Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Musselman: Bailey playing with great confidence
Arkansas’ Adrio Bailey (2) celebrates after a dunk during the first half of the Razorbacks' 72-68 win over Valparaiso on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE — Junior guard Mason Jones aside, one would be hard pressed to name a player on Arkansas' roster who has been as consistent as Adrio Bailey in the six-game absence of Isaiah Joe.
You could classify it as taking advantage of an opportunity with a star on the mend or playing with a heightened sense of urgency, understanding he only has so many games remaining in his college career. Regardless, Bailey has arguably played some his best basketball of late.
His impact is and has been far-reaching in 2019-20. Bailey's stats - 6.9 points, 4.6 rebounds per game - will not wow the average fan, but he has proven to be valuable for Arkansas when on the floor, especially as the Razorbacks search for answers amid a five-game losing streak without Joe.
"Adrio’s done a great job," Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said Friday in previewing Saturday's game against Missouri. "I thought that, obviously, he’s feeling more and more comfortable as his senior season’s winding down as far as shooting the 3-ball.
"If you look at his threes prior to this year and his threes now, where he’s at in the percentages, that’s what you want. You want players to develop and get better."
Bailey, who did not attempt a single 3-pointer in his first two seasons with the Razorbacks and made only two as a junior in 12 tries, has provided Arkansas with a lift from the perimeter. He has shot 45.2 percent on 31 threes this season, and is 10 of 21 (47.6 percent) in conference play.
With Joe sidelined as he continues to recover from Feb. 4 knee surgery, Bailey has stepped forward from 3-point range and knocked down 8 of 14 attempts. He has made two 3-pointers in three consecutive games, hit 2 of 3 from the right wing and 3 of 4 at the top of the key in that span.
"I’m assuming he’s getting 1-1.5, maybe, more threes with Isaiah being out - with his feet set," Musselman said. "You look at his percentage, you guys can get here early and watch him in pregame and I’m not so sure you’d think he’d be one of our best-percentage shooters. But when the lights come on and the popcorn’s popping, he has done a good job of converting threes at a higher rate than he probably does behind closed doors in practice.
"There are players like that, that shoot the ball better when the lights go on. Then there are a lot of players that shoot the ball a lot worse when the lights go on. You’d much prefer the guy that can make them when the lights are on than in a dark gym."
On top of his newfound success from distance, Bailey's shot selection has improved drastically over 2018-19. As a junior, Bailey made just 23 of 66 (34.9 percent) 2-point jump shots, according to shot chart data collected throughout the season.
He has taken only 22 such shots in his senior season.
Minus Joe's shotmaking and defensive abilities for six games, Arkansas has slipped on both ends of the floor. According to HoopLens analytics, the Razorbacks have scored at a .98 point-per-possession rate and shot 45 percent on 2-point field goal attempts while allowing 1.05 PPP.
Opponents have connected on 56.1 percent of looks inside the arc as well.
With Bailey on the floor, however, the figures essentially flip. Over the senior's 304 possessions in this timeframe, Arkansas' offense has operated at 1.10 PPP, which is great, and held opposing teams to .99 PPP. That computes to the Razorbacks being plus-30.
When he sits, Arkansas seemingly falls flat, scoring a dreadful .72 PPP while giving up a startling 1.19 PPP on the defensive end. TCU, Auburn, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Florida have combined to outscore the Razorbacks by 60 points.
So, what has been the key for Bailey lately?
"I just think he’s playing with confidence," Musselman said. "I guess that is maybe the one thing."
Prior to Arkansas' home date with Mississippi State on Feb. 15, and multiple times throughout the season, Musselman has challenged his forwards to produce more on the glass, particularly Bailey and sophomore Reggie Chaney. Bailey grabbed eight in the first half against the Gators on Tuesday, but none after halftime.
Musselman wants more. Aside from Bailey's six defensive rebounds, no Razorbacks player finished with more than two defensive rebounds in the loss.
"You have to do what the team needs, especially if we go back to more guards on the floor we need rebounds from that spot," he said. "His activity at Florida in that first half was awesome."
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