Justin Smith


Steph Curry just won Finals MVP for the now once-again champion Golden State Warriors. Steph did just about everything imaginable on the hardwood, but he did not finish with the highest net rating during the Finals nor the highest plus-minus. No, this is not me trying to take away his Finals MVP more so than hyping up someone who did all the little things like setting tough screens, versatility defensively, and being able to keep the Golden State offensive machine humming. No, it wasn’t Andrew Wiggins either. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson did all those things too, but they didn’t finish first in those regards either. Of course, I’m talking about Kevon Looney.

Kevon Looney was +48 in 130 minutes during the NBA Finals. The Warriors boasted a +23.7 Net Rating when he was on the floor. Looney never did anything spectacular. He’s not a leaper, and you could see many players where lobs or layup attempts at the rim went begging due to his lack of athleticism. But Looney is solid in every area. He’s a good enough passer to capitalize on the advantages Steph and Golden State’s shooting provides him. If you try him 1v1 you’re probably not beating him. He held serve on the glass against Robert Williams III and Al Horford after wiping out Memphis and Dallas’ frontcourts devouring them with offensive rebounds. He knows where to be defensively protecting the rim.

Kevon Looney is just solid in so many areas. Luckily for other NBA teams who missed out on Looney in 2015 (though he is about to be a free agent), there’s a big man in the 2022 Draft who is built from a similar blueprint. That would be Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams.

Charging the Defense

Like Looney, Williams is not a vertical or explosive athlete. But he makes up for it by reading the game at a very high level. Defensively, that comes by positioning himself a step ahead of the offense. That’s how he was able to take 54 charges (as well as the block/charge rule being broken in college basketball).

You could argue some of those should be considered a block. Sometimes Williams would get blocks on plays he beats drivers to the rim but tried to get a charge instead of just contesting the shot. But there are plenty of clips of him shutting off drives or pick-and-rolls positioning himself just like that. That positioning helps him defend on the perimeter too. He finds the balance of not giving enough space to let shooters shoot while also not pressing them into blowing by him. His mobility allows him to cover a lot of ground.

Inverted Playmaking

Jaylin Williams is stout defensively, but he’s very polished offensively as well. Williams’ best skill is his passing. He averaged 2.9 career assists per 40-minutes compared to 2.3 turnovers, a fine number for a guard but a great mark for a center. His 13.3-percent assist percentage is well above the NBA average of roughly 11-percent. For added context, both of Williams’ playmaking numbers best the career playmaking numbers of Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis. Davis averaged 2.2 career assists per 40-minutes and an assist percentage of 12.5-percent. Getting guard-like passing out of your center allows for teams to open their offense and deploy that center in numerous ways to get easy looks.

That’s exactly what Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman did with Jaylin Williams. Sometimes, Williams would operate as the halfcourt fulcrum for Arkansas at the elbow while the rest of the players on the floor would look to spring a teammate free as a cutter. Williams had no problem finding those cutters. Sometimes, that meant finding someone like Justin Smith converging to the rim from the wing…

… Sometimes, Williams would find a cutter sliding from the baseline from the other side of the court, as he does here. Stanley Umude sets a flare screen off the ball on JD Notae’s man. Umude’s man doesn’t communicate with Notae’s man. By the time Notae’s man gets around Umude’s screen, Notae’s gone and Williams finds him to get Arkansas a layup.

That’s not the only way Jaylin Williams’ passing excels. In a pick and roll league, screeners need to be able to scan the floor for open shooters once the ballhandler is forced to get rid of the ball. Luckily, Williams shines there too. And here’s a good example of him doing exactly that. Third-team All-American JD Notae gets trapped so dumps it off to Williams. Williams, under control (he was great all year at staying under control on rolls and not barrelling into defenders for charges), waits until Au’Diese Toney slips to the rim as his man rotates over to Williams. Williams sees it and then slips it to Toney to get him a dunk.

Grounded Rolling

That composure on rolls feeds into Williams’ lack of explosion and overall skill in his game. He’s not going to beat defenses over the top as a lob threat like Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo but he does have a soft touch on short rolls. If the defense rotates over and doesn’t leave shooters, Williams has no problem lofting a floater over the defender. The threat of scoring unlocks kick-outs for threes or dump-offs for dunks so this is an important shot to have as a center. Williams has it.

Jaylin Williams isn’t a lob threat but he can still punch it if he’s got a head of steam on short rolls too. Paolo Banchero needs no reminders. Devo Davis got Mark Williams to bite on a shot here. Davis bails out of the shot and dumps it to Williams as he embarks on the rim. Duke’s defense behind Mark Williams so Jaylin Williams went for the dunk and threw it down on Banchero’s head.

You can see Williams’ lack of explosion in traffic, however. Williams’ touch around the rim is good and knows how to use the rim and angles to find intricate finishes near the rim on rolls or camping at the dunker spot. But, can be discombobulated by longer and more athletic bigs. This is a good example. On the move, he can’t get by Auburn’s Walker Kessler. Instead, he gets enveloped by Kessler and blocked.

Shooting in Progress

Playmaking isn’t the only area Jaylin Williams can contribute offensively. Williams is not a great shooter but he’s capable. His 25.5-percent mark from deep may not reflect it but he has good touch around the rim (as shown above), looks comfortable shooting midrange jumpers, and boasts a career 73.1-percent percentage from the free-throw line. His confidence as a shooter has yet to follow him past the three-point line. He will turn down shots in search of something better even. Sometimes, something better never comes. Other times, Arkansas got a layup or a better look. You admire Williams’ selflessness but becoming a more confident shooter would serve him very well in the NBA. When he lets it fly the shot looks pretty solid leaving his hands. He needs to improve as a shooter but there’s at least something to work with there.


Jaylin Williams may not be a top-flight athlete. He’s not the best stretch five out there. But, a lot like Golden State’s Kevon Looney, he’s just solid. He’s a very smart, well-rounded player who excels at amplifying the players around and making winning plays. It’s hard to find bigs who can stay on the floor in a playoff setting but I have none of those concerns with Jaylin Williams. The NBA is going away from bigs but having one who can contribute in those settings is and will continue to be invaluable. I recently asked Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman where Jaylin Williams could go in the 2022 NBA Draft and he speculated Williams is more likely to last until the second round. 

I think that is likely with how the center position is valued in comparison to guards and wings. But, every team in the 20s could use additional center depth and this year’s center class is not overly deep. I could see one of the teams starting with the Spurs at 20 draft Jaylin Williams and looking to fill other positions with later picks or via free agency. If that does indeed happen, Williams is more than worthy. We do all of this to be the ones holding up the trophy when all is said and done. Why not draft someone who can give a team what one of the most reliable players on a great team gave to help win a championship?

Before this college basketball series tipped off in the midst of a pandemic, I threw out there that this was the best and most talented Arkansas Razorback men’s basketball team I’d ever seen on paper. Sure, there was plenty of hype to support the claim: multiple returning starters were boosted by a Top 5 recruiting class and five experienced transfers became eligible to play for the team. Little did I know that the season would culminate in an Elite Eight appearance, but I can’t say that I was surprised. The effect is massive. This season’s Razorback team changed the entire complexion of the program and put it firmly on the map yet again.

This was a complete and total team effort. In the NCAA Tournament, in each of the three games the team won, they trailed by double digits. Coaching was a firm difference-maker. Arkansas has had many coaches in the years from Nolan Richardson to Eric Musselman, but I’m not sure any would come up with the tweaks and adjustments that Musselman cooked up. In the first round against Colgate, after going down by as many as 14 points with just over three minutes left in the first half, Muss went back to previous teams of Razorbacks lore and turned up the pressure, opting to go with a full-court press to speed up a Colgate team that had been roasting them in the halfcourt. Soon enough, the Hogs went into the locker room at halftime with a lead and didn’t look back. During the second-round game against Texas Tech, freshman big man Jaylin Williams struggled to keep up with Texas Tech’s size and versatility at the beginning of the game, yet Muss went back to him at the end of the first half. By the time the second half came around, so did Williams, who provided a big spark during the second half and helped the Razorbacks overcome another double-digit deficit (this one ‘only’ a 10 point hole). Then in the Sweet 16, Arkansas switched and trapped Oral Roberts star Max Abmas all game and held him to a respectable 25 points on 19 shots with five turnovers sprinkled in and routinely made him work defensively. 

But of course, the coaches aren’t the ones actually playing. The players are the ones that actually need to execute out on the floor, and when it came to nut-cutting time, this Hogs team answered the call. Indiana transfer Justin Smith was the biggest catalyst in this regard, at least defensively. It was apparent at the end of the Texas Tech game while acting as the team’s small-ball center, he got switched onto Tech’s Kyler Edwards & contested Edwards’ drive with the clock dwindling to zero to prevent the game from being extended an additional five minutes to hold off the Red Raiders. Offensively, Smith is not one to go get you a bucket, but he is a super-smart cutter and great above-the-rim finisher. Any time attention was paid to Arkansas’ litany of guards Smith would jet to the rim and get himself an easy dunk. In addition to his defensive versatility and offensive IQ, Smith was massive on the glass to make up for Arkansas’ size differential. Acting as the team’s center despite only 6’7” 230 pounds to his frame, Smith averaged just below 10 rebounds during the team’s NCAA Tournament run. Smith finished the season averaging 7.3 rebounds per game before the Hogs’ season came to a halt at the hands of the Baylor Bears. Despite a team being loaded with talent at almost every position, Smith was easily the team’s most important and indispensable player. I’ve been pounding the table for him to get NBA looks (which it looks like he’s finally getting that respect) because of how valuable and important he was to this Hogs team defensively. Let’s hope a team overlooks his shooting (just a 24.7% career three-point shooter on a limited number of attempts), which could ultimately do him in as the league looks for more and more shooting from its role players, and finds him a spot on a roster because he’s more than deserving and is ready to help a team from the get-go.

The contributions did not stop there. Though star freshman Moses Moody did not have a stellar NCAA Tournament run (he averaged just 13 points per game on 32.6% shooting from the field), Moody’s play over the course of the entire season showed he’ll still be a likely lottery pick in July’s NBA Draft. Moody is already a great shooter and projects to be an elite one with proper NBA coaching and development to his disposal in the future. We saw a glimpse of how good a shooter he is against LSU in the SEC Semi-Finals, putting up 20 in the first half without hardly ever putting the ball on the floor. That isn’t to say Moody can’t create off the dribble either; Moody generated about one point per possession on pull-up jumpers in the halfcourt this season as a freshman. While the volume wasn’t there (mostly because Arkansas had plenty of playmakers and shot creators in their halfcourt), the efficiency was. Moody would do most of his damage on pull-up jumpers when getting the ball amidst a rotating defense after the threat of his jumper caused panic into the defense, forcing them to run Moody off the three-point line & make Moody hit a floater or a jumper inside the arc. Moody has a tough jab-step and a smooth handle to create separation on step-back threes too. As you can see, Moody has shown glimpses of being a bucket-getter in addition to being a lethal catch-and-shoot option, though he has some limitations that reared its head in the Tournament. His handle is good, not great. Moody is more finesse than a brute force player, meaning getting to the rim off the dribble is not exactly his forte. Moody kind of got beat up by bigger defenders too (Baylor’s guards really roughed him up). However, these are all areas Moody can improve upon, which I bet he will at the next level. Moody showed enough to me to at the very least be a kick-ass role player like Mikal Bridges in the NBA. I’m not going to put that ceiling on him though; maybe a baby Boston Celtics version of Ray Allen? That version of Allen did not rely on the athleticism he boasted at the beginning of his career the same way Moody does; both are roughly the same size. I believe Moody can get there. Sure it was disappointing Moody did not play to the fullest of his capabilities in the NCAA Tournament, but the fact Arkansas could have its first player selected in the lottery since Ronnie Brewer in 2006 is monumental for Moody to support himself and his family and show recruits around the country that Arkansas can help them get where they want to go: the NBA.

Numerous other Hogs players had their moments in the sun. Sweet Sixteen hero Davonte Davis drilled arguably the biggest shot in Arkansas Razorbacks Men’s Basketball history since Hog legend Scotty Thurman gave the Razorbacks the lead in the 1994 National Championship against the dreaded Duke Blue Devils. Not only that, but Davis was maybe the biggest catalyst in erasing Arkansas’ deficit in the first-round matchup against Colgate too with his tenacious defense. Davis always seems to find the ball and the ball tends to always find him. He has a very good feel as a passer as well and his midrange prowess as well as a sturdy 75.6% free-throw percentage suggests his range could extend out beyond the three-point arc too. Davis, along with Northern Kentucky transfer Jalen Tate, also received a majority of the assignment against Max Abmas in the Sweet 16 too and held up well. Arkansas repeatedly went to Tate to post-up the smaller Abmas down the stretch of that Sweet 16 classic and he held up his end of the bargain time-and-time again (this forced Oral Roberts to put a bigger defender on him at the end of the game and helped free up Davis to his game-winner). This wasn’t the first time Tate came up big in the clutch this season; he also managed to snag an offensive rebound amongst the trees and nail two free-throws to beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Sure, Kentucky had a down season, but that felt like a big moment in the Hogs’ season and Tate delivered when someone needed to. JD Notae was another transfer to make his debut for the team this season. Though Notae’s shot selection left a lot to be desired at times, his value as a bucket-getter was apparent all year long. JD Notae basically won the Hogs their SEC Quarterfinals matchup against Missouri and was the one guard who felt comfortable creating against Baylor’s stout defense in the Elite Eight matchup. Unfortunately, foul trouble and a questionable charge call that college referees seem contractually obligated to call forced him out of that game with just under 14 minutes to play. Not that the call was the reason the Hogs lost (Davion Mitchell’s foul trouble kept the Hogs in it, and his play, once he came back, catapulted the Bears to victory), but those 15 minutes Notae spent on the court highlighted his value to the squad. Unlike Smith and Tate, who came to the team as grad transfers, Notae still has another year of eligibility to make another run with the Hogs.

Last year, after I attended a Razorbacks game against Auburn before the world caught on fire in more ways than one, I wrote about the state of the program and my hopes for the future. Part of that article included this note:

“This year is a bit of a transition year for the Hogs. This is the first year of Musselman at the helm after taking over for Mike Anderson. Not only is he implementing a new modern style of play for the state of basketball today, but he’s also instilling a culture for the players of tomorrow. This is especially important because one of the best Razorback recruiting classes of all-time is coming into the fold next season. Montverde Academy star and Little Rock native Moses Moody (part of what some say is one of the best high school teams ever) is the headliner, alongside fellow Arkansas natives KK Robinson, Davonte Davis, and Jaylin Williams. Musselman has gotten the most of a team without a lot of premier talent; all four of these players are in ESPN’s Top 100. On top of that, transfers Connor Vanover (California) and JD Notae (Stetson) will all be eligible as well, and there’s a non-zero chance both Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe forego the NBA to make a run next season. Guard Desi Sills will probably be back as well. Next season is the first one Musselman can really mold into his own image and will have plenty of talent and versatile players to do so with.”

Safe to say, that came true. This year’s team set the standard for Arkansas teams of the future. Jalen Tate even said as much. Though the ending isn’t what Hogs fans yearned for, this ride this year’s wonky, COVID-filled adventure took them on was one that will never be forgotten. One that revitalized and woke-up what once was a perennial powerhouse. Hopefully now gone are the days of homegrown in-state leaving the state for bigger programs. Arkansas is now on the map again. This year’s team proved it and has the pieces to keep it going for as long as they want it to.