Projecting Arkansas' 2020-21 basketball rotation

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Desi Sills dribbles toward the basket in Arkansas' game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
( Ben Goff)
Desi Sills dribbles toward the basket in Arkansas' game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Shooting guard Isaiah Joe announcing he would be returning to Arkansas for his junior season over the weekend means the Razorbacks' roster is set for 2020-21.

The work second-year coach Eric Musselman and his staff have done to essentially overhaul the roster in a fairly short amount of time and add both talent and quality depth has been impressive. The Razorbacks' roster is comprised of a whopping 10 scholarship players who have not suited up for the program before.

Three of them – forwards Connor Vanover and Abayomi Iyiola (currently sidelined with an ACL injury) and guard JD Notae – sat out the 2019-20 season and are eligible for the upcoming season. Arkansas then picked up three graduate transfers in Justin Smith (Indiana), Vance Jackson (New Mexico) and Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky), who all figure to play integral roles.

Junior guard Desi Sills is one of three players with experience in Musselman's system and someone looking to springboard into a new season after a strong finish to 2019-20.

Arkansas also signed a top 5 recruiting class, according to ESPN, which featured four top-100 players. Expectations are high as a new season approaches and the level of excitement around the program is higher than it has been in quite some time.

Still several months out from the start of the season, I did my best to project what Arkansas' rotation could look like, breaking down roles into four tiers – star, potential starter/key rotation player, bench contributor, spot minutes. Keep in mind a lot can change between now and when the team tips off in November (hopefully).


A go-to player who could turn in an All-SEC type season.

Isaiah Joe | 6-5, 180

Stats (2019-20): 16.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 apg

Joe is one of the premier 3-point shooters in the country and the definition of a team-first guy. He became Arkansas’ go-to option on the offensive end the moment he pulled his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft. While many say he experienced a bit of a down year in 2019-20 in terms of perimeter shooting, he missed six games and still knocked down 94 3s, which led the SEC. He was hampered by a knee injury as well, which impacted his balance and effectiveness. I believe he is still underrated as a defender, too. Joe has solid defensive anticipation and is not afraid in the least to sacrifice his body for the team.

Barring injury, I cannot envision any scenario in which he is not in the starting lineup. Landing in Musselman’s doghouse seems wholly unrealistic based on everything we know about Joe.


It would not surprise me to see these players start and play an integral role in team success. They have a great chance to play meaningful minutes.

Desi Sills | 6-1, 202

Stats (2019-20): 10.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 apg

Had Isaiah Joe opted to keep his name in this year’s draft, Sills would have been the Razorbacks’ most experienced returning player by a long shot. He is, in my opinion, a pretty safe bet to be in the starting lineup and on the floor late in games. He’s been there and done that in the SEC for two seasons, and it appeared Sills bought in to Musselman’s system as a sophomore, bringing great energy and toughness to the lineup.

He does, though, have to become more consistent offensively. In each of his two seasons at Arkansas, Sills has closed the season very well — especially from the perimeter — after slow starts. Tracking his workouts on social media, Sills has trained since the end of last season to be a player that the Razorbacks cannot afford to take off the floor.

I view Sills as a starter from the outset, but a case could be made for bringing him off the bench. Over 34 career games he did not start, Sills has shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and 44 percent beyond the arc. Last season, he put up better than 14 points on 55.6 percent from 3 over eight games in a non-starting role. He would be able to provide experience for and lead the second unit should the staff instead decide to run with another guard to begin games.

Vance Jackson | 6-9, 238

Stats (2019-20): 11.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 apg

Early reports from Arkansas’ first few weeks of practices indicate Jackson has been remarkably efficient from 3-point range. Musselman estimated the New Mexico transfer knocked down 70 of 79 triples in one of the team’s workouts. I am high on Jackson, a seasoned addition who on top of providing perimeter shooting is likely to bring rebounding, grown-man toughness and flair. Truth be told, I believe he can join Joe as one of the team’s stars. He is an immediate impact guy to me, and consistent play from him makes the Razorbacks a dangerous team.

In learning more about Jackson after he committed on April 1, one of the knocks on him was that he could disappear for stretches and not truly impact games. I think Musselman can push the right buttons and keep him engaged on both ends of the floor.

Will Webber of the Santa Fe New Mexican told me earlier in the year that Jackson might be a diva in the eyes of some, but he has the skillset to play for a check somewhere.

Justin Smith | 6-7, 230

Stats (2019-20): 10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.9 apg

Smith brings experience to the table having played significant, meaningful minutes in another power conference, and elite athleticism (48-inch vertical at the NBA combine). He led Indiana in minutes played in 2019-20 and, according to one Hoosiers beat writer, the team will likely miss him most on the defensive end. Also, he is effective in transition, described as flashy thanks to his bounce.

One downside to Smith’s game is that he has been pretty ineffective as a jumpshooter throughout his career. He has shot 25 percent from 3 and is probably best suited 12 feet and in. But, word is Smith has already improved his touch a bit in just a short time on campus. If he gradually grows in that area, it is going to be awfully hard to take him off the floor.

JD Notae | 6-1, 195

Stats (2018-19): 15.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.4 apg

Coming off of a redshirt season the coaching staff was encouraged by, Notae will be battling for a starting job in the coming months. As of now, he is sidelined with a left wrist injury. He was wearing a cast but appears to have transitioned to a brace and should return to practice in a couple of weeks, which is a positive. If all goes well in recovery, I think he becomes a key piece of this team. Coaches saw an uptick in Notae’s strength, 3-point stroke and confidence during last season. They expect him to be a major part of the team’s success.

At Jacksonville, Notae ranked in the top 5 in usage rate in Atlantic Sun play both seasons. Surrounded by a more talented cast of players, I don’t believe he’ll feel the need to hunt his shot as much, and we’ll get a sense for what he brings to the table as a playmaker. According to KenPom, he has a top 5 assist rate in 2018-19 with the Dolphins and finished with five-plus assists nine times.

Jalen Tate | 6-6, 175

Stats (2019-20): 13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.6 apg

You know what you’re going to get with Tate: A very, very solid defender. He made a name for himself on the defensive end of the floor at Northern Kentucky. And according to HoopLens analytics, he was efficient at the rim with the Norse. That sounds like a great combination.

Tate is a candidate to not only start, but finish games for the Razorbacks. Don Owen, a sports writer for the Northern Kentucky Tribune, told me after Tate committed to Arkansas that he is “very good in late-game situations.” Another plus is Tate is a high fouls-drawn player, and Musselman is all about free throws attempted.

Connor Vanover | 7-3, 247

Stats (2018-19): 7.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.2 apg

Exactly how Musselman and his staff will operate with Vanover on the floor this season is undoubtedly one of the more interesting questions to ponder as the season approaches. At 7-3 and nearly 250 pounds with a soft touch from the perimeter, he is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He is also effective as a passer from the pinch post.

The question is how much run will Vanover be able to provide? And what about Arkansas’ course of action defensively when he is in the lineup? One of the coaching staff’s projects this summer was coming up with a definable way to play pick-and-rolls with Vanover on the floor. I can certainly see him getting starting nods on a regular basis, but he might have to work his way into being among the five who close games.

Moses Moody | 6-6, 205

Stats (high school): 11.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.8 apg

Moody is ready to not only play right away but be a key figure on this team from the get-go. His jumper is smooth as silk, he possesses solid length and has a maturity about him not often found in true freshmen. Moody can become a team leader in his first year on campus.

Couple that with a knack for finishing around the rim and an underrated ability to rebound on both ends, he is in a great position to play meaningful minutes and have a significant role. As of now, I envision him starting the season opener, but it will hinge on how quickly he acclimates to college basketball. I think Moody has star potential.


These players could start games this season, but I believe they will likely they come off the bench. It would not come as a shock to see them find the rotation, but they will have to compete to earn minutes due to depth.

Jaylin Williams | 6-10, 245

Stats (high school): 18.7 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.7 apg

Williams is one of the new faces I’m most excited by. The Williams family, according to Fort Smith Northside basketball coach Eric Burnett, has been told Jaylin could grow a few more inches and reach 7-1. That, plus what we already know about him (can stretch the floor and shoot the 3, great vision for a big, mobile, high IQ), could put him on the radar of NBA teams before too long.

Given the experience of the frontcourt players who figure to be slotted ahead of him, it will probably be tough for him to work his way in the starting lineup early on, but his presence will be needed, for sure. With time, I think the 5 spot can be his, and opponents will have their hands full.


These players may have an uphill battle to crack the rotation.

Davonte Davis | 6-4, 180

Stats (high school): 21 ppg, 10 rpg, 8 apg

You simply can’t teach some of the things Davis brings to the table. He’s shifty, crafty, quick, and I don’t think there’s any doubt he will become a tremendous playmaker for the Razorbacks. However, there are four experienced guards on the roster who are essentially locks for playing time, plus Moody, so how much run he gets will likely depend on progress made this preseason and how he latches on to what is being thrown at him.

Davis needs to find more consistency with his jumper. If he can do that, and hone his decision making and handle, I could see him making a good impression as a freshman.

KK Robinson | 6-0, 175

Stats (high school): 10.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 7.5 apg

I am eager to see where Robinson stands the closer we get to the season. He has tremendous potential. Arkansas’ staff likes his competitiveness, selfless nature and the pressure he can put on ballhandlers. Speed with the ball in his hands is a plus, too, and he operates well in the open floor off the bounce and with advance passes.

Robinson is a point guard who is a facilitator (7.5 assists per game at Oak Hill last season). I think he could provide some perimeter scoring as well, but like Davis, there are a lot of bodies ahead of him.

Ethan Henderson | 6-8, 210

Stats: 1.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.8 bpg

Outside of Joe and Sills, Henderson is Arkansas’ most experienced returning player. He played really well — probably the best ball of his career - toward the end of the last season, averaging 3.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks over 20-plus minutes per game in March. It would benefit Arkansas greatly if he were able to channel that run and provide more quality depth, but he had a difficult time getting on the floor last season with a very short bench.


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