Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman has a unique task ahead of him as he finds a consistent core rotation on a roster consisting of 11 brand-new scholarship players, led by a bevy of incoming freshmen including three 5-star recruits and potential first-round NBA Draft picks.
Versatile freshman forward Jordan Walsh is part of that group and will have something to prove as he fights for his spot in the rotation.
Though Walsh projects as an athletic small forward at the NBA level, his combination of a 6-foot-7 frame, reported 7-foot-3 wingspan and guard skills will allow him to spend time anywhere between the shooting guard and power forward positions at the collegiate level.
With five other players capable of playing the power forward or center positions on the roster, it’s reasonable to expect Walsh to spend a lot of time at his more natural small forward position – which is where he started in the Razorbacks’ first exhibition game against Rogers State. This means his guard skills and ability to defend the perimeter will be put to the test early and often.
Walsh’s strongest asset is his length and athletic ability. He reads the defense well and excels at driving into the paint and finishing at the rim – sometimes with SportsCenter-worthy authority and flare.
While Walsh’s skill set would label him as a “slasher,” it’s his shooting ability that will have the biggest impact on his role this upcoming season. Outside of fellow true freshman and projected 2023 lottery pick Nick Smith Jr., the Razorbacks don’t have many proven shooters on their roster. As a team, the Hogs shot only 29% from beyond the 3-point line on their four-game European tour and less than 23% combined in their annual Red/White scrimmage.
In the exhibition game against Rogers State, Walsh led the team in minutes played (23) after earning the start and shot 1 of 3 from beyond the arc on his way to 8 points and a team-high 7 rebounds. Prior to that, however, the freshman forward was only 1 of 8 on 3-point attempts during the European tour and missed both of his attempts during the Red/White Scrimmage, though he remains confident that he can bounce back and provide consistent shooting for his team.
Before the trip, Musselman noted a former player of his at Nevada (Kendall Stephens) going 0 of 16 on an international trip, only to come back and become the conference’s all-time leading scorer later that season.
“Of course, knowing it’s been done before, knowing it’s not impossible, it gives me confidence knowing I can go out and do the same thing or even better,” Walsh said. “I’m excited for this year coming up because we’ve been putting in a lot of work and improved a lot in the areas we’re weak at, including shooting.”
Last season, Arkansas ranked 328th in the country in 3-point percentage, hitting just over 30% of their attempts on the season. This quickly became a talking point and remained an area of concern throughout their tournament run. Thanks to elite defense, their shooting woes were not detrimental enough to keep the Hogs from their second straight Elite Eight appearance.
Musselman does not seem confident that the 3-point shooting will be much better in 2022-23, so if Walsh can get hot from beyond the arc, he’d be that much more valuable to a team with Final Four aspirations.
The biggest threat to Jordan Walsh’s season outlook is the depth Eric Musselman has created in the frontcourt. Being a 5-star recruit and projected first-round NBA Draft pick will at least provide Walsh his opportunity to shine on the court, but it won’t come without competition.
Arkansas returns a tenacious 6-foot-7 rebounder in Kamani Johnson, one of only two scholarship players with experience playing under Musselman. The Razorbacks also brought in a set of four impactful transfers in Trevon Brazile (6-10), Makhel (6-10) and Makhi Mitchell (6-9), and Jalen Graham (6-9) – all of which bring a level of athleticism and size that the Razorbacks lacked last season, especially in their final loss to a Duke team consisting of Paolo Banchero (6-9) and Mark Williams (7-1).
Finally, athletic wing transfer Ricky Council IV and emerging 4-star freshmen Barry Dunning Jr. and Joseph Pinion throw three more hats into the ring of players jockeying for minutes at the small forward position.
Walsh currently projects as the best NBA prospect of all the other forwards listed here, but his offensive skill set is still catching up to his absurd athletic prowess. He’s also still improving his decision-making as a perimeter ball handler. More experienced players like Council or the Mitchell twins may start the season more prepared for the collegiate level, potentially causing Walsh to see a reduction in minutes early on while he continues to adapt and polish his game.
However, expect Walsh to be a staple in the shortened rotation – if not the full-time starter at small forward – as the team approaches the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
It’s unlikely that Jordan Walsh becomes a focal point of many set plays offensively. Instead, he projects to fill one of the “glue guy” roles on offense that Musselman has fallen in love with in recent years thanks to players like Jalen Tate and Au’Diese Toney – both of whom played big roles without having set plays called for them often.
Walsh will also be one of the premier transition threats in the country playing alongside his fellow 5-star recruits in Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black, potentially earning two or three easy buckets per game by simply hustling on fast breaks and jumping higher than his opponents. His tendency to gamble defensively could lead to break-away opportunities, but it could also lead to a frustrated head coach and fewer minutes for Walsh in some situations.
Though he’s proven to be a threat in the paint, Walsh still needs to tighten up his outside shooting percentages. He shot poorly (29% FG, 11% 3PT) at the NBPA Top 100 in 2021, and creeped closer to being an average shooter by knocking down 47% of his shots, including 18.8% from deep, at the Nike EYBL in 2022. It’s likely that Walsh’s perimeter shooting will take a bit of time to adjust at the collegiate level, as well.
His length projects to make him a plus rebounder on both ends of the court, though if he spends most of his time at the small forward position, there will almost always be two taller Razorbacks on the court with him.
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