Arkansas Producing 2 Lottery Picks in Single NBA Draft Would Testify to Something Special

Anthony Black, Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas basketball, NBA Draft
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Sidney Moncrief. Joe Kleine. Todd Day. Corliss Williamson. Joe Johnson. Ronnie Brewer. All are names synonymous with Arkansas basketball and all were lottery picks in the NBA Draft.

But in the now century’s worth of history within said program, never have two gone in the lottery in the same year.

The Razorbacks were close in 1992. Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller were first-round picks alongside Day, the eighth pick that year, but Mayberry and Miller didn’t go until the 20s.

On Thursday night, Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr. could hear their name called in the first 14 selections.

They’ve already been invited to the green room at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Now being invited to the green room does not guarantee you’ll be selected. In basketball, however, it’s less common for players to slide further than expected as it is in football, i.e. Aaron Rodgers falling to the 24th pick, Johnny Manziel going 10-15 picks lower than expected. 

More recently, Kentucky quarterback Will Levis ended up being taken in the second round despite numerous mock draft predictions having him being the second or third quarterback taken after either Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud got taken first overall.

What’s Ahead for Anthony Black, Nick Smith Jr.

In most mock drafts, Anthony Black is a consensus top 10 pick, usually falling in the 6-9 range. Nick Smith Jr. is a top-10 pick in some of them, but is more in the 10-14 range, with some having him just outside the lottery.

Victor Wembanyama is the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs, and he will make $49.4 million over four years once it’s official.

By contrast, the 11th pick in the draft, where both Black and Smith are projected to be around, will make $20.7 million over four years, according to Sportrac.

That’s more than quadruple what the last pick of the first round will make. Jordan Walsh, who hopes to be taken in the upper half of the second round, will be looking for a payday similar to what Jaylin Williams made two years ago with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What it Means for Arkansas Basketball

Either way, this is not only going to be a huge recruiting win for Eric Musselman, but it also tells any player who grows up in the state of Arkansas that his NBA dreams can be realized playing for the flagship.

Programs like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and to an extent UCLA, UConn and Arizona, have made their brand by putting players in the lottery and making deep NCAA Tournament runs.

Thursday night could cement Arkansas (and Musselman) as one of those national brands. Moses Moody already opened the door in 2021. This would be busting it wide open.

For a long time, especially before Musselman arrived, some top-notch players in Arkansas believed that leaving the state or spurning the Razorbacks meant they had more of a shot of reaching the NBA.

Malik Monk is obviously the most high-profile and recent example, but there are others. Quincy Lewis and James Anderson come to mind, although neither enjoyed illustrious NBA journeys. Archie Goodwin is another example.

Smith and Arkansas Basketball

Anthony Black is from the DFW metroplex, so it’s not as big a deal for him to go high in the lottery from an Arkansas fan’s standpoint as it would be for Nick Smith Jr.

Of the first-round selections mentioned earlier, only Moncrief, Williamson, Johnson, Brewer and Portis were born and raised in Arkansas.

Smith came onto campus with enormous expectations. He probably had the most hype for any Arkansas basketball player in the last 25 years, even more so than Johnson, Brewer and Portis.

His knee injury obviously sidelined him for a majority of the season, and fans weren’t able to ever see what a fully healthy NSJ could’ve looked like.

Obviously he caught a lot of flak on social media for how he and his entourage handled the injury and the timeline of his return and then reaggravating it.

The funny thing is, the same fans who were his most voracious detractors online will probably be some of the first on the store to buy his jersey, especially if he were to end up in a place like Oklahoma City, which isn’t a far drive for many Arkansans and already employs Isaiah Joe and the aforementioned Williams.

If Smith Jr. becomes an All-Star or makes an all-NBA team while leading his team to the Western Conference Finals, many Arkansas fans who derided NSJ will undoubtedly be right back in his corner.

Lasting Impact of Nick Smith Jr.

Not only will he be representing the Razorbacks and Musselman’s program, but he will be representing the entire state of Arkansas. Look at what happened with Austin Reaves this year in the playoffs with the Lakers. Even though he went to Wichita State and Oklahoma, people in Arkansas were paying attention to the Newark native.

Somewhere out there in an unknown Arkansas county is another young kid who looks up to Nick Smith Jr. and wants to be like him when he gets in high school.

That youngster seeing Smith being picked in the top 14 after not wanting to leave the state has to be encouraging and motivating.

Anyone can get the accolades and the attention. It’s another thing entirely to have that on your back and you have to deliver.

Smith’s tenure with the Hogs might’ve been a stroke of bad luck. If his NBA tenure goes better, Hog fans will claim him all day and twice on Sundays.

And it will also give Musselman the opportunity to say, “Come here and we will get you prepared for the next level while also excelling and making deep tourney runs in the process.”

No one knows how life is going to turn out. Unplanned stuff happens. Things don’t always go as planned.

Nick Smith Jr. didn’t know he was going to injure his knee (and Trevon Brazile didn’t know he was going to injure his either). If he doesn’t injure his knee, who knows what he could’ve done and accomplished. Maybe the team would have won the SEC. Or snagged a No. 1 seed instead of Alabama.

Still, the fact remains Smith played only some of the season and was less than stellar in the play he did put on film. That he could still be a lottery pick in light of that is an even bigger calling card for Arkansas recruiting going forward.


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