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Once again we are back and continuing our weekly series where we answer reader questions. Submit your questions each Thursday on Twitter or on the HawgBeat premium message board at The Trough. All questions on The Trough are answered, while only selected questions from Twitter are.
Does adding NSJ take this team to another level? We seem to be really turning the corner and starting to play at our full potential. Is there a potential we go from “on the bubble” to a real final four threat if the cards fall correctly for us? – HawgBeat user @Werner-Herzhog
I’d absolutely say adding Nick Smith Jr. takes the team to another level. I touched on it on the Hardwood Hawgs Podcast this week, but the entire team is playing at an insanely high level right now, which is a great thing, but man that backcourt is logging a ton of minutes.
Smith will come back healthy and with fresh legs down the home stretch of the season. Of course, he’s an incredible talent, but adding depth to such a thin backcourt would be monumental. That would open up the possibility of exploiting even more matchups and mixing and matching lineups: small-ball, shooting lineups, multiple point guards, etc. At the very least, it adds another player who can create for himself and for others while being able to give Anthony Black, Ricky Council IV, and Davonte Davis some much needed breathers if needed.
With the team playing as well as they are, and adding Smith back, I also think they could win five or six of their remaining seven games. If that’s the case, and they roll into the SEC Tournament ranked and at least 22-9 (11-7), then they could be in 5/6 seed territory, which, of course could put them in a spot to make a run .
The biggest factor to me that shows they can make a run is the team’s improved offense. They struggled mightily for a long stretch this season, but over the last eight games the Razorbacks are shooting 36.3% from the outside. That alone has forced defenses to play a straight up man, along with the fact that Arkansas has started to attack zones a little bit better. Playing straight up man against Arkansas is dangerous with how the backcourt is playing, especially when factoring in the pick and roll game with the Mitchell twins, which absolutely destroyed Kentucky.
Defense is still elite, coming in at 12th nationally on KenPom’s adjusted defensive metric, while offense has slowly climbed up to 54th from the low-60s.
Where do you see Nick Smith Jr. fitting in with this current team that is now meshing & found ways to win? – Twitter user @qtcourtlewis
I was asked multiple variations of this question, and each was just different enough from each other, but I will answer them all here.
Before his injury, Smith was a focal point of the offense. He handled the ball a good amount, was one of the go-to options as a scorer and shooter, all while also being able to facilitate. That role has kind of been assumed by Black and Davis out of necessity, so it will definitely be interesting to see how the roles shift, if at all, upon Smith’s return.
It’s a tough spot, and frankly, I’m hungry. I’m not the one having to manage it and make the decisions. It would be incredibly difficult to look at Smith, an incredibly talented basketball player and potential NBA Lottery Draft pick, and not let him assume that same role at least in part. On the other hand, Davis and Black have fully bought-in and succeeded in Smith’s absence.
To me, it may be best to try Smith off the bench the first couple of games when he is back. Davis and Black are already co-existing, so it would make sense that Smith would be able to, as well, especially if he enters the game for one of the two.
There will be times where all three are on the floor together, of course, because they’re all incredibly gifted players, as is Council, and I think that dynamic will be interesting. It should help that the chemistry on the team is so strong and that the team genuinely seems to like each other. Smith, Black and Jordan Walsh were friends before the trio committed to Arkansas, after all.
At the end of the day, I don’t think there should be a major concern over Smith returning messing up the current momentum and chemistry. Adding a potential lottery pick only makes the team better. Whether he shares the floor with Black and Davis, replaces one of them, or even both to a degree, the team is better with Smith.
Ultimately, I think Smith will be able to play in the 20+ minute range upon his immediate return, working his way back up to the 30+ minute range. Those minutes will probably come from giving the backcourt ahead of him some breaks for a change, and running some four-guard lineups and small ball. So, we might also see some fewer minutes from a third big man or something, as well.
Is Anthony Black the best rebounding point guard to ever play at the U of A? – HawgBeat user @Blrobbins
Statistically, not quite. It also depends on what you consider a “point guard” though, I suppose. There are plenty of guards and wings who handled the ball a ton over the course of Razorback history, but do we consider all of them point guards? For the sake of this question, I’ll say no.
Some names come to mind when looking at other strong rebounding point guards in Razorback history: Davonte Davis, Patrick Beverley and Corey Beck.
Looking at these four players together, Black is by far the tallest (6-foot-7), which should obviously help with rebounding ability. It’s not the lone factor in being a good rebounder, and Black isn’t a great rebounder merely because he is tall, but I think it makes sense to mention. Currently, Black is averaging 5.5 rebounds per game in his first season as a Razorback.
Davis, while not quite as tall as Black, has solid size at 6-foot-3. He’s played more point guard this year than the previous two, while still hauling in 4.1 rebounds per game. He’s had multiple games with 6+ rebounds and even had a double-digit rebounding performance this season, but other games he only grabs a few boards. Some of that is due to matchups against bigger teams where the Arkansas bigs are securing the glass, and others are his teammate Black snagging his own rebounds.
The point guard that led Arkansas to a national championship wasn’t too shabby on the glass, either. Standing at just 6-foot-1, Beck averaged 4.2 rebounds per game over his career at Arkansas, with his final season being his best on the boards with an impressive 4.8 rebounds per game. Watching old film of Beck on those Nolan Richardson teams, he was a hound in the paint and played much bigger than his size, often fending off SEC big men for rebounds.
Personally, I’m giving the nod to Beverley, though. Over two seasons, he averaged 5.5 rebounds per game, but as a sophomore he recorded an impressive 6.6 rebounds per game. That actually led the whole team as a 6-foot-1 point guard. Beverley grabbed more rebounds that season than Darian Townes, Sonny Weems, Charles Thomas, and Mike Washington. He really was outstanding on the glass.
Other names people could throw out include Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, and other big guards who handled the ball a good deal. Do they count as point guards? I guess we can leave that one up for debate.