7 feet tall and seen a drop off in playing time against smaller teams. Of course, the reduced minutes against certain teams cause his overall production to decrease.

  • Against opponents 7-0 tall or taller: 32.7 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.7 BPG, and 1.3 SPG
  • Against opponents shorter than 7-0: 10.8 MPG, 3.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.3 BPG, and 0.3 SPG

When breaking these numbers down into “Per 40” production – a metric that essentially balances out stats to a per-minute level to more accurately compare stats from different levels of playing time – most of Lawson’s stats balance out to an expectedly similar rate of production: 10.6 points compared to 11.7, 9.3 rebounds compared to 9.4, etc.

His blocked shots, however, remain notably far higher against 7-footers. In the three games against 7-foot opponents, Lawson is averaging 5.8 blocks per 40 minutes. Against shorter opponents, that number drops to only 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes.

More on Chandler Lawson

“He does a great job of walling up,” Musselman said after Lawson recorded six blocks against Duke. “I think he’s a really deceptive shot blocker. He’s done a good job for us going vertical.

“The great thing is we’re going to run into a lot of real big guys in our league who can score with their back to the basket and around the rim. So, we’re going to need the blocked shots.”

Blocking shots is even more important this season because of a rule change over the past offseason that makes drawing charges more difficult. As Eric Musselman sees it, the referees and the NCAA told college teams “‘Hey, dribble-drivers are going to get rewarded. And the defense, it’s maybe going to be a little bit harder to take charges.'”

“I think it affects the way that you view things on both sides of the ball. If there are not going to be as many charges called, you better block shots and have great verticality.”

Lawson recently defied the trend of less production against smaller teams with a breakout offensive performance against Furman, a team that started Garrett Hien (6-9) at center. The Razorback big man finished with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 assist and 1 steal on 8-of-10 shooting, including hitting 1 of 2 from beyond the arc, in only 18 minutes of action, helping Arkansas earn a 14-point win over the Paladins.

“He just does what’s asked of him,” Musselman said after the win over Furman. “Furman is really, really good offensively, but they struggle with points in the paint. If you don’t take advantage of it, you’re not going to beat them. I thought Chandler did exactly what we asked. He didn’t force any shots. It’s hard to get a player to have 8-of-10 (shooting), but he finished through contact and was aggressive offensively when he did catch the ball.”

The transfer forward is now averaging 5.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game on the season – including two games with five or more blocks, both coming against 7-foot opponents – but his impact has gone far deeper than the box score.

“Chandler is a great teammate,” Razorback guard Devo Davis said. “I wish y’all could see him off the court, he’s wonderful. I didn’t know he could block shots the way he’s been blocking shots the last few games as well. It’s been amazing to me… We love him and I know – we all know – he’s going to continue to help us build and see what we have as we continue to grow.”

Late Transfer Portal Additions for Arkansas Basketball

Chandler Lawson joined the Razorbacks late in the summer of 2023, officially announcing his commitment on June 23 of this year. Considering how efficiently Musselman typically works the transfer portal, this is virtually a last-minute addition. Had Keyon Menifield not been on the verge of redshirting, opening up a roster spot for Denijay Harris, Lawson likely would have been the final addition to the Arkansas basketball roster.

He’s not the first player to join the team late in transfer portal season and out-perform his perceived expectations, though. Actually, Musselman has pulled off a similar feat in each of the last three seasons to varying degrees.

Ricky Council IV | Wichita State | 2022-23

Ricky Council IV joined the team in the middle of May, which is relatively early to be on this list, but he was still the last transfer to be added to the 2022-23 roster. Council came off the bench in virtually every game for Wichita State, averaging 12.0 points per game as a sophomore.

With the Razorbacks expected to be led by a trio of McDonald’s All-Americans and Council raising his level of competition, it’s hard to imagine anyone predicted him to break out and lead the Hogs in scoring at 16.1 points per game.

While injuries certainly played a factor in Council being forced into a larger scoring role, he hit the ground running averaging 19.8 points per game over his first eight games with the Razorbacks, including 17 points on 83% shooting in the only game the entire team was healthy against San Jose State.

Despite being the final addition to a roster loaded with raw talent, Council single-handedly kept the Hogs alive in several games last season and played a prominent role in leading them to the NCAA Tournament, including scoring 21 points in the second-round upset over Kansas.

Trey Wade | Wichita State | 2021-22

Another transfer addition from Wichita State, Trey Wade didn’t officially commit to the Arkansas basketball program until June 8 of 2021 – which is, again, very late in the cycle for Musselman to be working the portal. Wade had already been in college for four years before joining the Razorbacks, spending one season at UTEP and three years at Wichita State, though he sat out his first season there due to transfer rules.

While Wade didn’t have nearly the offensive impact of Ricky Council IV, his presence proved to be a calming factor and part of the winning formula for the Razorbacks after another early-season losing streak.

Wade started only two of the teams’ first 15 games. It’s common for Musselman to give multiple players a chance to start to prepare them for potential opportunities later in the season. However, after losing five out of six games to end their non-conference schedule and open up SEC play, Musselman inserted Wade into the starting lineup permanently and sparked a streak that included 14 wins in their next 15 games.

During that stretch, Wade averaged 23 minutes, 5.1 points, and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting 38% from long range on roughly one attempt per game. Sure, these numbers don’t jump off the page, but it’s clear that his skillset and presence on the court helped the Hogs find their identity and string together necessary wins.

He was also huge in the Razorbacks’ upset win over No. 1 Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 15 points and grabbing 7 rebounds while defending eventual No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren.

Justin Smith | Indiana | 2020-21

The first player to start this trend was Indiana transfer Justin Smith. He also joined the Razorbacks on June 8, 2020, after three years with the Hoosiers where he averaged 8.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in his career – including 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds as a junior.

Much like Council, this was clearly a good addition to the team, but it would’ve been hard to predict the overall impact he’d have on this roster and the program as a whole in his lone season on The Hill. Smith averaged 13.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 28 starts for the Hogs.

His impact was made clear when he went down with what was thought to be a serious injury on Dec. 30 against Auburn. Arkansas went 1-3 without Smith in the fold and lost its first game with him back available, likely due to him being limited to 18 minutes of action.

If you remove the game he got hurt (12 minutes played) and his first game back (18 minutes), Smith averaged 14.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 26 full games played. Perhaps the most important part of his Arkansas legacy, however, was his monster performance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament that helped the Hogs reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 years.

In the first two rounds of the NCAAT, Smith averaged 23.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks while shooting 63% from the field. He also became the first Razorback player ever to score 47 points through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

For a lot of the younger generation of Hog fans, including myself, the “glory days” of the ‘90s seemed like a fairy tale told to children to make them smile until Musselman took the helm at Arkansas, and Smith will always be remembered as a vital piece of that team that broke through to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a generation.


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