Basketball

Potential Razorback Lineups 2021-2022

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What a time to be a fan of Razorback basketball. Coach Eric Musselman led the Hogs to the Elite Eight for the first time in 25 years during only his second season as head coach. He brought in one of the best recruiting classes in program history with the likes of Moses Moody, Devo Davis, Jaylin Williams, and KK Robinson, three of which are set to be back in the upcoming season while the fourth looks to be a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft.

Now, Musselman has worked his transfer portal magic again. He’s brought in several new faces to replace all the players leaving from last year’s team, and with the amount of versatility, defense, and shooting being accumulated on the hill, the lineup possibilities seem near endless.

So instead of diving right into lineups, I’d like to see unfold on the court this season, I thought I’d start with individual positions and talk about who can benefit from playing in different places on the court.

Point Guards

Chris Lykes | G – 5’7 – 160

This Miami transfer is a certified bucket. Don’t let his size fool you on either side of the ball. Lykes can handle the rock with the best of them and score from virtually anywhere on the court. His playmaking will likely be leaned on heavily throughout the season, and he’s a pesky enough defender to make an impact against opposing ball handlers.

I don’t foresee Lykes playing anything other than point guard due to his size, though we may see Musselman experiment with playing Lykes off-the-ball on offense and allowing others to create open looks for him. Lykes is a good enough shooter to have offensive sets focused around getting him the ball with room to let it fly.

KK Robinson | G – 6’0 – 170

Unfortunately, we did not get to see Robinson’s full potential during his freshmen season due to the young guard being sidelined with a foot injury. However, Robinson seems to be making a full recovery as he has recently been cleared to scrimmage with the team again. This 6’0 guard is an offensive guru. His ball-handling, high IQ, and easy shot form have even drawn comparisons to Finals-bound point guard, Chris Paul.

In ultra-small lineups, we could see Robinson fill more of a shooting guard role thanks to his strength and shooting ability, but we’ll likely see him thrive when handed the reigns to the offense as the primary playmaker. Even if (when) he shares the court with Lykes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robinson be the actual facilitator while Lykes steps into more of a scoring role.

Shooting Guards

JD Notae | G – 6’2 – 185

Notae, the reigning SEC and National 6th Man of the Year (according to Bleacher Report), is set to have another fantastic outing with the Hogs. He’ll likely retain his role as the primary scorer off the bench, a role we’ve become accustomed to seeing from players all of the NBA like Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams, and Jordan Clarkson.

While Notae still stands a little short of being a true shooting guard, the college game and team-defense scheme that Musselman implements allows him to comfortably play the 2-guard position, not to mention his stellar shooting and finishing abilities. We could see Notae run the point with some larger, more versatile lineups, but I expect him to see a lot more time off-ball this season than he did last year.

Devo Davis | G – 6’4 – 175

Perhaps the fan base’s undisputed favorite player on this year’s roster, Davis has elevated himself from a nice addition in a stellar recruiting class to a potential NBA draft prospect in just one season with the Hogs. He’s spent this summer improving his game, including his most notable weakness in outside shooting, and looks ready to have a massive season leading the new Razorback roster.

Davis plays bigger than his 6’4 frame might suggest thanks in large part to his unreal length and quickness on both sides of the ball. The starting shooting guard position looks like it’s Davis’s to lose at this point, though we could see him run the point guard or small forward positions for extended periods depending on who steps up on any given night in other positions around him. Regardless, Davis’s versatility will keep him on the court in Musselman’s lineups perhaps more than anyone else next season.

Chance Moore | G – 6’5 – 195

Arkansas’s only true freshmen this season will look to work his way into the rotation in year one, much like Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams worked their way up the ranks last season. Moore has a great build for the guard position, not only standing at 6’5 but also possessing good strength and length to aid him on both sides of the ball. His talent is undeniable, but his college readiness is yet to be seen.

Moore is not the most explosive athlete you’ll find, nor the best playmaker on the team. This lack of versatility might prevent him from playing multiple positions in potential lineups, though this is not necessarily a bad thing. I only say this to point out that Moore could be limited to playing mostly shooting guard, and maybe some small forward, which in turn limits his chances to see consistent playing time this year with the level of talent and depth at those positions on the roster.

Small Forwards

Au’Diese Toney | G/F – 6’6 – 205

Toney is the definition of versatile. At Pitt last season, he averaged 14.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 1.3 SPG. He shot 34% from distance and upwards of 52% from inside the arc, showing off his ability to play virtually anywhere on the court. His 6’6 frame allows him to bang with the bigs down low or step out and defend the perimeter. This is a trait Musselman has shown a tendency to appreciate on the court with guys like Jalen Tate, Moses Moody, and even Justin Smith.

I would not be surprised to see Toney play a lot of power forward this season thanks to his strength and versatility, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him aiding our primary ballhandlers in the backcourt during full-court-press situations. It’s hard to replace a player like Justin Smith, whose intangibles were oftentimes the difference between winning and losing games, but if anyone looks up for the task this upcoming season, it’s Toney.

Trey Wade | F – 6’6 – 220

Wade looks to be a gritty, glue-guy type of player. He has an adept ability to time his jumps to grab offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, or block shots from virtually anywhere on the court. His shooting stroke is by no means bad, but he’s not a prolific scorer either. The majority of his points come on open catch-and-shoot opportunities or put-backs off of his own offensive rebounds.

Wade, like Toney, will likely spend a lot of time as an undersized power forward. He falls into our small forward range for two reasons: 1) he’s 6’6 and would more than likely be a power forward at the next level, and 2) this team has roughly 72 guys who are versatile 6’6 beasts and we had to split them up somehow for the sake of this breakdown.

Jaxson Robinson | G/F – 6’6 – 185

Robinson is a new addition from Texas A&M. During his lone season there, he did not see sufficient playing time to allow us to fully judge his potential. However, his shooting stroke is easy on the eyes for anyone who has gotten a chance to see him play. His 6’6 frame and stellar shooting will give him a chance to play for any team he’s on, but Robinson will have his work cut out for him if he wants significant playing time on this loaded roster.

While most naturally a shooting guard, Robinson would likely see most of his time as a small forward during his collegiate career. This comes in large part due to his excellent length and versatility, but also due to the “positionless basketball” trend sweeping all levels of the sport, allowing coaches to experiment with unconventional lineups and positioning, especially at the collegiate level where having multiple guards seems to bring success (see Baylor 2020).

Power Forwards

Stanley Umude | F – 6’6 – 210

Despite being listed as a power forward here, Umude is a prototypical small forward in today’s NBA. His 6’6 frame and ability to score from anywhere on the court make him an intriguing prospect, both for Musselman this upcoming season and for NBA scouts preparing for their teams’ futures. Umude averaged over 21 PPG last season from the forward position while shooting upwards of 35% from deep and 51% from inside the arc.

Though his most natural position looks to be small forward, don’t be surprised at all to see Umude spend most of his time at the power forward position under coach Musselman. Last season, Muss played Justin Smith as a pseudo center for much of the season despite him being only 6’7, leading to guys like Jalen Tate (6’6), Moody (6’6), and even Davis (6’4) seeing time as the pseudo power forward during these small-ball lineups. This opens the door for Umude to play anywhere from small forward to center under his new head coach, but expect most of his time to come at the power forward position.

Kamani Johnson | F – 6’7 – 235

A transfer from down the road in Little Rock, Johnson is a force to be reckoned with on the glass. He plays with a ferocity that has left Arkansas coaches warning him to be careful to not injure his teammates during practices. While we don’t want to see anyone from any team get hurt, that type of drive and motor should suit him well in SEC play.

However, Johnson has not yet displayed a polished offensive skill set, meaning that he may be rendered ineffective if the Hogs have another guy considered to be a “non-shooter” on the court at the same time. Luckily for Johnson, there aren’t many non-shooters on this roster. His size, length, and relentless drive will likely allow him consistent minutes at the power forward and even some time as a small-ball center against teams that Connor Vanover does not match up well against.

Centers

Connor Vanover | 7’3 – C – 215

Speaking of the big man in the middle, Vanover returns for his second season with the Hogs after what some might consider to be a disappointing first season. I tend to disagree. During the games Vanover saw at least 10 minutes of action, he averaged 9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 2.6 BPG. While the scoring was not eye-popping, Vanover did his job in spreading the court as a shooting threat and making himself available at the rim when needed.

I expect a bigger impact out of the big man this upcoming season thanks to another offseason of weight training, post-work, and learning Musselman’s scheme. It’s not realistic to think Vanover will play much of anything other than center. We may see him spotted up on the perimeter while guys like Jaylin Williams or Kamani Johnson roam the paint, but that qualifies him as more of a stretch-5, not necessarily a power forward.

Jaylin Williams | 6’10 – F/C – 215

Williams is one of the players I’m most ready to see play next season. With so many new faces, the return of KK Robinson from injury, and Devo Davis becoming an ultimate fan-favorite, Williams is perhaps the most important forgotten piece to this Razorback basketball team. Though his stats are not usually eye-popping, Williams is the epitome of a glue guy. He takes charges, makes smart passes, spreads the defense with his shooting, is capable of making post moves, blocks shots, sets good screens, and anchors pretty much any lineup he’s a part of on both sides of the ball.

It’s not unrealistic to think that Williams will get more minutes at center than anyone else this season. Vanover should make a good impact against some teams, and Muss will likely play small-ball in a lot of games, but Williams is the perfect fit for any lineup combination Muss can throw out there. His 6’10 frame, high IQ, mobility, and offensive abilities make him incredibly valuable in most situations.

Potential Lineups

I do not envy coach Musselman or the coaching staff’s task ahead of them as they narrow down their rotation throughout the season. This team is loaded with talent, youth, versatility, shooting, and all-around beasts on both sides of the ball.

Starters

KK Robinson | Devo Davis | Au’Diese Toney | Stanley Umude | Jaylin Williams

This is my current projected starting lineup for a few reasons. Robinson and Lykes are likely in an all-out battle for the starting point guard position (unless Muss decides to start them both), but I like what Robinson brings to the court in terms of playmaking and scoring. Not that Lykes can’t do both, but I view Robinson as more of a facilitator that looks to get other guys going before himself, while Lykes is basically a walking bucket.

Devo Davis is mostly self-explanatory, and the combination of Toney and Umude at the forward positions gives us an incredibly versatile look with defense, scoring, size, ball handling, IQ, and playmaking. Then comes Jaylin Williams, the ultimate glue guy, to hold down the center position, protect the paint, clean the glass, and score when called upon.

Bench Unit

Chris Lykes | JD Notae | Trey Wade | Kamani Johnson | Connor Vanover

This lineup possesses one glaring issue: neither Wade nor Johnson are known as shooters. Wade can hold his own enough to force defenders to at least respect his jump shot, opening the paint some for the offensive onslaught brought on by Lykes and Notae, but if neither of the guards can find the rim, this lineup would struggle to score.

If either is able to penetrate the defense or catch fire from distance, however, this lineup becomes very scary indeed. Vanover’s shooting allows Johnson to play inside where he’s most comfortable. Even when one of the shooters misses, the trio of Wade, Johnson, and Vanover might just win upwards of 50% of their offensive rebound battles.

Small Ball

Chris Lykes | JD Notae | Devo Davis | Au’Diese Toney | Stanley Umude

While this lineup may seem troublesome at first due to overall lack of height, don’t forget the reference I made earlier to last year’s team when we saw 6’7 Justin Smith playing center for extended stretches alongside guys like Moody and Tate at 6’6. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Musselman close games with this lineup or something very similar.

The sheer offensive firepower in this lineup should have opposing coaches shaking in their shoes. Lykes and Notae are both skilled isolation scorers, and both know how to consistently run the pick-and-roll. Combine that with the floor spacing this lineup brings and we might have something special on our hands. Not to mention any of the three guards can be replaced by KK Robinson to give an even scarier approach to the floor spacing. Robinson’s additional defense and playmaking adds a whole new layer to this already intriguing lineup.

Tall Ball

Devo Davis | Au’Diese Toney | Stanley Umude | Jaylin Williams | Connor Vanover

While I don’t expect to ever see this lineup come to fruition during an actual game, it’s fun to imagine. Davis handled the ball well most of the time last season, and more than likely worked on this part of his game over the summer, making him a reasonable option at point guard for small stretches. Toney can handle the ball decently well, Umude is a good ISO scorer, and even Williams can take care of the ball on the perimeter if need be.

With no true point guards on the court, this lineup would have to rely heavily on ball movement and offensive sets, but it’s hard to imagine anyone scoring in the paint on this group. Perhaps they could find open shooters, but the quickness of Davis, Toney, and Umude could just be enough to keep opposing shooters from getting comfortable.

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