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.
2020-21 season review: Davonte Davis
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) gets a dunk against Texas Tech in the second half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
The second in a nine-part series reviewing Arkansas basketball in 2020-21.
Weight: 180 pounds
Stats: 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals. 0.2 blocks
47.6% FG, 49.5% two-point FG, 15.4% three-point FG, 75.6% free throws
Per 40: 14.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.3 blocks
SEC stats: 8.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
48.4% FG, 50.4% two-point FG, 14.3% three-point FG, 74.1% free throws
Best month: March — 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks
45.8% FG, 48.1% two-point FG, 0 of 4 from three, 77.8% free throws
Worst month: December — 3.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.0 blocks
56.2% FG, 53.3% two-point FG, 1 of 1 from three, 3 of 3 on free throws
• Lights out in transition. Davonte Davis was electric in the open floor. Many of what I consider to be the more memorable moments of the 2020-21 season happened when the freshman had the ball in his left hand and was rolling downhill. Davis’ speed in a broken floor was impressive, but I knew he had tapped into another level in these instances when he flashed a bit of patience, too. His and-1 layup in transition early in the Alabama game in Bud Walton Arena is a perfect example. He moved the ball into the frontcourt off the bounce, put a defender on his back, then exploded to create separation, then slithered by a defender to get to the rim. At such a young age, he was truly masterful in this area at times. And then there was the buzzer beater at the end of the first half vs. Colgate in the NCAA Tournament. You can’t teach what Davis did. It’s a special gift.
According to HoopLens analytics, Davis finished with a PAM — points above median, which calculates how many additional points a player scores when compared with what an average player would have scored with those same shot attempts — of 16.5 at the rim in transition. It is the second-best mark on the team behind Justin Smith (18.2). Davis’ open-floor play was dynamite, too, because he could flip a game on its head in a flash. Again, the Colgate game is a perfect example. He added a layup in transition, hustled down the floor, tallied a steal then got on the break and found a teammate for a score. Brand new ball game.
Davis has a great in-and-out dribble that puts defenders on their heels, and he’s unorthodox in some ways. On some scores he would finish with his left hand after taking off on his left foot. Being a lefty certainly aided him in some situations, and his elite athleticism made him a handful for opposing teams to slow. Eric Musselman said a couple of times you didn’t always know what Davis was going to do in transition, but he was going to make something happen. Over the last couple of months of the season, you could almost count on it being brilliant.
• Playmaker, for himself and teammates. I was very wrong about the overall impact Davis would have on this Arkansas team in the preseason. I envisioned the guard having a somewhat small role off the bench, but he kept his head down and worked, and down the stretch of the season, the Razorbacks couldn’t really afford to take him off the floor because he touched so many areas of the game on both ends. One big way, and an underrated way, he was a plus offensively was creating scoring opportunities for others. Davis finished with 114 potential assists from the beginning of SEC play through the end of the season. That is No. 2 on the team behind Jalen Tate (201).
The freshman actually led the team in assisted three-pointers in that span with 25. Teammates shot 37.9% from three-point range immediately following a Davis pass from Dec. 30 on, and connected on 33 of 48 attempts inside the arc. He generated efficient offense just being himself and mindful of the other four players he shared the floor with.
Davis put a lot of pressure on defenses as a whole because he was top notch at winning the free throw line and elbows off the dribble. Defenders collapsed on him, leaving Smith, Moses Moody and others open beyond the arc and around the rim. Davis could put a pass on cutters in a hurry. And if he saw the slightest bit of daylight or recognized he had a 1-on-1 mismatch, he could get to the rim almost at will for easy scores. For the season, he finished third on the team in buckets at the rim with 63 — one behind Moody — and converted nearly 57% of those chances.
• Made the midrange his home. Not much of a perimeter scorer in his first college season, Davis knew where he could find his offense, and he found plenty of it in the midrange area of the floor. In February and March, he became a killer there. Davis could not only work himself into a rhythm with a couple of dribbles or a hang dribble, but he would also operate in the short midrange and pull out a turnaround jumper that was basically indefensible after driving to the midline in the lane. The elevation he got on his jumpers made them all that more difficult for his defender to contest or alter.
Unsurprisingly, Davis gravitated to the left side of the floor on his two-point jumpers. He finished the season 22 of 49 (44.9%) on two-point attempts left of the lane, which is pretty solid given his youth and the fact some of those attempts were tough shots. Davis also knocked down 6 of 13 midrange jumpers in the middle of the floor above the foul line and 4 of 12 on the right side of the floor. Three of his made jumpers right of the lane came in the final three games of the season, and two were against Oral Roberts, including his game winner. His shot selection in the midrange favored the left side of the floor 2:1 vs. the key and right side.
Big props to Davis for finding his niche in the halfcourt. He knew where he could best serve this offense and he rarely strayed from that.
• No-quit defender. Aside from his mop-up duty against Southern when he went for 14 points and seven rebounds in only 16 minutes, we didn't really see what kind of a player Davis could be until the SEC opener at Auburn. He showed great potential as a maniacal defender while tracking Justin Powell and Allen Flanigan in ballscreens. One thing I loved about Davis on this end was he seldom got picked by screens. The same way he could slither by defenders in transition, he found ways to work around actions on the perimeter. But, on the off chance he did get caught up in a screen, he fought to return to the play and impact it. To me, there’s no better case of that than when he forced Flanigan into a turnover under the rim at Auburn late in that game. Giving up on plays wasn’t an option for him.
According to KenPom data, Davis finished with a steal rate of 2.6%, which ranked 321st nationally, and he was No. 22 in SEC-only games at 2.6% as well. His three highest-steal games came against Missouri in Bud Walton Arena in his first start, at Oklahoma State and against LSU in the SEC Tournament. His defensive intensity typically matched the magnitude of the game.
He grew, I think, into the team’s top lockdown defender late in games. Against Colgate, he checked Jack Ferguson in the second half after he scored 11 first-half points. He did not score after halftime. He limited and face-guarded Mac McClung in the final minute of the second-round tournament game vs. Texas Tech and didn’t allow the Red Raiders’ leading scorer a touch in the final minute. His combination of quickness and elite length made life miserable on opposing guards at times.
• Improved at the line. I can remember Davis stepping to the line against Missouri at home early in SEC play and his free throws barely drawing the rim. By the end of the year, you didn’t worry about an empty trip to the line, and Davis knocked down some big free throws during Arkansas’ tournament run. He wound up hitting 34 of 45 (75.6%) for the season. His confidence on the offensive end bled over to the line and he stepped up in a big way there when it mattered.
• Infectious personality. I was able to interview Davis over Zoom ahead of the SEC Tournament, and he flew up toward the top of my list of favorites I’ve spoken with in three-plus seasons on the beat. He’s a bit quirky on the floor, adding or removing his headband and undershirt in the middle of some games. Davis even changed shoes at halftime once. He was also the guy who wore sunglasses indoors in Indianapolis and brought candy into the locker room before road games. Davis lifted team morale and kept things fun and light. Those guys are invaluable during the grind of a season.
• Had some head-scratching turnovers. I’m of the belief that these turnovers were mostly honest attempts to make things happen in the open floor and in the halfcourt. However, a hallmark of Musselman’s teams at the college level is solid ball security and valuing possession. There were moments in games when Davis played a bit sped up and perhaps out of control, and sloppy turnovers happened. He did not have a banner first few minutes against Colgate in his first NCAA Tournament game, turning it over multiple times. Musselman sat him, and he responded with only one more miscue in the final 31-plus minutes of the game.
Davis recorded a turnover rate, according to KenPom, of 18.5%, and it was 19.7% in SEC play. He turned the ball over three-plus times in seven games, including a season-high five in the runaway win at South Carolina. Davis had a good handle as a freshman, but he’ll reach another level when it tightens after an offseason of work. Overall, the Razorbacks’ team offensive turnover rate was lower (16.2%) when he was on the floor than when he sat (17.0%), according to HoopLens.
• Developing his right hand could take him to another level. If Davis does this between now and the beginning of next season, he likely won’t have a junior season at Arkansas. With strong play and big moments in the NCAA Tournament, Davis is now on the radar of draft analysts. He is very left-hand dominant, evidenced by his propensity to pull up in the midrange on the left side of the floor and finish on the left side of the lane. Teams knew that and still struggled to contain him.
Showcasing that he can beat defenders going to his off hand adds a wrinkle opponents haven’t seen much of and makes him more of a challenge to prepare for and limit. Imagine being matched up with Davis 1-on-1 next season and he attacks the rim moving right, or begins a drive at the top of the key then stops on a dime at the right elbow and hits a jumper. What do you do then?
• Perimeter shooting. Davis mentioned earlier this month that one of his big focuses this offseason is to become a more consistent threat from three-point range. If he could hit the 30% mark or better next season on a decent amount of attempts — several more than his 13 this season — then that elevates his game even further. Davis made two three-pointers as a freshman, and one was thrown in from 30 feet at the end of the shot clock vs. Southern, so that leaves him with one standard three-ball. It came Jan. 9 vs. Georgia. He missed his last nine attempts over the final 20 games.
His form from three-point range is fine, I think. This offseason, it is all about touch and repetition in that regard.
On floor: Offense (1,355 poss.) - 1.06 PPP, 16.2% TO rate; Defense (1,355 poss.) - 0.89 PPP, 21.0% TO rate
Off floor: Offense (1,063 poss.) - 1.03 PPP, 17.0% TO rate; Defense (1,060 poss.) - 0.94 PPP, 17.5% TO rate
Best Davis quote: “Coming to Fayetteville is a choice that I didn't know I was going to make, and I made the right choice, for sure. I love this team, I love this community, and I love the coaching staff. I feel that we've come a long way, for sure. Me as a freshman, I've come a long way as well, from not starting, from not playing, to being able to just have freedom like Coach Muss gives me. It's fun playing with this team, and I love it.” — Davis after hitting the game-winning shot against Oral Roberts in the Sweet 16
Best quote on Davis: “I mean, you just kind of hold your breath when Devo’s got the ball. He just kind of figures out a way to slither to the rim and get by people, and it’s not like I’m telling him to hold up. I don’t know what he’s going to do in there, but he’s going to do something.” — Eric Musselman
Season review series
Part 1: Justin Smith
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