What to Make of Jordan Walsh’s Getting Freed from “Handcuffs” Statement After Going Pro

Jordan Walsh, Arkansas basketball, NBA Draft, NCAA Tournament
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

After choosing to stay in the 2023 NBA Draft a few weeks ago, Jordan Walsh mostly said all the right things.

“I am excited for this new chapter in my life and for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” the former Arkansas basketball standout said on a social media video. “I will carry the Razorback spirit with me wherever I go and strive to make all of you proud. Thank you again for your support. I look forward to this next chapter in my journey. God is good.”

He also spoke at length about being grateful for the opportunity that Arkansas provided him. “The guidance, support from Coach Musselman and the entire staff, the camaraderie of my teammates and the passion and energy from the Razorback fans have played a significant role in my development both as an athlete and as a person.”

Well, consider that personal development ongoing because Walsh also told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony something that doesn’t exactly hit the right note and seems as out of place as forecasting the Oakland A’s to make the 2023 World Series according to the latest MLB odds.

When explaining his reasoning for staying in the draft, Walsh took a decidedly more individualistic bent. “I’m betting on myself and taking the chance that I can grind it out and produce at the level I should be,” he started.

He’ll get that chance early on, as the Boston Celtics ended up with Walsh after he was taken with the 38th pick of the draft on Thursday night. We’ll get more into his potential fit with the Celtics later, but first let’s review some.

Jordan Walsh Bets on Himself

Certainly, this young man has the bona fides to turn into a key rotation player for a Boston team that has in recent seasons consistently knocked on the door of an NBA title. As a five-star recruit coming out of Link Academy in Branson, Mo., Jordan Walsh was part of the Razorbacks’ heralded 2022 signing class that also featured Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black.

Despite being a McDonald’s All-American, though, it was an up-and-down freshman year for Walsh. He averaged 7.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 24.5 minutes. While those numbers might not have jumped off the page, but his impact was felt in more ways than just scoring.

Listed at 6-foot-7 on the Arkansas basketball roster, he was one of only four players who appeared in all 36 games last season, while starting in 22.

Walsh played a very specific role on a team that appeared to be loaded with dynamic scorers before Trevon Brazile went down. He settled into the role of blue-chip blue-collar glue guy, someone who earned his minutes doing all the small things like crashing the boards, playing intense defense and keeping the ball moving on offense.

That’s why, at first blush, Walsh’s next statement to Givony is such a head scratcher: “Once I got out of Arkansas, I’m now in a position where I don’t have handcuffs on me. I’m able to shoot and make plays for people. I have that flexibility to show that I can do all those things. I was stuck in a role, but now they’ll see the real Jordan.”

No question, Walsh played below his offensive potential at Arkansas, but by all impressions that was more due to his skill level vs that of his teammates. Shooting was a concern for Walsh throughout most of his freshman campaign, as he shot just 27.8% (20 of 72) from beyond the arc and frequently passed up open looks. Overall, he shot just 43.3% from the field.

While the oft-injured Nick Smith Jr. also under-performed on offense relative to expectations, Brazile was better than expected early on and then Devo Davis emerged as a much better scorer than he had ever before. On top of that, throughout the season, Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV played offensively just about as well as most Arkansas basketball fans could have reasonably expected.

Filling Needs for Arkansas Basketball

To Walsh’s credit, he adjusted to these teammates showing out and played to his strengths within a winning scheme.

When he managed to stay out of foul trouble and on the court, Walsh was a defensive menace who really showcased his potential in wins over Illinois and Kansas during the NCAA Tournament. His issue was that he had a tendency to foul a lot — he fouled out eight times — and lacked confidence in his jump shot.

Walsh knows the niche he needs to carve out to make it in the NBA. “I feel like the foundation of my game will be a 3 and D player,” he told ESPN. “Having 50 percent of that done will catapult me into the type of career that I want.”

To that end, he’s already putting his lateral quickness, explosive hops and 7-foot-2 wing span to use. He impressed scouts in drills at the NBA Draft Combine earlier this month and ended the scrimmage portion of the event with a 15-point effort. That landed him on NBA.com’s list of seven “standout prospects” from the combine.

That relatively modest scoring outburst apparently made Walsh feel more like the productive offensive threat he’d been during high school. His statement about being “handcuffed” doesn’t accurately portray how he played to his strengths during his one season in basketball, and he likely just said it more due to confidence in what he’ll achieve in the future vs any chafing at the limited shots or handling responsibilities he got in Arkansas’ system.

Saying something like this is the p.r. equivalent of a personal foul due to high hustle and effort. Yes, it’s going overboard but you’d rather see someone get whistled because of a high level of effort than not try hard enough. Plus, lest we forget, Walsh is 19 years old.

He’ll learn as he enters this next stage of this life in Boston.

Jordan Walsh’s Fit on Boston

Walsh will compete with 25-year-old Sam Hauser, who last year shot 41.8% from three-point range, for a spot in the Celtics’ rotation at the wing.

Bobby Kravitsky of Inside the Celtics is right on target when he writes that so much of Walsh’s success will come down to his ability to improve his biggest weakness. “If his shooting struggles are cognitive-based, don’t expect that to happen,” Kravitsky writes. “But it might be a product of operating with a narrow base. That should prove an easy fix.”

“With Walsh’s work ethic, a shooting coach could help him develop into a reliable kick-out option. That would figure to make him a valuable role player. But even if there isn’t much improvement from beyond the arc in his future, he has the savvy and the effort to make an impact with his facilitating and as a cutter.”

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Jordan Walsh Extra Insight

-Matthew Nichols

Entering the 2024 NBA Draft, Walsh’s nearly 7’2’’ wingspan is the second longest small forward prospect by a quarter inch and longer than a slew of post players.  Despite measuring less than inch taller than Ricky Council IV, his wingspan is nearly 5 inches more.  He also shot the ball better in the two shooting drills at the NBA Combine.  His shot also passes the eye test. 

Walsh tied with 6 other players for 5th place in the college corner three point shooting drill by hitting 68 percent of his shots.  Council IV came in at 48 percent.  This drill seems important after the NBA passed a rule that only two offensive players are allowed within the three point line at one time.  

The most surprising numbers out of the draft combine were the strength and agility numbers.  Anthony Black took part in this part of the combine and posted a 39 inch vertical leap to lead the three Razorbacks.  Council IV and Walsh came in at 37 and 36 inches respectively.  I was shocked Council IV didn’t have one of the top vertical leaps at the combine.  If you told me they accidentally knocked 10 inches off his results I would be less surprised.  Walsh had previously been reported as having a 41 inch vertical leap.  

So I don’t know what to make about the combine numbers of the Razorbacks.  Maybe just being in the same gym with Drew Timme dragged their performances down?


-Andrew Hutchinson contributed to this article

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