Catch Him While You Can: Nick Smith Jr. on Cusp of UA History in 2023 NBA Draft

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

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas basketball fans will finally get an opportunity to see Nick Smith Jr. play inside Bud Walton Arena on Monday.

It won’t technically be the heralded freshman’s collegiate debut, as it’s an exhibition game, but he’ll suit up for the Razorbacks against an opponent for the first time at home when they host Division II Rogers State at 7 p.m. CT.

There is no television or streaming option for the game, so those hoping to see Smith in action will have to show up to the arena or settle for listening to it on the radio (or follow our live updates).

While the official season opener is still two weeks away, fans should probably take advantage of every chance they can to see the five-star freshman live and in-person because there likely won’t be many.

Ranked the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2022 class by 247Sports, Smith is widely projected to the be the second one-and-done in UA history and become a lottery pick in next summer’s NBA Draft.

In fact, there’s a chance Smith becomes the highest-drafted Arkansas basketball player ever.

(READ NEXT: What does Arkansas basketball legend Corliss Williamson think about Nick Smith? Check it out in our exclusive Q&A.)

NBA Draft Projections for Nick Smith Jr.

Going 14th overall to the Golden State Warriors as the Razorbacks’ first freshman draftee last offseason, Moses Moody snapped their 15-year drought without a lottery pick.

If he lives up to the lofty expectations that have followed him since emerging as a five-star recruit more than a year ago, Nick Smith Jr. could not only snap an even longer drought, but also make history for Arkansas basketball.

“I think his competitiveness stands out (and) his ability to score,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “I think Nick has had such a spotlight on him that there’s probably not a lot that hasn’t been said because he’s had such bright lights on him for not just since he’s got to Arkansas but well before he got here.”

The Razorbacks haven’t had a top-10 draft pick since Joe Johnson went 10th overall in 2001 — a streak that seemingly has an excellent chance of ending in 2023.

The prodigiously talented 7’4″ Victor Wembanyama is widely considered the best prospect since LeBron James and a lock to be the first player taken in the draft. Behind him, G League point guard Scoot Henderson is believed to be the second-best prospect available.

However, Smith could slot in right after those two players. and The Sporting News each have him going third overall in their latest mock drafts.

“Smith is a long and athletic guard with a 6-9 wingspan and a lightning-quick first step,” Kyle Irving wrote for The Sporting News. “He’s shifty with a tight handle and a smooth jumper from both the perimeter and midrange, making him a pure three-level scorer. He’s already confident with his floaters when attacking the basket, and his wiry energy should translate to the defensive end of the floor.”

Whether he’s picked third or fourth, as NBC Sports, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report project, Smith is the frontrunner to be the first college player off the board. In addition to Wembanyama and Henderson, Overtime Elite’s Amen Thompson is viewed as a prospect who could be selected ahead of Smith.

“Known for his change of pace in the lane and good reads off the wing, Smith Jr. is one of the best guards in this draft class and is a must-watch player this college basketball season,” Krysten Peek wrote for Yahoo! Sports. “He makes the right read, whether it’s pulling up for a 3-pointer in transition, getting in the lane and dishing to the corner or showcasing his floater over the top of defenders with ease.”

If those projections come to fruition, Smith would become Arkansas basketball’s highest draftee in the modern era. That distinction currently belongs to Sidney Moncrief, arguably the greatest player in school history, who went No. 5 overall in 1979.

(It’s worth noting that George Kok — Arkansas’ first superstar — was the second overall pick in 1948, but that was two years before the BAA became the NBA.)

Racking Up Preseason Accolades

Draft analysts aren’t the only ones singing Nick Smith’s praises.

Speaking at SEC Media Day last week, Alabama head coach Nate Oats admitted that the Crimson Tide recruited him hard. They landed Brandon Miller, his teammate with Brad Beal Elite on the AAU circuit, but came up short to the in-state Razorbacks.

“Nick is a big guard with a lot of talent, a lot of ability,” Oats said. “Somebody I think told me today they saw some draft report where he’s projected to be the third pick in the draft possibly. NBA is looking for big guards that can do what he does.”

“I think he’s going to be an impact player in our league. I saw him predicted to be first-team All-SEC. He’s got that type of talent. And Arkansas is loaded. I’m not sure whether they’re going to play him on ball, off ball, whatever, but he can do both. He can score and he can distribute.

“I think he’s one of the better freshmen in the country, and I think he’ll prove that as he goes through SEC play.”

The fact that Smith landed on the preseason All-SEC first team by the media is impressive in itself. He is believed to be the 11th freshman to earn those accolades and all but two of the previous 10 went on to be lottery picks.

On top of that, CBS Sports named him a preseason second-team All-American and tabbed him the preseason National Freshman of the Year. If he won the latter, he would be the first Razorback to nab the award and second Arkansan after Ft. Smith native Jahlil Okafor.


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