By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — A bit lost right now in the madness of Eric Musselman’s annual transfer-portal buffet feeding frenzy is an unprecedented amount of still-college-eligible Arkansas Razorbacks that have flocked to the 2023 NBA Draft pool.
Five Hoop Hogs in the draft (in chronological order of when they announced for the draft) — freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr., junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis, junior guard Ricky Council IV, freshman guard Anthony Black, and freshman 3/4-combo forward Jordan Walsh — could have returned to play with the Razorbacks next season (Davis and Walsh have left the door open to that possibility).
Long before the 2023 NBA Draft (slated for June 22 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.), the draft lottery order (top 14 picks) will be determined on May 16, the NBA Draft Combine (for 60ish invited draft-projected players) will take place (May 15-21), and players will have individual workouts with NBA teams as well as agency pro days attended by NBA scouts and general managers.
The deadline for players who maintained their college eligibility to withdraw from the draft is 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 31.
Should at least four of the current declared Hogs remain in the draft, it will give the Arkansas men’s basketball program its best chance in decades to match or exceed what happened in 1992 when four Razorbacks were selected in the first 37 picks of the two-round draft.
It was Todd Day (first-round lottery pick, No. 8 overall to Milwaukee), Oliver Miller (first-round pick No. 22 to Phoenix), Lee Mayberry (first-round pick, No. 23 to Milwaukee), and Isaiah “Butch” Morris (second-round pick, No. 37 to Miami) who all came off the board in that program-best 1992 NBA Draft.
This current group of Razorbacks entered in the 2023 draft stands to help move the historical Pro Hog needle in more ways than one while helping improve an Arkansas Razorbacks basketball brand that is hot after back-to-back NCAA Tournament Elite Eights followed by last season’s run to the Sweet 16.
* As stated above, never before had the program seen five players with remaining eligibility declare for the same draft.
* In addition to having a realistic shot at four picks in the two-round draft that would match the Hogs’ 1992 results, Arkansas for the first time ever could have two players selected in the same draft lottery as Black and Smith are generally projected in the lottery range.
* Arkansas is the ONLY college program with two players receiving consistent mock draft averages as lottery pick projections.
* If Arkansas gets three players selected in the first round of this draft, it would match what happened in the 1992 draft.
* Since 2000, only one out-of-state Hog who finished his college career as a Hog has been drafted (Patrick Beverley, pick No. 42 in round 2 by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009), while during that same span eight Hogs who are native Arkansans were drafted (Joe Johnson of Little Rock, lottery pick No. 10 in round 1 by the Boston Celtics in 2001; Ronnie Brewer on Fayetteville, lottery pick No. 14 in round 1 by the Utah Jazz in 2006; Sonny Weems of West Memphis, pick No. 39 in round 2 by the Chicago Bulls in 2008; Bobby Portis of Little Rock, pick No. 22 in round 1 by the Chicago Bulls in 2015; Daniel Gafford of El Dorado, pick No. 38 in round 2 by the Chicago Bulls in 2019; Isaiah Joe of Fort Smith, pick No. 49 in round 2 by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2020; Moses Moody of Little Rock, lottery pick No. 14 in round 1 by the Golden State Warriors in 2021; and Jaylin Williams of Fort Smith, pick No. 34 in round 2 by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2021).
Not only will the run of native Arkansans being drafted grow to five consecutive drafts when Smith hears his named called, but a new run of out-of-state Hogs being drafted will begin as Black (Texas native) is a lock to be selected early with Council (North Carolina native) and Walsh (Texas native, if he remains in the draft) both likely to be drafted based on projections at this time.
* With 6 Hogs in the NBA at the close of the ’22-23 regular-season — the aforementioned Beverley, Portis, Gafford, Joe, Moody, and Williams — that number could swell to at least 10 at the start of the ’23-24 NBA season as Smith, Black, Council, and Walsh each has multiple mock draft projections. The last time Arkansas had at least 10 Hogs in the NBA at the same time was the 1992-93 season following that 1992 four-Hog draft class.
* The Hogs will at least triple the amount of one-and-dones to be drafted in program history (Moody in 2021 was the first and stands as the only) with Smith and Black destined to hear their names called on draft night, and that number could grow to four if Walsh is drafted.
In more ways than one Arkansas Razorbacks basketball history as it relates to placing players in the NBA is assured to be elevated on June 22, but for now let’s have a deep-dive on Arkansas’ five pro prospects with their mock draft averages from eight different services (ESPN / DraftExpress, The Ringer, USA Today / Rookie Wire, Bleacher Report, Tankathon, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, and NBADraft.net); projections from three different NBA scouts who spoke with Hogville; and our own Hogville scouting report on each draft prospect.
1. Anthony Black (6-7 lead guard, 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists led the team, 2.1 steals led the team, 3.0 turnovers were most on the team, 45.3% field goals, including 28-of-93 from 3 for 30.1%, 70.5% free throws, team-high 34.8 minutes per game) comes in at No. 1 among the soon-to-be Pro Hogs based on current mocks and big boards with an average draft projection of No. 8. An NBA scout from a Western Conference team told Hogville that Black has a draft range of “8 to 15”, a scout from an Eastern Conference team stated it as “top 14, lottery”, and a scout with a sports agency slotted Black in the “6 to 12” draft range.
Our Hogville scouting report on Black is that he can help a team at the next level as a rookie. His feel for the game at both ends of the floor, his size and athleticism, plus-court vision and playmaking as a passer, plus-rebounding from the backcourt, and defensive instincts make him at minimum a high-floor prospect. Needs to tighten up ball-handling / clean up turnovers, improve perimeter shooting, improve free throw shooting, and develop go-to moves to get to preferred scoring spots while refining his finishing craft inside the arc (i.e. runners, floaters, mid-range shots). Expect Black to do well in pre-draft interviews with teams and in competitive scenarios (i.e. the draft combine), but shooting drills could be problematic. Would also like to see him increase his pace as a handler in transition, but in a halfcourt with much better spacing in the NBA he’ll be able to get downhill easier and then play some bully ball while using his athleticism to score at close range. Chance he’ll return to Arkansas: None. Best current NBA comparison: Josh Giddey, 6-8 point guard, Oklahoma City Thunder. Best team fits among top 15 picks: Take your pick, but we like Washington, Orlando, OKC, and Utah.
2. Nick Smith, Jr. (6-5 combo guard, 12.5 points, 1.7 assists, 1.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.6 turnovers, 37.6% field goals, including 24-of-71 from 3 for 33.8%, 74.0% free throws, 25.8 minutes per game) currently has a projected draft average of No. 11, which is a bit of a slide following a less-than-desired college experience after entering the ’22-23 season as the most heralded incoming freshman in college basketball as well as a top-5-draft-pick projected player. He missed most of the season dealing with a right knee issue, playing in only 17 games. The Western Conference scout levied the same draft range for Smith that he did for Black — “8 to 15” — while the Eastern Conference scout had Smith going “likely lottery, won’t fall as far as 20th.” The sports agency scout had Smith going in the “10 to 15” range.
Our Hogville scouting report on Smith is that he remains arguably the most gifted offensive guard in the draft, and his 5 games of scoring 20 or more points, ability to create open looks at all three levels, underrated passing ability, length (6-9 wingspan) and quickness (first step and change-of-direction) combo, and alpha-confidence were all evident in his small sample size of game action at Arkansas. But his lack of availability, lower-than-anticipated shooting efficiency across the board, low assist production (deceptive relative to how often he set up potential scores on a team that struggled to finish shots), and slight frame that needs added strength have all conspired, at the moment, to drop Smith’s draft projections. We think his ability to play the 1 and 2 at the next level adds lottery-worthy value, as does his array of go-to moves with quick-twitch change-of-pace counter craft that works at all three levels, and combined with a spot-up game both in halfcourt and in transition it will all be too tempting for teams needing a skilled scorer to pass on in the first half of the first round. If in the next couple of months he cleans up some of the slight wasted dribbling and movement while tightening his handles, shows efficient NBA three-point range in drill work and during any competitive scenarios that he takes part in, beefs up some and gets stronger, and proves his knee is just fine in medical exams and in physical and athletic testing, Smith should climb closer to his original draft projections. The wider driving lanes and greater floor-spacing in the NBA could be a perfect playground for Smith as he gets stronger and adapts to the speed of the pro game. Chance he’ll return to Arkansas: None. Best current NBA comparison: Brad Beal, 6-4 shooting guard, Washington Wizards. Best team fits among top 15 picks: We like Washington, Dallas, Utah, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and New Orleans.
3. Ricky Council IV (6-6 shooting guard, 16.1 points led the team, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.1 turnovers, 43.3% field goals, including 34-of-126 from 3 for 27.0% from 3, 79.4% from the free throw line, 34.8 minutes per game) currently holds a draft projection average of No. 39 (early second round, which is guaranteed contract territory all day long). The Western Conference scout projects Council in the “35 to 42” draft range, while the Eastern Conference scout and the agency scout both had him in the “30 to 45 range.”
Our Hogville scouting report on Council is that he seemed to us to already be a potential draft prospect after transferring from Wichita State to Arkansas in the offseason a year ago, and that opinion was buoyed in ’22-23 because he went out and showed off his ability to get downhill for above- and at-the-rim finishes along with twisting and contorting close-range tough buckets, and he was adept at creating contact on drives to get to the foul line (218 attempts led the team as did the near-80% efficiency). Solidly built with elite athleticism and leaping ability, Council was showtime as a finisher in transition. A streaky shooter in the mid-range and a poor shooter from distance, Council was often a one-trick pony on offense who had tunnel-vision as a score-or-bust dribble-driver. An average ball-handler, average defender, and average rebounder relative to his size and athleticism, Council has a lot of work to do in his development to be ready to consistently help an NBA team, but he has the physical and athletic gifts to raise the bar as a rebounder and defender while improving his offensive skill. How quickly can he raise his game in so many areas? For a shooting guard who struggled shooting in the college game, Council will find even with better spacing and wider driving lanes at the pro level that finishing at the rim will be more challenging than ever if he can’t throw in a wrinkle or two in his spot-up and pull-up games to keep defenders guessing. At the end of the day, a proven scorer in a league like the SEC with explosive athleticism and good size for a pro-level shooting guard should land Council in the early-to-mid second round with an outside shot at a team falling in love with him for a late first-round pick. Chance he’ll return to Arkansas: None. Best current NBA comparison: A bigger but less refined Jaden Ivey, 6-4 shooting guard, Detroit Pistons. Best team fits: Sacramento Kings style-wise, or any organization not desperate for immediate impact that believes in the potential growth and upside given Council’s positives.
4. Jordan Walsh (6-7 wing, 7.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 0.9 assists, 1.0 turnover, 43.3% field goals, including 20-of-72 from 3 for 27.8%, 71.2% free throws, 24.4 minutes) has an average draft projection of No. 49 in the mid-to-late second round (NOTE: currently, it’s a much smaller sample size of available mock draft projections for Walsh given that he just threw his name in the draft pool along with mid-to-late second round grades). The Western Conference scout gave him a draft range of “45 to 60” while the Eastern Conference scout had him “late second round.” Interestingly, the agency scout thinks Walsh is a “second-round” value but could sneak into the “late first round based on his upside.”
Our Hogville scouting report on Walsh has always viewed his upside as having a lot to do with his 7-4 wingspan, athleticism, and track record of tenacity and versatility in defending multiple backcourt and frontcourt positions. He’s a 3-and-D development prospect, something every NBA team covets in bunches if they can get ’em. But the 3 part of the equation is the biggest question mark as Walsh had poor efficiency on a low volume of attempts from distance in his one season at Arkansas. Walsh lacks skill as a ball-handler, shot creator, and pull-up shooter, but if he can bulk up while improving as a spot-up shooter from NBA three-point range — he’s got a nice enough release — to package with his abilities to crash the offensive glass for putbacks and as a finisher above the rim in transition or on lob passes in the halfcourt, then he could offer a competent complement on offense while being a tenacious defender capable of holding his own in on-ball assignments as well as screen-game switches from wings on to guards and/or bigs. Maturity, decision-making on the court, and a propensity to foul are more areas that need improvement, but his work against draft-projected combo forwards Jalen Wilson (Kansas) and Coleman Hawkins (Illinois) in the NCAA Tournament in March was impressive and perhaps offered a glimpse of his potential as a stopper in the NBA. Chance he’ll return to Arkansas: Right now we’ve got it 65/35 in favor of Walsh remaining in the draft. Best current NBA comparison: Dorian Finney-Smith, 6-7 wing, Dallas Mavericks. Best team fits: All 30 teams, because again every organization in the league covets 3-and-D prospects with upside.
5. Davonte “Devo” Davis (6-4 combo guard, 10.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.1 turnovers, 41.5% field goals, including 47-of-136 from 3 for 34.6%, 71.9% free throws, 33.1 minutes) has not received projections in the various mock drafts, and the panel of three NBA scouts that Hogville spoke with did not see him as a potential draft pick. But here’s the thing with Devo: After authoring one of the best careers at Arkansas with legendary NCAAT performances while at the same time improving as a shooter and becoming more nuanced as a defender, Davis may feel like the timing is right to pursue professional basketball even if that does not lead him to the NBA in the near future, if ever.
Our Hogville scouting report views Davis as having a potential NBA career after honing his game in lower levels of professional basketball. He’s not a good enough shooter or dynamic enough athletically at 6-4 to play shooting guard, so he needs to improve his handles, decision-making as a lead guard, and skill as a spot-up three-point shooter while proving to be an elite ball-hawking defender at the lower pro levels with continued plus-rebounding as a 1 and 50/50-ball winning prowess. Chance he’ll return to Arkansas: 55/45 in favor of him sticking with professional basketball pursuits. Best current NBA comparison: Patrick Beverley. Best team fits: Any destination that allows him to focus solely on basketball while earning a living in the sport, and experience growth both as a player and a professional. Whether he makes it to the NBA or not, Davis can forge a career as a pro somewhere.